I know this question has been asked a few times, and I’ve read all the helpful answers, but can’t implement them in my situation. So, would love some further assistance.

I’ve written a psych thriller which ends on a single line and a massive twist that makes the reader go, ‘Huh?? What?? How on earth??’

What follows is an epilogue explaining how the antagonist managed to pull off a complex deception spanning thirty-five years, and that explanation (in order to be plausible) is HUGE! 7,000 words.

It’s the complexity of the deception that makes it plausible, so I can’t shorten it, that would leave gaping holes. I can’t drag any of the information into the body of the book (as you would usually do with info dumps) as it will give away the twist. It has to all come out at the end.

The high-stakes are over, the action is over, so I can’t intersperse it with thrilling scenes. It’s the aftermath. I can’t drag the antagonist into a Poirot/Sherlock Holmes style Q&A as he's already in jail.

I’ve thought about writing the court case, but that has the potential to be dry and drawn out. I’ve considered splitting it into immediate scenes with different characters explaining different parts, but only one character can possibly know the majority of the detail (the rest had to be in the dark for the twist to work) so that came out as an info dump too. I can’t use flashbacks as the POV is the protagonist’s, and it’s the antagonist’s backstory. I tried switching POV and going into the protagonist’s past, but beta-readers found the sudden switch, right at the end of the book, jarring.

I thought I'd get help post-submission but both my agent and editor say it's an info dump, but can't think of a way to fix it!

I’m looking for unique and interesting ways to handle such a massive explanation. It has to go in. But massive explanations and info dumps are inherently boring. How can I keep it alive? A thrill ride that matches the rest of the thriller and doesn’t land flat on its face?

Has anyone read anything where a massive explanation follows an ending, yet it’s still gripping as all hell?

  • 2
    Have you seen the ending of Psycho? If you try modelling your info dump on theirs (which is very memorable but drags), focus on making it more concise in each of several redrafts of that section.
    – J.G.
    Feb 14, 2018 at 12:38
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    And Then There Were None does something similar; a big info dump as to "how the culprit did it" in an epilogue as well.
    – Kitkat
    Feb 14, 2018 at 15:09
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    Thanks Kitkat. I haven't read it, I've only seen the film. I'll get it.
    – GGx
    Feb 14, 2018 at 16:04
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    You might be shooting yourself in the foot by thinking of the reveal as the "climax" and the "ending". I don't have concrete suggestions (hence not an answer), but it might help to re-work your mental image of the story structure such that you're not thinking of the reveal of the twist as "the ending" or even "the climax". (That is, you don't have to make the reveal the point where everything builds up to.)
    – R.M.
    Feb 14, 2018 at 17:03
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    Does your villain have living victims, or family members of victims? If so, rather than the whole court case you could have something like a plea-bargained confession, where he's been ordered to explain to the victims and it's the first time they're hearing what he did, live in court.
    – 1006a
    Feb 14, 2018 at 17:52

10 Answers 10


Include characters who are emotionally involved.

The Harry Potter books have all involved various amounts of post-climax exposition, with 1, 2, 4, and 5 being the heaviest (3 and 7 mostly rely on pre-climax exposition). Of them, Order of the Phoenix is probably the most interesting. Why? Because Harry is screaming and throwing things at the walls.

Your twist, and the revelation thereof is going to have a major impact on your characters. Find the ones who care the most - those with the most to gain or the most to lose - and involve them in the explanation.

Add conflict.

The climax of the story should resolve the overarcing conflict of the story, but that doesn't mean you can't still have conflicts. Part of why Order of the Phoenix's exposition scene is effective is that it adds a conflict. Will Dumbledore regain Harry's trust before Harry destroys all of Dumbledore's possessions? It's a very small, very personal conflict that adds a great deal to the scene.

  • 1
    THANKS! This has really got me thinking, it's really really helpful. You're right, just because the major conflict is over, it doesn't mean I can't introduce more. It won't be as exciting as the twist but if I explore what the revelation means to my MC, I can create conflict for her over how she plans to deal with it. GREAT! The cogs are turning now! Really appreciate your time.
    – GGx
    Feb 14, 2018 at 15:42

Expanding my comment into a full answer as OP indicated it was helpful.

I can’t drag the antagonist into a Poirot/Sherlock Holmes style Q&A as he's already in jail.

Sure you can. Just have the protagonist, or some other major character, visit the antagonist in jail and hold the Q&A session there. This has the added advantage that the infodump is coming from the mouth of the antagonist, rather than the mouth of the narrator, and you can therefore inject his personality into it. For example, he could be gloating about having deceived everyone for so long, hence his willingness to explain the deception in so much detail in the first place.

