Tag Archives: conclusions

That Familiar Feeling…

I’ve hit 65,000 words on the WiP, which is A Good Thing.

Image: lightintheboxblog.com

Image: lightintheboxblog.com

This is particularly good when I consider that, at about 50,000 words, I thought I’d written myself into an irretrievable mess and getting to the lofty wordcount I’m currently at seemed no more than a fever dream. So, I’m pleased.

Or, at least, I was pleased. Until I remembered that I really suck at writing endings.

You’d think I’d have improved by now, frankly. I’m on my fourth book, I’ve written loads of stories (some of which have even been published, so they can’t have been that bad), and I’ve bashed out about a million blog posts. I should know how to end things properly, but it still gives me the sweats. The strangest thing of all is, with this book, I know how I want it to end – I’m just not sure how to make it brilliant enough.

(By which I mean, of course, exciting and thrilling and spooky and scary and cool, all of which are vital when you’re writing a book about outsmarting a horrible and terrible ghoul-thingie bent on revenge, which is what I’m doing).

I keep trying to remind myself that I’m completing a first draft, and that all I need is a bare skeleton of story which can be given proper flesh and musculature later; getting it finished is the important thing. But I’m one of those complicated people for whom completing a job with anything less than perfection in mind is pretty much impossible. I’ve been editing as I wrote; half the book is technically a second draft, because I printed it out to bring it with me on a road trip, red pen in hand, when I was at that point in the writing process. I also don’t do what so many other writers do when they’re drafting, which is leave whole sections unwritten with a few notes to direct them when they revisit the draft, along the lines of ‘something needs to happen here’ – I leave no gap unbridged when I’m trying to bring a story to completion. I prefer to sweat over it now, rather than sweat over it later. So, I want to do a good job of the latter parts of this book, even if their true importance, for now, lies in their being the bit that comes before I get to type ‘The End.’

I read once, a long time ago, that in order to keep your writing fresh (and your mind fully engaged in your story) you should leave your character ‘stuck’ every day when you finish work – as in, hanging off the edge of a cliff with no visible means of rescue, or facing a firing squad without hope of survival. Then, the next morning when you dive back in, the stakes are high and the narrative blood is pumping before you so much as add your first word of the day, and you don’t leave yourself room for flabby storytelling or complacency. I think there’s something to be said for that approach. I’ve left my protagonist stuck at several points in the drafting of this story and I think it has helped me to get ‘unstuck’, and to keep her moving. There is, of course, always the risk that you leave things too stuck, and you have to unpick the stickiness and find another path – but I’ve done that at least three times with this book, too. It’s not unsurvivable, the whole ‘oo-er. I’ve made a bit of a mess of this’ thing. I know things don’t have to be set in stone the first time you write them at this stage of the game, and the beauty of drafting is that you get to change stuff that doesn’t work – it’s just hard to remember that when you’re in the thick of it.

Anyway, I’m fairly sure I can wrap this story up, though I have just written an unlikely scene wherein our heroine uses a life-jacket to escape from a perilous situation (and not in the way one would expect). I thought it was terribly clever at the time and now it seems a bit…

Image: fbpic-comments.blogspot.com

Image: fbpic-comments.blogspot.com

…so we’ll see whether it makes the final cut.

Another problem with writing first drafts which are over-concerned with being ‘right’ is, of course, that you risk struggling to edit and re-draft them. It’s harder to chuck away thousands of words you’ve really sweated over than it is paragraphs which go a bit like: ‘blah blah blah, protagonist eats dinner and has a fight with mum, do something here with an exploding bathtub or similar’; the more strongly-built the foundation, the harder it is to dig up. It’s not even a pride thing, or a ‘precious writer’ thing – it’s literally just harder to see another way forward when you’ve put down your first version of the story too strongly, like leaning too heavily with a pencil and leaving a track in the paper when you erase what you’ve drawn. I’m wondering now whether I should just write something like ‘ffffffffffffffffflllllllllllllppppp, stuff happens here for ten pages, you know what I’m talking about’ instead of a conclusion, and hope for the best when draft two kicks off.

But between you and me, it ain’t gonna go down like that. I know it, you know it, everybody knows it. So, I might as well just go with my natural style – panic, stress, perfectionism and eventual exhaustion. It’s worked out okay for me in the past, right?

Have a most excellent Thursday. I’m planning to be hot and bothered, but it’s all good. After all, it’s only drafting.

