Request by tropesarenotbad
Tips by Beth Hill
Originally Posted on The Editor Blog
We often look at the elements of fiction and the areas of writing separately so we can analyze them, figure out, without distraction of the other elements, how to use each.
But no part of writing exists in a vacuum. Characters and plots are intertwined, setting establishes mood, dialogue flows from action, and reaction comes from dialogue.
Story elements are connected to what has come before them in the story and connected to what comes after. Plus, one story element—one line of dialogue or one character action—can be connected to several other parts of the story. Thus the links are not from one part of a story to only one other part, as though untouching strings are laid out end to end. Instead, the threads cross and cross again, more like complex webs that meet at many points along their lengths.
When we talk of story threads, we need to be sure we’re referring to the same subject; stories make use of at least two kinds of threads. We can speak of narrative threads, the plots and sub-plots that make up the events of the larger story. We also have connecting threads, threads that link story elements and create cohesion and depth and fullness in our fiction. It is these connective threads I want to look at today.
Requested by gottalovethecargopantsseal
There is plenty of writing advice about the first 10 pages, the importance of hooking the reader at the start and making an impact in the first paragraph. But what about making sure that the reader wants to buy your next book?
If your ending sucks, it can leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth and will ensure they don’t want to read your next book. So here are some tips on writing endings for your fiction novels:
- Don’t cheat and suddenly have everything work out fine. This is lazy and the reader isn’t fooled. For example “And Jesus lived happily ever after”. From ‘How Not To Write A Novel.
- Link the story to a larger theme to end on a high note. This is one of the great tips included by C. Patrick Schulze in this article on writing endings.
- You can surprise the reader but you must also satisfy them. There should be more than one possible ending to a book, so the reader doesn’t just give up as they know what will happen. It’s worth foreshadowing this ending with hints in the rest of the book though so that they are surprised but it is not entirely out of the blue. Paraphrased from Holly Lisle. This is also covered by the disappointment of twist endings at Kim’s Craft Blog.
- Don’t use sappy extraneous contemplation. This is the big problem with the ending of Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol‘. The last chapter or two is just watching the sun rise and thinking about the experience. Boring and pointless.
- Some genres have an expected ending that you can’t mess with. If your genre is romance, they have to get together at the end. There’s no getting around this unless you want to change genres! You also need to keep some characters alive if you have a series of books planned.
- Don’t forget to end the book (or explain it is a trilogy!). I recently read ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin, a very chunky post-apocalyptic, majorly hyped novel. I enjoyed it but was hugely disappointing in the ending which basically didn’t end. There were so many loose ends so I went onto Twitter to see if anyone else felt the same way. A wonderful fellow tweeter pointed out that the book is first in a trilogy! However, this doesn’t excuse the feeling of disappointment as the brilliant ‘Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins is also the first in a trilogy and wraps the story up and yet still leads onto the next book. It’s definitely a balance.
The resolution comes after the climax. The ending does not have to be in that last action/adventure scene. It needs to be after the climax so the story is rounded out. In film, “the audience can catch its breath, gather its thoughts and leave the cinema with dignity” From ‘Story’ by Robert McKee.
by Glen Strathy
Now you have written a brief plot outline (see Part 3) some plot development should be your next task. In particular, let’s consider how to make sure the plot of your novel incorporates a satisfying climax and resolution.
Many writers, especially pantsers, don’t like to think about plot development until they’ve written most of the first draft, preferring to let the ending evolve organically out of what comes before. Others may plan an ending ahead of time, but they prefer to rely on instinct, feeling, and a lot of trial and error rather than any kind of theory.
I believe, however, that you can save yourself a lot of time and effort in the long run by making a few decisions about how your plot develops and the nature of your story early on. That includes having some idea what the ending will be. A good sense of where you are going increases your chance of getting there successfully.
So, let’s say you’re about fifteen thousand words into your story when you realize, “Holy cow, I hate everything I’ve written. This is horrible. Everything about this is horrible. I can’t write, I don’t know what to do, I’m—”
Stop. You’re freaking yourself out.
But trust when I say that this spot you’ve hit is totally, completely normal. Writers, both published and unpublished, fall to this low point all the time whether they’ve finished zero books or fifty books.
Like most problems, the “my story is horrible” breaking point has a multitude of causes, not just one. The little point at the tip of the iceberg sets you off, but that might not even be the biggest problem – it’s the enormous hunk of ice beneath the surface, something that has collected over time, and something we can’t see unless we look deeper.
When you get to this tipping point, the best thing you can do is set the story aside, give yourself some time to breathe, and then figure out what exactly brought you to this stage of breaking apart. Dissecting what’s wrong takes the big wad of frustration and makes sense of it, and when we understand why we feel a particular way, we can find the right antidotes as well.
Here are a few common causes of first draft blues:
- Writing it has been a struggle. Sometimes every single word in your present cumulative word count felt like absolute torture to pull out, and when writing is a struggle, it’s easy to believe the writing reads just as horribly as it felt to write it. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes it isn’t. We are, after all, our own harshest critics.