Has anyone read anything where a massive explanation follows an ending, yet it’s still gripping as all hell?

The closest thing I can think of is Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, where there's a big one-line revelation about two-thirds of the way through the novel. Part of the remaining third deals with the drama of whether anyone else will find out about the revelation, and the potential consequences if they do, but it's interwoven with a gradual explanation of exactly what happened and why. I read that entire last third in one sitting and it is honestly one of the most gripping sections of prose I have ever read.

  • 3
    Rebecca! I LOVE Rebecca, I've got it somewhere, I haven't read it in years. Right... I'm off to read it again. THANK YOU!!!
    – GGx
    Feb 14, 2018 at 12:24
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    "He could be gloating about having deceived everyone for so long" And ideally it shouldn't just be him gloating for the sake of gloating, it should be him and/or the protagonist trying to achieve something. Maybe the antagonist is trying to retain some sense of superiority despite having ultimately lost, and the protagonist is trying to deny him that. Or if their relationship is more sympathetic, the protagonist might be trying to help him. Or perhaps the protagonist wants the full explanation for some reason and plays on the listless antagonist's pride to extract the info. Feb 14, 2018 at 18:21
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    This is exactly the way the movie "Now You See Me" handled the "how did they do it?" part, except for the fact that the person in jail was actually innocent, and the actual criminal was the police officer visiting him. Feb 14, 2018 at 20:02
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    Thanks, Cronax, Monty & Ben. Ben, I think you've hit the nail on the head when you say 'trying to achieve something' I think this is the mistake I've been making, seeing this epilogue as an explanation, when it needs its own story and conflict to keep the reader going to the last page. Really appreciate all your time everyone.
    – GGx
    Feb 15, 2018 at 7:23
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    I wish I could give two right answers on this one. Thank you everyone - I can finally see a way ahead which I think is going to make this exciting. You all really got me thinking.
    – GGx
    Feb 15, 2018 at 8:45

A few tricks come to mind. One that your description strongly suggests is similar to Agatha Christie's "And then there were none", which might be exactly the kind of work you are looking for. It matches your description almost exactly.

In that puzzler, she had the same issue - couldn't disclose during the story (would not work if she did), yet too complex to sum up quickly.

What she did was have the perpetrator leave a diary or letter for others to find, which as well as explaining without breaking the story, also added to the book by showing you the whole thing back to its origins, from the perpetrators viewpoint. (The perp left a complete description close to a mini autobiography, in a bottle thrown out at sea, an left it to chance if it would be found. Similar might be a letter left with lawyers to be sent in 30 years time, or buried with something - or in the digital age, an encrypted message left on social media/hard drive/email, to be cracked when technology allows, in 30-50 years.)

It worked very well, so it might work for you, too. Often such people want the world (or someone) to know, some day..... so it can probably fit in well in many kinds of plot.

You ask if anyone knows a story where a massive explanation follows the final scene, and does it work/is the book still gripping? This book is reckoned one of her masterpieces, and the answer is an undoubted "yes". Not an overly-long book, but superbly mysterious, and an "impossible" whodunnit - go get it on Amazon and enjoy, as well as seeing how it's done! Hopefully a hell of a read as well as an answer :)

  • Stilez, you're the second person to suggest And Then There Were None. Seen the film, haven't read the book. I'll get right on it and see how Agatha handles it! Thanks!!
    – GGx
    Feb 14, 2018 at 16:20
  • Read the book. Movies don't do it justice... Feb 14, 2018 at 16:27
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    What he said. ^^ also notice how she holds back one last secret, for the very last line, even in the disclosure. One last nugget [no spoilers!] is only formally given to the reader on the very last line of the very last page - when the letter comes to its very end. At which point its the end. It works nicely - if you go that route, try to give the reader something on the very last page, even if they already "knew" it and its only for completion/satisfaction. But try to do it anyway. It works :)
    – Stilez
    Feb 14, 2018 at 18:33
  • @Stilez That's a REALLY good idea, thank you. These answers have all been SO helpful. It's made me realise that I need to approach the epilogue as if it's a short story in itself, with it's own beginning, middle and satisfactory end, and to ensure there's conflict in there too. This has all been so helpful. Thx.
    – GGx
    Feb 15, 2018 at 7:18
  • When it's published, post the details here so we can take a look and see what this has been about? :) It sounds interesting!
    – Stilez
    Feb 15, 2018 at 8:03

You've chosen a challenging structure. Normally, for a twist ending to land, the reader has to have been given most of the relevant information along the way -- think Sixth Sense.

