Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ending Your Story

I remember one of my first critiques with an editor. I spent the ten of the fifteen minutes telling him my wonderful, fantastic, post-apocalyptic story (this was before everyone else was writing them). Of course he told me it wouldn’t sell and I thought it was the storyline, but when I told him the ending, he lost it. 
I mean he actually yelled at me. And I’ll never forget what he said, “No one wants to invest time in reading a 300-page book only to find out it was all a dream. Change the ending. Make it real.”
And so I did, but at the time I was a teacher with tests to create and correct, lesson plans to design, parent conferences, mandated meetings etc…… and so by the time I did rewrite the book, you guessed it……everybody was writing post-apocalyptic.
And so my story still remains in my computer file, but the experience did serve to teach me a valuable lesson……….
ENDINGS ARE EVERYTHING!!!! At least when you are writing stories.
The ending is in your head all the time you are crafting words and ultimately driving toward the finish. You make sure your characters are in place for the fantastic ending. Or it may be a surprise ending with unexpected twists, but the thing to keep in mind is that the ending is what you’ve been selling the whole time you wrote.
And the editor was right. The ending is why the reader invests their valuable time to read your story and if it isn't good they feel like they wasted their time and may not read another thing you write.
So what is a good ending?
In a nutshell… SATISFACTION
It should resolve the conflict.
Tie up the main storyline and secondary storylines.
It should grow organically out of the plot and actions.

How do you know if your ending is a good one?
The answer is CHANGE!
Obvious, right? When you finish your novel, or even your picture book, you should go back to reread and even sometimes rewrite your beginning because the ending MUST reflect the beginning only a definite CHANGE must take place. And it doesn’t just change at the end. Your ending reflects all the changes that took place in your story, the growth of your character and the decisions he/she made. The conflicts they overcame.
One of the worst mistakes a writer can make is to just end the story without any real change taking place. When you write, you make promises to the reader, from the very first paragraph, even the very first sentence (but that’s another topic). You had better deliver those promises at the end.
Here is an example of the first paragraph of my novel, RATGIRL: Song of the Viper and the last. Do they connect? Each one of these lines makes a promise to the reader that by the end, circumstances will have changed.
Whoever said the teen years were the best of a girl's life didn't come from
Metro City. Hell, they can't imagine what it's like to be me, living in a sewer
tunnel by day, and foraging the forest for food or scavenging through
abandoned mansions at night. Anything I find that I can't use to survive
 this hellhole I trade for money.

And here is the last paragraph.

I continue. "Tomorrow is July 22, 2511. It's the first day of our new lives."
Andy and Nyla get to know Colt and I contemplate what tomorrow
may bring. As our new lives start, I can't help but think Culpepper will also
 be starting a new life, one he never envisioned for himself—stinking and
dowsed in darkness, scratching through the alleys to sniff out morsels of
 food—the life of a rat!

Look at your beginning and then check your ending. Make sure they match and most importantly, that you delivered the change you promised.

Next topic in the Author'a A,B, C's is FORMATTING.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

THe 4 D's of First Drafts

My critique group and I love sharing first drafts. It gives us a chance to sample the unexplored possibilities of each other’s characters and quite often leads to a more exciting character arc or storyline. Think of FIRST DRAFTS as your unmined claim and you are seeking the gold within your words.
Keep in mind that 4 D’s for FIRST DRAFTS are for:
1.    Discovering details.
2.    Describing characters
3.    Developing scenes
4.    Demonstrating arcs.

Get the story down on paper in the FIRST DRAFT. There’s always room to perfect style later.
Your first writing is raw and true. Don’t be so quick to polish it before the story ends. The story comes first. The editing comes second.
FIRST DRAFTS are just that—First, and they are filled with plot holes and inconsistencies, but once the story is down with a beginning, middle and end, it can be edited to perfection.
It isn’t about writing something publishable. It’s about getting the story down on paper. It’s a step in the process, not the process itself.
Your outline (if you outline at all) is just a blueprint to building your story, a guide, a safety net to keep you from veering off in a totally different direction, however if a character insists on turning right when you want to turn left, follow them to the end of the turn and see if they have a better idea than you.
You can always turn back if it doesn’t work out. But never delete it.
I save my unused writing in a folder titled “Snippets of ____.” Fill in the blank with the working title of your novel. You might be able to mine a small golden nugget from there in a later draft.
Action? Too many stories start with ACTION.
Fights. Wars. Explosions. But the reader has no idea who the main character is. My advice is not to start with action unless you identify the main character before the action starts.
Dialogue? Who is talking? If the main character isn’t firmly planted in the reader’s mind, dialogue is NOT the place to start. It becomes an exercise in talking heads.
Setting? Yes, we need to know whether we are in the jungle or on top of a mountain, but we don’t need every nuance of every leaf or the colors of the sunset. Give us a simple setting, but again, make sure your main character is firmly planted in the scene.
Once you’ve got the story down, then weave in back-story, world-building, or character moments in-between plot elements. Just continue with the story.
Second drafts are for filling in the holes in the plot left in the first draft. It’ll be more effective to fill in those gaps with important information based on what you know happens, because you’ve already visited the end of the story.
When in doubt, just continue with the story.
Write the first draft as simply as possible—start to finish. You’ll end up with a story that makes sense.
Then get ready to…
…plump the plot
…stretch the scenes
…and create depth in your characters
First draft is getting the story written.
Second drafts are for revision
Third drafts are for polishing.
So what are you waiting for? Get writing……

Next up in the Author’s A, B, C’s is……..ENDINGS!

Energized to Write for the New Year

 So happy to be attending the SCBWI National Conference this week. My peer critiques went well two nights ago, and energized me to see the p...