So, as I mentioned Wednesday, I now have my outline. It’s very shiny, and will probably remain that way until I start writing and it gets kicked around a bit.
An important note, though, is that when I was finished my outline, I went through it again. And this time I went through it backwards.
If you’re setting up an ending, you need to make damn sure the threads of it are unwound throughout the story. Yes, even a twist ending. I’ve mentioned this before, but the ending of the story should be the inevitable outcome of the character’s actions as seen in retrospect. In other words, even if it looks like a twist at first glance, the reader should be able to look back and slap themselves in the forehead when they pick up on the clues that were scattered throughout.
One way to do this: work backwards. I knew my ending, and I knew what that ending meant. So, I had to make sure that it was set up properly: characters making certain references or acting in a particular manner; the room where it goes down has a particular type of flooring; the tradition that ends things is mentioned and seen in action much, much earlier. By doing this, the ending doesn’t come out of nowhere. It doesn’t feel forced, or like a deus ex machina.* It becomes about character choices and actions, not about hammering discrete events together into a Plot Robot.
For example, if your protagonist is going to take out the Big Bad with a previously unknown branch of magic, then don’t you think you should at least hint at the possibility of new magic before she whips out the Flaming Balls of Rh’leh, God of Social Diseases? And possibly show Protaggy McGeee experimenting with her magic before she has to try it on Big Bad? Maybe praying to Rh’leh a couple of times? Otherwise, no one’s going to buy Protaggy suddenly becoming one with Rh’leh at the moment when it is the most fucking convenient for her.
Coincidence is evidence of a badly-thought-out story. Excise it without mercy.
*No one likes a deus ex machina. I have to believe that even the gods don’t like that shit. They’re all like, “Fuck, what did you guys do this time? And now I have to save your sorry ass again? Fuck it. Pray all you want, you shit-disturbing assholes, I’m out. OUT.”
I might have missed a few points in theology class.