The only successful model for something close to this that I can think of is Hero (2002), which borrows Rashomon's famous trick of telling versions of the same story from different viewpoints.

With that in mind, I would suggest going with more not less. Develop your villain's story into its own mini-novel. See all (or many) of the same events again, but from his point of view, knowing what he knows, and then package the two stories together as one book. Of course, that requires him to become the main character of his own story, going through his own journey, and facing his own challenges. It won't be easy to pull off, and might require a lot of new effort, just at the point where you thought you were done, but I could picture the final effect being very compelling.

  • Chris, it is a challenging structure, I didn't appreciate how much so until it was finished. That's a really good idea (I love the Sixth Sense). Sadly, my deadline is two weeks away! And whilst I'm a pretty fast writer, I still couldn't pull that off. Also, it's already 100,000 words. That would be one hefty psych thriller! But it's still a great idea. Thx.
    – GGx
    Feb 14, 2018 at 16:13
  • Could you move the reveal up a bit, and then mix some of your existing material in with the epilogue? Also --you have a 2 week deadline for your novel? You sold it before completing it? I've never heard of that for fiction (presumably for just this reason, the potential of a great book without a satisfactory ending). Feb 14, 2018 at 20:19
  • Chris, the nature of the twist creates a finite line between what took place before and what comes after. I've moved everything I can either side of that line to balance the epilogue as much as possible. I have to get creative with the aftermath.
    – GGx
    Feb 15, 2018 at 7:12
  • And OMG I WISH! No, my agents are very excited about selling the novel in advance of the London Book Fair because there's a huge buzz in sales around that time. So, LBF has put the pressure on. They hired an external editor and I've had 3 months to implement her changes. I've got two weeks left to get this one chapter done. If they don't think I've done a good enough job, they won't try to sell it. But then I'll have missed the opportunity of LBF.
    – GGx
    Feb 15, 2018 at 7:13

Some of the best detective mystery novels - I'm thinking especially about the noir genre - have a penultimate chapter where the detective solves the murder(s) and explains everything, and the bad guy gets what's coming to him blam! blam! blam! and it all makes sense and it's over.

Except, then there's the last chapter, where the hardboiled dick goes to the sympathetic girl and explains that he knows it was really her (or her deranged sister) all along and why and she makes goo-goo eyes at him but of course it's not to be and then he blows town.

Maybe your current ending can be adapted to this scheme in some way.

  • Thanks davidbak, my antagonist gives himself up, so his confession would take place at the police station. But I could consider having the police come back to my protagonist to relay what he confessed. Thx!!
    – GGx
    Feb 15, 2018 at 7:07
  • +1. This is like most murder mysteries. There's a final scene in which the lead detective walks through the investigation and how some things seemed obvious and other things seemed impossible, and then voila! There's the key insight that unravels everything. @GGx: If the plot twist is so amazing, I would guess that the police/judge would not believe it without proof, and the proof is in the details of how they pulled it off and why. (Motive, opportunity, and all that.)
    – Wayne
    Feb 15, 2018 at 22:18
  • @Wayne yes, I think his confession to the police is definitely a good way to get part of this out and I already have a character in the Met I can use to relay part of it to the protag. Thanks to everyone on here, I'm finally seeing a way forward.
    – GGx
    Feb 16, 2018 at 7:03
  • @GGx I'm thinking the whole infodump thing at end could be boring though - unless there's a post-twist-twist (like Unusual Suspects).
    – davidbak
    Feb 16, 2018 at 18:00
  • @davidbak Totally right. I've taken all the advice on here, dumped the epilogue entirely and continued the story as a post-climax denouement with its own story arc and conflict. The confession is only a small part of it, with brief but crucial lines brought into a conversation that feels more focussed on the conflict than the explanation itself. Everyone on here has been AMAZING!
    – GGx
    Feb 17, 2018 at 7:30

Sequel/ Different story

Could you turn that mass epilogue into a different or new story? The first one ends with the twist, but the initial situation is handled and done (this is important). They catch the killer and everyone is safe.

Now, as a reader I go "WTF happened? Why did he do it? Oh wait! There is another story".

This sequel/prequel could have someone investigate that plot, perhaps coming real close to the truth, forcing the villain to change his plans or do something different. You can then have the court case, even start in the early days of the plot and have a different perspective.