- The story feels like it’s dragging serious hind quarters. Writing is a slow process. Whether you’re a writer who pushes out a few hundred words a day or a few thousand, the writing process is slow. Sometimes this feels, by consequence, like the actual story is also slow, that the pacing drags. Our sense of time passing in the story is disjointed, so it’s not always a wholly accurate grasp of the pacing.
- The story lacks a clear middle. Whether a detail-oriented outliner or a pantser, hitting a point in the story that has no clear direction can kill the momentum, the drive, and the interest. And, sometimes, laboring through the middle can feel like we’re leaving a serious mess in our path instead of the cohesive, consistent story we originally imagined.
- The story is no longer interesting to you. After the beginning is written, the story loses that shiny newness that made it intriguing. All that potential and exploration evolves into commitment and duty, which can then evolve into a chore, like homework. A requirement. It’s no longer as fun as it had been in the beginning. The only cure for this is to push through and write anyway.
- The story didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. Planning and outlining can only tell us so much about a story before we dive in. Largely, we really can’t be sure what we’re going to get until we finish that final word. Some things often can’t be planned for, such as development in characters or plot, and sometimes that feeling of “I’ve lost control of this story” gets us.
- The story feels like it genuinely sucks. It might be because we’re stuck in a highly critical mode and seeing the tiniest flaw in everything. It might be that we see too many of the same stories on the shelves already. It might be the plot, the characters, everything. But the case is often that we’re over-analyzing a work of art before it’s finished.
- The writing isn’t good enough. Sometimes we want and expect the first draft to look as perfect as a final draft, or our most favorite piece of fiction. We have trouble “uglying it up” and letting ourselves write cringe-worthy prose. But writing cringe-worthy prose brings us closer to writing the awesome stuff, while writing nothing leaves us with just that: nothing.
- You reread what you had. Some writers do this to stay motivated, or to get back into the writing mood, and it works for them. For other writers, rereading before the story’s completed can kick out the knees because we turn on the critical mode prematurely. This means we see everything that’s wrong as we’re rereading, and that can get seriously overwhelming.
If you’re stuck in the first draft blues, some of the above things might have hit home with you. They’re all legitimate feelings, and while writing through one or two or even a few is possible, but an army of bad feelings can conquer us.
If you’re feeling close to conquered, don’t give up just yet. Check out these articles from us and our fellow writing blog friends:
- On habits and taking care of yourself
- Steps to becoming confident in your writing
- Troubles with focusing on only one story
- Write for yourself
- Ego versus Insecurity
- The inner critic and ways to fight it
- Writing a story that’s doomed to suck
- Originality: when writing, don’t overthink
- Guide: what to do when your story stalls
- A few tips when your story starts to sound bland
- When your writing sounds bad/bland
- You will change as a writer
Tips by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb
Originally Posted on scriptfrenzy
I am the type of writer who usually begins a play not being exactly sure of the ending. That’s part of the excitement for me of building a story: figuring out as I go along where the play needs to go. The discovery often has full structural ramifications, and I go backwards and forwards to further shape the play and its push towards the ending (which may or may not be conclusive. Let’s just call it “the moment the audience is supposed to clap.”). As an avid fan of the rewriting process, this “organic free love” ending-finding is a process that works well for me. Sometimes.
The particular moment when I’ve had the revelation of where my play may be ending has varied from project to project. It usually emerges somewhere around 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through. I have enough material on paper to detect some momentum and direction (such as “oh man, I think only one of these people can be alive at the end!”). There are other times when ending-finding been less easy for me. Sometimes I think I’ve written to what I think is the right end, only to discover that it isn’t. Or, even worse, I find myself hovering around page 75 for several weeks which then summons a moment in my writing process I like to call “Holy !@** Mother&@## Where the ??!@ is this ??!@ing play going *@#$ ()%% !@#$.”
You fine folks do not have several weeks to hover. So do not lose hope! There is a beautiful, wonderful, perfect ending lurking within your piece, waiting for you to find and write. Here are a few thoughts to help you as you seek your end. (I should mention that I am a playwright, thus the handy Syd Field rules do not necessarily apply to my craft. I hope I am crafting tips that embrace stories both conventional and non.)
1) Helpful hints to your ending are all around you in your work. Go back and see what you’ve done. What clues have you left for yourself? Start by looking at your characters. What are they pushing towards? What are they clamoring for? What do they need to do before we’re done with watching them and they’re done existing? Do they need to find Love? Die? Kill? Eat? Mate? Is their quest a success or a failure?
2) What questions is your play raising? These could be questions of story (What does Bernard keep in that sack?) or theme (Are we all destined to be sad?). Perhaps the ending somehow involves addressing, maybe even resolving, some of your questions and/or mysteries you have raised. BUT, don’t feel like you have to resolve everything! Your ending doesn’t have to be tidy. It’s okay to leave your audience with some unanswered questions. But you also do not want them to be completely confused. Have some things come to a head.
3) Considering your ending should also include (maybe) thinking about how you want to leave your audience after they have experienced your whole piece. What do you want to leave your audience feeling? Hopeful? In Awe? Angry? Dejected? Humbled? Horny? How are you pushing your play towards that final feeling?