The SOTP Writer’s Guide to Thread Tying

You’ve reached the end of your book. It’s time to wrap things up, tie the loose ends, weave the final golden threads into your tapestry. But something doesn’t wrap, doesn’t tie, and your work of art seems unfinished.

Now what?

Unlike real tapestry art, loose ends in a novel aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and not all threads have to be tied in the last few pages. There are things you can do with those threads so your unveiling celebration can include Roman candles.

1. Make sure the thread is relevant.  This should be self-evident, and if we Pantsers actually outlined, it would be. But we don’t. That’s our nature. We travel down whichever road the story or our characters take us. So, if you’ve reread your manuscript and realize you didn’t tell your reader what happened to Minor Character Numero Uno, or you drove down Scenic-but-Useless Highway and got lost, the first thing you need to do is to determine how important these things are. The best way to figure it out is to pull the thread. If you can pull it out, and the story doesn’t unravel, yank that thing.

2. Secondary threads can be tucked in early. In my WIP, The Cat Lady’s Secret, I needed an explanation for her eccentric behavior and created a thread to serve that purpose, then turned that thread into a threat to continue to fortify her reasoning. Now that I’m nearing the end of the book, I don’t need it anymore. Three-fourths of the way to the finish line, I tie off the thread with a satisfying knot. To do that, I set the pattern for a logical knot-tying scene throughout the length of the thread.  That way, the reader can anticipate the knot and isn’t taken by surprise. Save the surprise ending for your primary plot.

3. Leave a secondary thread loose. Once again returning to my WIP, I have a different thread that leads to the turning point event–a revelation both main characters must deal with throughout the rest of the novel. The event itself is vital; the thread isn’t. But instead of tying it in a nice, neat bow a quarter of the way from the end of the book, I leave it loose and allow the reader to believe the problem would be solved in some distant future. I do twist it gently into the remaining story and allow the reader to imagine how the problem will be settled, but I don’t solve it in the context.

Of course, if the thread you can’t tie is the main plot or you have too many to tie without adding another hundred thousand words to your manuscript, you’re in serious trouble and are facing a major rewrite. You’ve gone off in so many different directions, your story isn’t recognizable. Step away from the manuscript. Give it a rest for a week or so, then pick it up again, manuscript in one hand, cutting shears in the other, and hunt down your plot, cutting out everything that doesn’t support it or move it forward.

But if you’ve kept your structure in mind and have just a few stray threads to tie, these tips should require minor adjustments only, not an entire rewrite. A tweak here and there to set up the knot–or lack of one–and you’re set to unveil a great work of art!

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
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6 Responses to The SOTP Writer’s Guide to Thread Tying

  1. I have to admit – this is one of the reasons I love outlines so much! I *hate* tying off loose ends. It never feels as seamless or organic as I’d like, so I try to catch as many as I can in the outline, before I ever start that first draft.


    • Linda Yezak says:

      I honestly believe there is a difference in the makeup of those who can outline and those who can’t. I simply can’t do it. And it’s not that I haven’t tried. As long as you’ve been singing the praises of in-depth outlines, I’ve listened and tried. I just can’t make my head wrap around it.

      I’m better these days, though. I keep the novel’s structure in mind as I write (using Brooks’ 4-part structure), and I do tend to explore a new idea more with pen and paper than with computer keys. But those are the biggest concessions I’m likely to make for a while.


  2. bethkvogt says:

    I always thought of myself as a pantser until I discovered Susie May Warren and her Book Buddy. I love all the questions she’s developed to craft your characters, the spiritual thread, the storyworld …. Even though I might veer from things I’ve written down, using this worktext helps me not miss important facets of my story.


  3. Again, great tips for writers of all levels, and particularly helpful to those of us with less experience. Thanks, Linda!


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