  • Thanks JP, it's a good idea, but it wouldn't work for this book. It's a standalone story. Imagine Murder on the Orient Express ending before you find out who the killer was on the train. Yes, you know who the killer is at the end of my book, but with no idea how or why, the book would fail.
    – GGx
    Feb 14, 2018 at 14:12

One thing you can do is to frame the explanation around a character in the story. For instance, there might be a meta narrative in which the story is being told by a particular character, and when the twist happens the character explains everything in the aftermath.

There can be tiny "clues" (if possible) scattered throughout the story itself, but it might not be enough to work out the mystery. Just enough, say, that things don't quite add up but the reader doesn't notice it on a first read through. The benefit of something like this is that it can make a second read through even more enjoyable, as the reader notices all the things they missed the first time around (such as a small unimportant seeming detail, or a character's reaction being slightly off).

An example of this that I absolutely LOVE is Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz. I won't say more than that because I would be giving it away and that would be an absolute shame, but if you're looking for examples definitely give this one a read. It kept me hooked right up to the final page.

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    Thanks Lauraducky! Food for thought! I have done that with clues, my agent said exactly that: the first time she read it, she went straight back to the beginning and read it again. I'll get Moriarty!
    – GGx
    Feb 15, 2018 at 7:02

Maybe you can interleave your 7000 throughout the story by making it a perfectly "parallel" (separated) chain of mini-chapters which are a kind of preface for each chapter of your real timeline.

As you wish to avoid spoilers, make it so that it is simply unclear that the mini-chapters are the solution to the main story. Let the reader in the dark as to what your mini-chapters are actually about. Skip mentioning names, use different names, whatever.

At the end, with your great twist, maybe the reader will go back and read the mini-chapters again, now with the complete knowledge, and have many small "a-ha" moments.

I've seen several books where this has been done (not usually with a great twist, more a gradual enlightenment; but I can see it work if you get the twist just right).

  • Thanks AnoE, I really appreciate your time, and it's a good idea. It could help another writer. But I really, really can't put any more information before the climax without spoiling the twist. I've already taken everything out of the epilogue that doesn't give it away and peppered that throughout the story (it was originally even longer). What remains are all MAJOR spoilers. But I'm always grateful for suggestions. Thx.
    – GGx
    Feb 14, 2018 at 15:57
  • @GGx - I think Brandon Sanderson does something similar (and does it fairly well, particularly in Mistborn). Maybe try looking at that.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 15, 2018 at 3:38
  • As for interleaving, my most favourite trick is by E.T.A.Hoffmann. Who basically wrote two unconnected stories, the "written on the scarps of" story and the actual scarps. He proceeded to make the scarps more interesting than the main story and then just killed off the second story line as the main story ended. Feb 15, 2018 at 23:12

I am in a sense suggesting a different but similar twist to @Stilez suggestion.

It’s the aftermath. I can’t drag the antagonist into a Poirot/Sherlock Holmes style Q&A as he's already in jail.

Let the antagonist tell the real story. To someone. To a cell mate. To a beautiful journalist girl/boy (hello, "Silence of the lambs"). In his/her last will. In a letter to NYT, police, protagonist, protagonist's beautiful spouse. You'd better know, how. I am suggesting what.

The letter/confession/news story format explains the infodump structure, too. You might want to style it a bit like the appropriate prototype.

To give an unknown example from a first-hand experience: To round-off an "alternate history" story of a friend, I took some off-the-shelf news articles and basically rewrote (and distorted them, but tried hardest to keep the style) to fit those characters who would become famous.

So, nothing really changed, but some famous people in the news are now other people. A quite anti-climatic end, but desired and heavily hinted in the main text.

  • Oleg, thanks! I did try that in the very first draft. The antagonist told his story. The problem was that unlike something like Gone Girl where the twist comes partway through the book, mine was 90,000 words told in the POV of the protagonist and then 7,000 words from the POV of the antagonist and beta readers found that last minute relatively short switch jarring. And again, his story, told in a letter, still came off like an info dump. That probably says more about how I handled it than the technique though.
    – GGx
    Feb 16, 2018 at 7:09

This is typical style for any whodunnit

Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of The Four wraps up the investigation with a whopping 10,321 word chapter called "The Strange Story of Jonathan Small." Most of Doyle's investigations ended this way. Someone mentioned Agatha Christie, and her detective Hercule Poirot ended his investigations pretty much the same way, but she used the plot twist more often than Doyle.

I would very much recommend going back and reading The Sign of The Four on Gutenberg and see what you can get from this. It has a boat chase scene, sneaking around at night breaking into places, a bumbling police inspector, and a final chapter that somehow keeps you engaged for nearly 20 minutes while the plot unravels via the confession you want. Then pick up a few Agatha Christie novels as well to see how she moves your suspicions around quickly and effectively.

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