The End Is Here

Endings are the most important part of any story. It’s what the beginning hints at and the middle reaches after slogging through a lot of muck. In a way, they are the exact opposite of theme because the ending is the one thing that the writer must not wait to figure out. It must be firmly in place before the first sentence is written.

Because the ending must be behind every sentence that’s written. The writer must know where the story is going in order to write words and sentences and paragraphs that will get the reader there without throwing the book against the wall in frustration because that wasn’t what they expected.

There are exceptions. Some great writers don’t know where they are going until they get there. Hans Christian Anderson is the writer I’m thinking of. He said he wrote stories to find out how they ended. But I firmly believe that his subconscious knew all along what the ending would be and he just followed its lead until it emerged into his conscience.

So unless you trust your subconscience to know more than you do and to lead you in the right direction, write the ending before the beginning. Most writers do. Some write the entire ending scene before starting their story. Most of us at least jot down a sentence or two on a slip of paper and tape it to the wall above our computers. Or, as in my case, on the computer.

Doing this one simple thing will make writing a story a lot easier and will get you to the end a lot faster and might prevent some future reader from throwing your book against the wall.

Messing Up Your Characters

Once, at a writers’ meeting, a fellow writer said he was quitting the group. His explanation? He’d had a happy childhood. We all understood. Some of the best writers out there grew up in unhappy homes. Not all, but a lot. Those unhappy childhoods gave them both content and incentive to write great stories.

I had a happy, normal, well-adjusted childhood. As a beginning writer, I started out writing what I knew about and that was happy, well-adjusted … and boring.

I realized I’d have to learn how to create characters that don’t put my readers to sleep or go to work at Walmart. I did so by creating characters who have difficulty with adversity because, like me, they’ve never known it and so, don’t know how to deal with it when it hits them over the head. It worked and I started selling.

I still struggle with the process.

As a writer, you must do whatever works for you to create great characters. You can throw problems you are familiar with at them or you can throw problems at them that you … and they … know nothing about. Doesn’t matter which as long as they end up with problems they can’t handle.

Your characters will grow, your story will be better and, most of all, your characters will be more interesting.

The Right Theme

Theme is important. It’s deeper than plot. It’s what makes the story come alive. And it’s very, very general. Love overcomes bigotry. Hope springs eternal. Life is good. Nothing specific.

Problem is, the general nature of theme makes it illusive, amorphous and easy to lose track of even though the theme is what makes the story unforgettable. Like the times you set out to write a love story and ended up with a family saga. You had a techno- thriller clearly in mind but you wrote a romance. So the question is … how can you know your theme before you begin writing if it might change during the course of the story?

The answer is, you don’t. And that’s okay. Because theme chooses you, not the other way around, and that’s why very often it shouldn’t be decided until after the story is finished.

What you wrote when you thought you were writing whatever you set out to write was the story your subconscious was directing you to write. You just didn’t know it until you wrote The End at the bottom of the last page with that elegant flourish all writers learn early on.

At that moment, and not a second before, go back and decipher the underlying theme of your masterpiece. It might surprise you. It may be totally different from what you expected. It usually is.

Don’t worry about it. Run with whatever theme you uncovered that you didn’t know existed until your story was written. Then pretend that theme was what you set out to write all along and accept all compliments gracefully.

Simplify

In my wip (that’s work-in-progress to non-writers) I need a character to introduce Elle to the spaceship, another to figure out that she’s a stow-away and still another to give her fake papers so she’ll appear to be legitimate. That’s three characters who aren’t essential to the story and all must appear in the first two chapters.

There are two ways to handle such a situation. The first involves creating what some writers call throw-away characters, those people who appear briefly in a story and then disappear, never to be seen again. It’s fun to create such characters and describe them in a sentence or two that implants them so firmly in the readers’ minds that they stay there forever. But too many minor characters can clutter up a story.

