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During the "resolution and closure" phase of a story, do you need to tie up all loose ends and answer all lingering questions?

I am wondering if there are questions you can ask to determine if a specific loose end or lingering question needs to be answered or not. I am guessing some loose ends and lingering questions absolutely need to be dealt with before the end of story, but some don't really need to be addressed at all. So how you do you determine this? Any advice or tip?

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Well, I've got two ways.

First, I keep notes in a separate file when I write, not by page number but with a key phrase I can search for. Usually with tags for character (e.g. Cindy) and reason for the note (Lies). Other than that, it is just cut-and-paste, into a Word document.

When I write a scene, I immediately rewrite and polish several times, even if it takes multiple sessions. That is not the END of my rewriting, I will do the same with whole sections, chapters, Beats or Acts (depending on what I am writing). So I keep these notes on my final read, after they've been rewritten, maybe added, maybe deleted (no need to keep notes on something I already deleted).

I review these notes at the end of a chapter or Act; if they are not resolved I may rewrite again.

I don't have a plot I work against, sometimes I'll add a complication just because I think of it, but if it doesn't seem like it has any legs, I may delete it. Or leave it, for flavor in a personality -- maybe Cindy just lies all the time, reflexively, and the reader is supposed to know that.

I keep track of the loose ends, and either rewrite to delete them, or find a way to address them, unless they are intentional loose ends (like Cindy's reflexive lying about everything).

In short, even if only a small percentage of readers notice it, it detracts from your story for them. And if there are enough loose ends, then professional readers (both agents and for publishing houses) read very analytically, they do not get immersed, and they are much more likely than amateurs to notice your loose ends, and consider you a careless writer. Welcome to the reject pile.

But many amateur readers will catch a few as well, and when the loose ends they noticed don't get wrapped up, they will consider you a substandard writer, and won't buy your next book. Maybe they'll give you second chance if you wrote a really good first novel, but if this is your first novel, forget it.

The market segment that buys and reads original work from unknown writers is called "Early Adopters". They are about 5% of the audience. They are treasure hunters, basically, looking for the next big thing. Many are book critics.

And all the subsequent segments rely on at least some recommendations from the Early Adopters.

My final pass on writing is the entire book, and I will keep notes again, just to make sure. And if needed, I will edit again.

My first novel, I re-read over 20 times.

For me personally (FWIW an obsessive compulsive), I do not agree with your premise. I do not leave any loose ends a reader might question. If a character like Cindy is a compulsive liar, then her getting caught at that (even if only by the reader watching her do something and then lying about it) is enough of a wrap up.

Readers need to feel like there are no holes in your story, no deus ex machinas at all. Any hole or loose end looks like one, it looks like you just ignored something. Readers are primarily interested in anything that influences the plot, the actions and decisions of your characters.

But they will also lose immersion if you get your distances wrong -- In one chapter characters make a trip from A to B in one day, five chapters later the trip suddenly takes three days, and -- horrors -- they just missed their connect by one day! Of if you get your seasons wrong; one month it is summer, two months later the dead of winter.

You need consistency and no holes.

I am a "Discovery" writer, I don't plot beforehand. Like Stephen King I build characters in detail, I give the hero a terrible problem, and then the characters do what they do until the story comes out somewhere.

But I keep notes, and build maps and timelines as I go. None of that makes it into the book, but my references keep the story consistent.

Basically, Discovery writers find strong characters first, and let the opposing characters figure out the plot as they go.

Plotters are plot driven and figure out their characters personalities as they go, whatever it takes to make those characters plausibly stick to the plot.

Either way you choose, don't leave any loose ends or questions or quibbles in the mind of the audience.

Including "I don't get why Mike did that, it is completely unlike him." If you are a plotter, you may have forced Mike to do something out of character. You can't, without a very good reason. You may have to go back and fix Mike's personality so his actions seem plausible, otherwise you've got a deus ex machina -- Mike conveniently doing something to advance the plot that is completely out of character. You must make that his character, from the start.

That's what it means when we say "a story has to work."

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