 

The Sense of an Ending

Today, the world is wearing winter’s wedding dress. The whole place is white and lacy, and there’s a layer of frost over every surface. The sky and the ground blend into one another. It’s quite lovely, but it’s very cold!

Image: 5ksandcabernets.com

Image: 5ksandcabernets.com

As I write, the sun has started to peek up over the horizon, bringing touches of gold to the whiteness. Hopefully soon things will start to thaw and I’ll be able to get outside. Nothing is as refreshing as a lungful of cool air on a crisp day like this.

While I’m waiting, I’m still thinking about short stories. I wrote three yesterday, all of them very different – one was about a frustrated wife trying to get revenge on her oppressive husband (very much not based on reality, before anyone asks!), another about an anxious child who feels she has done something terrible, and the third about a man convinced that his life so far has been meaningless and he’s wasted any potential he had. Two of the stories are narrated in the first person, and one is third-person; one of them features a lot of ‘salty’ language – it seemed appropriate for the character – and all the protagonists are different in terms of age, race and gender. But all the stories have one thing in common.

None of them end very well.

I’m not sure if this is a problem for others, but it’s certainly a problem for me. I find it very difficult to bring short stories to satisfying conclusions. It’s even the case with the longer pieces I’ve been working on over the last few months. With ‘Tider’, I felt happy with the ending at first – I thought it was exciting and snappy, leading the reader into curiosity about the next book, and it wrapped up most of the plotlines, leaving some strategic threads unresolved. Then, I read on several internet forums that ‘cliffhanger endings are a no-no’, which gave me a bit of a headache. How do you end a book which is the first in a planned duology without leaving some plot threads unresolved? I was stumped. Luckily, this isn’t such a big problem for me any more because I’m planning to completely overhaul the book anyway, but it speaks to the larger problem I feel I have. Stopping the writing process, rather than starting it, seems to be my biggest challenge. I’m really enjoying the focus on short stories lately, because they don’t come naturally to me, and finding solid, convincing and meaningful conclusions to them is vital to their form. So, with every story I write, I’m learning.

But how does it work, this ‘concluding’ business? I suppose it helps if you plot religiously, and you know exactly where you want your characters to be at the end of the piece you’re writing. But, as we saw yesterday, sometimes writing short pieces is a case of listening to what the characters have to say, and letting them finish in their own time. It can be hard to plot when all you have to go on at the beginning is a flash of an image, or maybe a couple of words of dialogue. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, a whole opening sentence will come to you. Trying to write a story like this is a delicate business, and I fear that trying to tie these bursts of inspiration to a tight plot will strangle them. Then, that’s where drafting comes in. Perhaps the first draft of a short piece should be a listening exercise, finding out who your character is and what they have to say. There has to be a point to the story – otherwise, it’s just a pointless ramble. We’ve all been on the end of another person’s bumbling, and it’s usually not much fun. So, the second draft is where the real work comes in. You take your character’s thoughts and turn them into a narrative. Find out what was so important about what they had to say. Chisel out the kernel of their thought process, and find out what concerned them so deeply that they felt they had to tell you about it.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

The story I found the most difficult to bring to a conclusion yesterday was the one about the anxious child. The image was very strong – a little girl who was sick in the night and who was too afraid to wake anyone up to help her in case they’d be angry with her. She was tiny, cold, afraid and very lonely, and I felt her very clearly. But I wasn’t sure what was important about what she had to say. Her younger brother had been very sick and he’d just been released from hospital; her father had a hard job and he needed his sleep. All of these things were on her mind. As well as that, she was terrified of something, but she wasn’t able to tell me what. I’m going to revisit this story today and find its point – redraft it until this child’s message becomes clear.

I know I sound like a nineteenth-century Spiritualist here, knocking on tables and making the lights flicker in my attempts to contact ‘the other side’. I just find it easier to talk about characters as though they were actual people trying to speak. Sometimes, it is a bit scary – they seem very real and, sometimes, in a lot of pain. Most of the characters that step into the parlour of my mind don’t want to tell me about how happy they are and how much love they have in their lives – something terrible or sad has happened, and they want to explain it all to me. But they’re all a bit like me (which makes sense, I guess); they like to ramble on, and they find it hard to wrap things up.

Perhaps it’s just a case of practice makes perfect. The more I listen, the more I’ll learn, and the more I read, the more I’ll discover about how to master the art of conclusion.

Back to the drawing board for me!