So I chose the second way. I simplified and combined. I created one single character who will be semi-important to the story and who does all three jobs. He meets Elle as they board the spaceship, he finds her living hand-to-mouth and he makes fake papers for her. And since he’s also the father of a small girl who helps Ells survive and since he’s also the Mayor of the village she lives near, he’s available to accomplish all sorts of other things in the story that I haven’t yet figured out I’ll need done. And he’s just one character.

A simple story will be remembered long after a complex one has been long forgotten and one character who becomes part of the story will be fuller and more rounded than several throw-away characters, no matter how well they have been described.

The decision as to which way to go is up to the writer. Long stories usually need simplification because they are complex enough without adding to the mix. Shorter stories often benefit from one or two well-defiined throw-away characters.

 

What’s Interesting?

Rule 2 of the 22 rules of great storytelling has to do with writing what’s interesting. Again, as in my last post (which, by the way, was rule number 1), that means what’s interesting to the reader, not the writer.

What, you say? You were told to write what you like to read. You were told to write what you know. You were told not to do what everyone else is doing. All true, but with a caveat. A very large caveat.

If you write about something you care about passionately but no one else gives a fig about, why would they read what you write? The answer is … they wouldn’t.

So before you put pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, think about your readers and what they are interested in. If you don’t know what that is, go to a bookstore and look over the books for sale. Which genres contain the most bestsellers? That’s what people want to read. There are so many genres out there that sell well that you should be able to find one that’s compatible with your taste.

Then write in that genre but give your work your personal stamp. Do something to make it stand out from the pack and make a reader choose it over all other seemingly similar books. Pull everything you have in you on that subject from your mind and put it down on paper. If you do, you’ll find that your unique take on a popular subject told in your unique voice will become a winner.

Try, Try, and Try Again

First, a little housekeeping. I’ll be gone this week and might not be able to post to this blog. I’ll try, but if there’s nothing to read for the next few days, it’s not because I don’t love you, it’s just that I’m unable to connect. I know, I know! I should write ahead. Some day I’ll be that organized, it’s in my plans for the future. For now I’m still writing posts on a day-to-day basis.

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Writers should try, try, and try again. That’s a given in the writing business. You’re never done learning and never done trying. But did you know that this trait that’s so important for you, the writer, is just as important for the characters you create?

Think about it. What makes you a good writer? Trying and then trying again when you don’t achieve the desired result the first time. So what do you think would make your readers like your characters even more than they already do and cheer them on even more than they are doing now? Trying. Because people don’t admire success as much as they admire the struggle.

Not everyone has been Number One or won the gold ring. But everyone knows what it’s like to try. The struggle is what makes us human and is what makes your characters real.

Use that struggle in your fiction. Show the struggle. Show success if that’s part of the story, but also show failure. Your characters will gain depth, your stories will be better, and more people will read your books.

Finding Eden by C Beavers

Finding Eden  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009J8EFF0

Review of Finding Eden by Camilla Beavers

This is the perfect example of a young adult urban fantasy story so I thought I’d review it here. And, by the way, I liked it. Most of all, I loved the cover.

It’s the story of Eden, a high school student close to graduation, who has always known she was ‘different’ because she could read the colors around people. That’s auras to those of you conversant with psychic stuff. I’ve known a couple people who said they could read auras. I don’t know if I believe them or not. Maybe I do, a little.

Anyway, Eden is informed by a really hunky new student that she’s the granddaughter of the king of the Fae world and is needed back home because her grandfather was murdered and someone has to take charge of the kingdom. Her father informs her that, yes, her mother (deceased) was the king’s daughter so yes, she’s about to become a queen. She agrees and goes with the hunky new student who turns out to be her personal security detail in this world sent when her grandfather was murdered to make sure she was safe.

From there the plot is predictable. She overcomes the bad guys, saves the throne, becomes a decent if not great queen and marries the hunky security guy. Like I said, it’s all predictable stuff.

But what’s wrong with predictable? I read romances because I know there’s a happily-ever-after ending. I dislike grim, depressing, horrific endings. I hate the feeling they leave with me. I like the feeling I get after reading a book with a happy ending. And if the way to get to that predictable happily-ever-after ending and the feeling it engenders is through a predictable story line, then I’m all for it.

