Your novel has a slam/bang conclusion. And you, author, are in a hurry to get there. You’re itching to lay on the reader the big payoff in the final pages, even if it means throwing logic out the window or dragging in extraordinary coincidences to move the story along. Or, maybe you’re not quite sure how to wrap things up.

Your hero and heroine are trapped in a burning building, you don’t know how to get them out, and so….turns out it was all a dream. Or, the hero finds a diary, never previously suspected, that just magically opens to a page on which all is explained. The end.

Sometimes a certain fatigue sets in when you’re 3/4s of the way done, and the rush to the finish line includes abandoning issues or characters you’ve introduced as important—or at least, engaged our interest in. The writer of a lively novel centered on the immigrant population of a small town in New England told us a lot about a certain woman shopkeeper. She was richly imagined, a fully fleshed-out character with a complex personal history. She was not, however, central to the denouement of the main plot, and halfway through the script, she abruptly vanished from sight. We wanted to know: So what happened to the shopkeeper? Did she end up okay?

There’s an old joke about soap opera-style writing in which a character leaves to buy a container of milk or goes upstairs to change her clothes and is never seen or heard from again. Readers remember. They feel cheated.

Do you need a plan of procedure as you’re starting out to avoid these kinds of traps? What should that be? Some writers can successfully wing it. John O’Hara suggested setting up a file system and writing forward and backward from an established climax. I often recommend to novice writers that they work up a storyboard or a reasonably detailed outline of who you’ve got, how they’re going to get where they’re going, and why they end up where they do.

Do this for your own edification, a memorandum to self, and insurance that you won’t lose track of the specifics of the story. At the same time, you can recognize that the outline is absolutely subject to change. And it will change in the course of your efforts. You start liking one character more than another. Or the big plot development you had in mind initially starts to seem a little dopey. Things evolve. But you won’t leave yourself out on a limb that you can’t saw off.