Two things that shouldn’t be in a riveting story? Too many wild loose ends and tight pretty bows.
Now the loose ends, they can flap around through out the story, being tethered down one by one, but at the end, unless you are writing a series, they should be pretty much accounted for, if not entirely cleared away.
Consider the following story synopsis:
Chad loves Wendy. Wendy is an alien from Trompo IV who may explode if she has sex. Chad and Wendy battle an evil space lord who has destroyed a planet of peaceful people who create the fuel that allows intergalactic space travel. They win. The get married. The end.
So the main conflict is the space lord battle, but what about Wendy’s potential exploding? And how is anyone going to travel in space now that the fuel makers are gone?
The bows, if they are going to come in at all, should exist only at the end of the story. Introducing a serious conflict and then clearing it up mid story, never to affect the protagonist again is a great way to give your reader a chance to put down your book and never pick it back up again.
Brad love Mindy. Mindy is an alien from Trompo VI who may implode if she falls in love. Brad meets another alien who offers him the cure. He gives if to her. She is now safe. They fall in love. Then an evil space lord destroys a planet where they make the teleports that allow for space travel. Brad and Mindy battle him. They win because they find a special weapon that destroys his destructible ship. Then they discover the secret to making the teleports for space travel. Then they get married but it rains. Then it stops raining. The end.
Oh. How nice that everything worked out so well for them. What was the point of this story?
Now it can be argued that in real life, all we have are loose ends when we really want pretty bows on our conflicts, so we can use the term realistic with a grain of salt but I also say you can leave a few frayed threads and unanswered questions at the end of a story. Where are Chad and Wendy going to live? Earth or Trompo IV? Will Mindy ever get over the side effects of compulsive hiccups that accompanied the cure to her condition? Who is Brad’s real father?
In real life our big conflicts do get wrapped up, one way or another, but it rarely with a tidy bow. Now I have said I like hopeful endings, but happy endings are another matter. If that is your thing, go for it with the prettiest bow you got, but realistic resolutions are usually tied together with spit and tape and blood.
Try this one:
Vlad is in love with Bendy, who is from Trompo III. She avoids him because she carried a dark family curse and could destroy worlds if she falls in love. Meanwhile an evil space lord is trying to manipulate the two into getting together so that he can harness Bendy’s world destroying power. Vlad and Bendy discover the plot too late as an innocent kiss blows away a planet of peaceful psychics who bend space to allow for galactic travel. The soul survivor grudgingly assists Vlad and Bendy in defeating the evil space lord but it cost Bendy her life. Vlad takes to the stars with the surviving psychic in hopes of repairing the damage he’s done.
The problems are wrapped up, but there are no pretty bows. Everyone is feeling lots of feelings at the end, but there is a little hope that Vlad has grown as a person, can learn to respect a woman’s boundaries, and will be driven by his guilt to fix the problems he caused.
When your outline or finishing your first draft, always ask yourself: Is this too easy for my characters? Are all the major problems dealt with at the end? Is there a primary conflict that carried through out the whole story and is “resolved” in the climax?
After all, what is a story but a problem and solution?