And, yes, the grammar and typos and spelling, etc, were well vetted and nothing took me from the story. So, all in all, it was a decent read, even more so since it was free, at least for now.

I’m not sure I’d have chosen it if it cost money because I knew it would be predictable and that there are a lot of decent predictable books out there for free. But the cover was great, so maybe I would have paid something for it after all and I’d have been glad I did.

The Romance Genre Part 2

I started writing a review of Finding Eden, a young adult, urban fantasy romance. Then I realized it made more sense to first talk about young adult romances since they are a sub-genre of the romance genre, and to review Finding Eden after the sub-genre has been defined. So here’s my take on young adult romances.

First of all, you must understand that they are only partly aimed at high school kids. Yes, those kids read them, and they read them in droves. But adults read them too. I read them, though not often. But I know there are whole online chat groups of adults who read young adult romance. I suspect I know why.

Young adult romances never involve sex unless or until the couple are married as in The Hunger Games and The Twilight series. Furthermore they are about young people with their lives ahead of them, which is equally appealing. Put those two things together and you have coming-of-age stories written around a romantic theme without gratuitous sex.

But there’s more. The Young Adult sub-genre includes other sub-genres. Urban Fantasy is a big one. Small Town is another. Just about any other sub-genre of romance can be paired with Young Adult and that means a whole lot of people will read in that genre. Enough that there’s now another sub-genre of romance that’s an extension of the Young Adult sub-genre. It’s called New Adult. More about that another time, for now, it’s enough to know that romances about high school kids aren’t just for high school kids. They are for everyone.

The Romance Genre Part 1

Romance is the best-selling genre out there. And the largest. And the hardest to define. Wikipedia has a short, simple, to-the-point definition of romance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance  According to wiki, Romance emphasizes love over libido. I’ll go with that because it’s a definition that answers a question I’ve had for quite some time about the romance genre.

I wondered how erotica can be considered romance when the entire book consists of one sexual encounter after another and very little else. I used to think it was porn disguised as romance. I now know that it is a romance as long as the emphasis is on love, not libido.

When I read that definition of romance I remembered reading an interview with a writer of erotica who is also a professor of literature at a prestigious university, a respected writer of literary fiction, and the child of famous, literary authors. When asked why she writes erotica she said she did it because she enjoys it. She enjoys erotica. That made me think. I eventually realized that erotica, like car chases, appeals to some people and not to others and if the emphasis is on the romance, then it’s a romance.

I realized that some people enjoy reading detailed descriptions of human plumbing. I don’t. But, if it fits the story, I find the details of plumbing in a space ship quite interesting. Remember the first Star Wars movie where the main characters almost drowned in garbage? That was a wonderful scene, it was plumbing though not of the human kind. And the Star Wars series qualified as romance.

The romance genre contains a lot of sub-genres, as any best-selling genre must, of necessity, in order to accommodate every reader’s taste And the only thing that’s essential is that the emphasis be on love, not libido.

The Science Fiction Genre Part 4

More about world building in the science fiction, fantasy and paranormal genres. Yesterday I wrote about world building for my wip, Earth Legend. I described a world similar in appearance to Earth but functioning differently. Such a world was needed for Earth Legend but it’s not what most novelists think of when they hear the words ‘world building.’

They think really, really weird planets that we humans would never recognize and shouldn’t be able to survive on. Or they need ghosts, goblins, etc to advance their story line so they invent them. I needed an Earth-like space ship. I invented one.

The trick, as any science fiction writer worth his/her credentials will tell you, is to make those strange story elements believable. And that’s where world building comes in.

Writers must create, in their own minds, the entire world inhabited by those strange creatures, or the world itself. So everything in the story hangs together. So some jarring element doesn’t take the reader out of the story.

Then they must ignore that world because the bottom line is that they are telling a story, not describing a world. That’s hard to do because writing is what writers do. What they must do.

Except in the case of world-building.