For the first time, I’m outlining my novel chapter-by-chapter. It’s a mystery/romance novel about a young queer aspiring author moving into a recently-deceased ostracized relative’s house in a small town in an attempt to escape her family, and the paranormal mystery she uncovers in the house. The romance is between the aspiring author Emma and genderfluid psychic barista Bee, who’s lived in the small town their whole life and has a fixation on the mystery. The outline has 25 parts/chapters. The mystery itself wraps up on chapter 20, and the next 4 chapters are more or less Emma and Bee dealing with the ripple effects of what happened and sorting out their lives/their relationship. Bee, who lost much more over the course of the story than Emma, has always and will always stay in Small Town. Emma, who (with Bee’s less-than-enthusiastic support) wrote a hit novel about the mystery and ends up doing a whole book tour thing. Chapter 24 ends with Emma leaving, Bee staying, and an explicit break between the two.
Chapter 25 takes place a few years later, where it’s been established that Emma and Bee are no longer together but have been keeping in touch. Emma comes back because there’s another case in Small Town and she wants to research it. The two reconnect, and the chapter doesn’t end with a typical happily-ever-after but more with a quiet sort of reconnection and admittance of feelings.
Last few paragraphs in the story (very rough and I do not usually write romance, just an example of the note the story ends on!!)
“You stopped calling,” Bee remarked offhandedly, taking a sip of his coffee.
Emma shrugged. “I didn’t think you’d care.”
“How’s that so?”
She searched Bee’s face, the worry lines carved in so young, the galaxies in his eyes. The walls, always the walls. Emma wanted to tear them down.
“I didn’t think you missed me the way I missed you,” she said.
Bee smiled, but it lingered at the corners of his lips, tentative. “And how did you miss me?”
Bee didn’t say anything, then. But he reached across the table, took Emma’s hand in his. The touch was gentle, familiar. Soft. Emma’s heart skipped a beat.
It was enough.
So should I keep this as a last chapter, or as an epilogue? I’ve never written an epilogue before (and am not typically a romance writer) so I’m not really sure what space they’re supposed to fill, but it feels too dissonant from the rest of the story to be just another chapter. Please let me know what you think!!
Because it is years later, that is the the territory of an Epilogue.
But you only have an epilogue if the previous chapter is a sufficient end. It doesnt have to be a happy ending, the epilogue can promise more (and in a series could make the bulk of1st chapter of the next book)., but your 24th chaptwr is the decision point.
The rules of thumb for making something an epilogue or prologue are time/place/character: If it’s a different time or place than the main story, or if it’s told by a character who wasn’t a POV character, then you can make it an epilogue.
From what you’ve described, I’m not quite sure this is necessary at all. Final chapter should be the one where I (the reader) am not left with any unanswered questions. Every narrative thread may be closed or, as in your case, left open ended so I can fantasise about what the characters may get up to. Bringing them back together feels like the beginning of a new story and epilogues shouldn’t really have that kind of…narrative power, let’s say.
They’re like bonus chapters, that maybe show a different perspective on things, but it should not affect the actual ending in any way. Another case to research, in the realm of mystery fiction, means another book. So I would say see how you feel once you write your way there, whether you need it or not. At this stage it does sound like more of an epilogue than a chapter.
I normally like ending my stories with a couple not together and things ending badly, but the reason I don’t here is because when Emma leaves, there are still lots of unanswered questions—just more in the emotional/relationship department than the mystery department. (Forgot to mention—the case Emma goes to research has nothing to do with the main plot and closes quite quickly, the whole reason the epilogue conversation happens is because they solved the case together and suddenly a bunch of old stuff is being stirred up, so technically there’s no reason for them to stick together but all of a sudden they do.)
I initially had it so there were 30 chapters—the mystery still wrapped up by chapter 20 and the ending was the same, but there was no epilogue, but felt strange about having a third of the story where there’s no suspense plot, just a bunch of relationship tension and gnarls. The overall story flow does feel cohesive and make sense to me, just not the outlining/pacing aspect. Would it make more sense to go back to the longer overall number of chapters and stretch it out instead of supercondensing it?
I honestly couldn’t tell you, that depends a lot on what thematically and narratively takes centre stage in your story.
To use an example from a historical mystery series I’m reading with romance elements - in book 2, male lead comes back home from studies abroad and discovers that female lead, his former love interest whom he abandoned for the sake of his studies, is now married. There’s some romantic tension between them, which is used to explore character flaws and create character conflict. He regrets being too stupid and proud to put her first, but now he doesn’t want to ruin the good life she has going. She also has some lingering regret, but is much more (financially) comfortable although she is conflicted about being a housewife when she aspires to have a medical career (this being the Victorian age).
Through all of this, the 2 leads put their differences aside to solve the murder. Once it’s solved and the fallout clears, each of them is back to their own paths. The story ends with her deciding to sail to America to study medicine.
In the 3rd book, she is the one coming back from travels and reuniting with her former love interest to solve a mystery. So, basically, the whole narrative is driven by how their relationship ebbs and flows. It begins when they come together and ends when they grow apart. Which is kind of the natural way for a narrative to flow, that’s why I was skeptical of them coming together again in the same book, especially as I understood that you’ve got the mystery driving a big part of the story. Things may be different if romance is your main plot.
Long story short, this is a difficult judgment to make, that’s why I suggested writing it out first If you’ve got most of it figured out, I’m sure the right ending will present itself once you get to it.
Your pacing thing is really a to-you tailoring, and if it is “goes their seoerate ways” normally, then dragging it on isnt reallt a useful write, unless the tesnsion can be kept hagher than the main climax. Those really sound like “bonus chapters”, to me.