Tag Archives: writing effective 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 Beginning, and the End

I have written the first paragraph, and the last chapter, of ‘Tider’ about fifteen times. There were no fewer than five attempts to get these vital parts of the book right during the course of yesterday alone. Soon my back garden is going to look a bit like this:

Image: sangbleu.com

Image: sangbleu.com

I’m starting to wish I lived in an era of candlelight and scritchy quill-pens, because back then you had to make every single word work for its place in what you were creating. There were no conveniences born of technology, no handy ‘I’ll just print out these millions of sheets and then recycle them’; if a word went down, it stayed down.

Then again, if I had lived at a time like that, chances are I wouldn’t even be literate, let alone be allowed to create something like a book. So, scratch that. But you know what I mean, I hope.

Beginnings and endings are hard.

The beginning of a book, of course, has to be snappy and engaging and attention-grabbing and interesting, as well as hinting at what’s to come and flinging the reader, in medias res, straight into the fictive world you’ve created. It has to do a lot, and be a lot, and carry a lot of responsibility. Then again, so does the conclusion. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you may already be aware that I have trouble with endings; ‘Tider’ is no exception. I find it difficult to tie up short stories well, and I often agonise about the conclusion to my blog posts, too, which – now that I think about it – may be the reason why I usually sign off with a salutation.

Oh, yeah! Image: atlaschiropractic.com

Oh, yeah!
Image: atlaschiropractic.com

Why, then, would concluding a novel be any less difficult?

I think, however, after a long and hard struggle yesterday, that I’ve finally managed to carve out a beginning and an ending for ‘Tider’ that I’m happy with – or, at least, it’s the best I’ve yet come up with, and that will have to do. I think, as the book stands at the moment, I might have erred a little on the side of schmaltz, but at least it’s genuine, and meaningful.

To illustrate how bad I am at wrapping things up, here’s an example of a pair of concluding sentences so cheesy that you could chop ’em up and put ’em in your sandwich. They’re based on the original finishing flourishes of ‘Tider’, and even though they’re not exactly accurate, they’re close enough to give you a flavour:

Without warning, the police – huffing and puffing with exertion and doing a lot more yelling than was strictly necessary – burst through the door. As they surveyed the scene, probably wondering what on earth had happened, Jenny, Buck and Vincent could only gape at one another in amazement, before exploding into laughter.

This is a pathetic ending. I knew it was pathetic when I wrote it, and I wanted to put my fist through the computer screen yesterday morning when I re-read it. It was such a poor, lacklustre, wrong conclusion; just before this, there’s been a scene of high emotion, and so laughter – even relieved, slightly hysterical laughter – is not a true or authentic emotional response. Truth and authenticity are important in fiction writing – characters have to act logically, and in accordance with reason, and it irritates me when a character is brokenhearted in one scene and five sentences later has carried on as if nothing has happened, or something similar. Of course there are occasions when these rules can be broken for narrative effect, but overall I think characters have to act like people, with ‘real’ responses to what’s going on in their lives. Otherwise, how can a reader relate, or respond, to what they’re reading? How can a book make sense, or seem believable?

Anyway.

So, I’ve taken away that tooth-grindingly bad ending and I’ve replaced it. I’ve rejigged my opening paragraph so much that the words are getting travel-sick. I’ve done my absolute best to make ‘Tider’ as good a book as I can write, and so I’m sending it off to an agent, and that horrifyingly scary event is going to happen today. I have no expectations and I have no hope of success, which might be for the best.

Despite all this, maybe you’d like to send me some good vibes, anyway, and perhaps even a prayer or two if you’re so inclined…

Image: fancy.com

Image: fancy.com