The notion of final-third frenzy comes from a Reedsy webinar The Top Suspense Novel Pitfalls. Taking the broad category of suspense novels as more complex forms of fiction, there’s a lot can go wrong in engineering the plot and structure.
Editor and Book-Tuber Alyssa Matesic discusses common issues in mystery, suspense and thriller novels. It’s a wider-ranging webinar than just the Final-Third frenzy which grabbed me. Do check out the whole of it.
Alyssa’s notable Final-Third Frenzy symptoms are:
- Several reveals in quick succession
After many chapters, suddenly the whole plot unwinds at once. It’s more obvious if Acts One and Two laboured with a slow build.
- Chapters become shorter and more action-oriented (especially in multiple Point-of-View stories).
There’s less space to explain and contextualise the torrent of plot points. The plot too easily collapses into coincidences, accidents and convenient lucky discoveries. Melodrama ensues. Style and character go out the window with the bathwater.
Alyssa’s solutions include:
- Give each reveal breathing room, allow characters time to react.
Suspense and thriller novels often fall prey to ‘accelerating plot syndrome.’ Events get compressed in the final third to add pace at the expense of all that carefully laid character work. Story is about how characters react, plot is about stuff that happens.
- Re evaluate the pacing.
She suggests bringing the reveals forward in the timeline. As much as a hundred pages sooner! This spreads the reveals throughout the novel. It can actually enhance the suspense or mystery, having it play out over a longer period.
Another useful piece of advice under ‘unfinished business’ is simplify, streamline and slice.
Alyssa specifically references the conclusion of the novel where there are loose hanging threads of plot and character. Her advice here is to merge characters and scenes where possible. This merged cast and structure means fewer characters, scenes and plots to wrangle through the course of the novel. This in turn makes it quicker and easier to wrap it up with a bow at the end.
I’d go further than Final-Third Frenzy. There’s an increasing trend in TV and film to pack everything into a short final act of a four-act structure. Perhaps the final half of the fourth act. Apparently nobody likes long goodbyes. Jack Nicholson walked out of Return of the King – “…too many endings.”
It’s cross-infecting novels, too. The literary equivalent of 88-minutes-and-out sees short climaxes and next to no wind-down.
Alyssa didn’t get time to address the difference between final-third frenzy and an accelerating climax.
A rising plot arc sees sufficient build of characters and plot, until an accelerating climax creates a satisfying payoff to the suspense. The finale bursts like a firework. Really well-paced thrillers and action-genre pieces deliver this well.
This is the difference between Murder She Wrote and Dick Wolff’s FBI show. Each handles resolution at a totally different pace. FBI has extremely short epilogues, sometimes none at all. You’ll find daytime TV thrillers work to a formula where the plot accelerates toward a dramatic showdown and an abrupt ending. They can be manic and melodramatic, but they are baked into the genre. Final-third Frenzy does not belong in Cozy Mystery; it’s almost obligatory in certain espionage thrillers.
As always, the advice to the author is know your genre and knowingly pace your plot accordingly.