Much in the way I’ve sketched characters with words, I decided to sketch a bit of the city in which much of the novel takes place to help cement story details.Read More
You’d think after three drafts and 350,000 or so words I’d have a better idea of things.
I’ve been scuffling with the ending of my novel for the last month, just taking my time to get it right so it is satisfying and resonant. I would like for the reader to be somewhat surprised at some elements of the ending and leave some things unanswered while answering enough to keep the reader from going, “WTF?”
Above all, I want my characters to plumb the depths of their emotions at the same time the action is climaxing in a way that isn’t forced.
I’ve got three POVs I’m bringing together at the climax and I’m working to let the reader know where they are as things unfold. I’m finding that I have to be careful not to be overly repetitive in doing this.
I think about this a bunch when I walk the dog, when I’m doing dishes, in the shower, before I drift off to sleep. Ultimately, it comes down to writing it out, seeing what I’ve got and either improving on it or starting over.
I remember my high school English teacher telling me that Hemingway rewrote the ending to For Whom the Bell Tolls fifteen times.
I’ll bet it was more.
Even though I’m muddling, I’m still at it. When I wrote my outline for this third draft, I had an ending. But the changes that occurred this time around rendered that ending useless.
Since I can’t provide clear cut guidance on the issue, I’ll leave you with this great post from The Creative Penn called How To Write The Ending of Your Novel. It’s well worth reading and revisiting. Holly Lisle offers some useful tips as well.
If you have any tips or want to share your story ending sagas, bring ’em on.
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Spelling is a tool many fantasy writers use to lend originality to their writing. Sometimes it works and sometimes it distracts the reader from the story. I find myself getting caught up in this device, wondering if I should spell a word as it is commonly spelled or give it a twist to increase the fantastic patina with which I coat my world.
You can see in the title of this post one of the more common words with which writers play in hopes of setting their work apart. I’m reminded of the variations on popular names: Tiffany & Tiffani, Julie & Juli, Steph & Stef and on an on.
There’s nothing wrong with the whole thing, but after all is said and done, how much of a difference does it really make?
The answer is, like most things in writing and in gas mileage, that your results may vary.
The use of word variations doesn’t mean squat if the story is stale and the characters are flat. In fact, I would argue the superficial stuff (odd spellings, two moons, green skin) not only doesn’t cover those shortcomings up, it calls attention to them.
The reality is you can always go back and word search and play with those things after the meat is on the bones. If the story is done well, then those little embellishments, those accessories can enhance the reader’s experience.
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I’d like to blame the heat for my malaise, but I know that’s not really it. After approaching the halfway mark, I stalled out. I hadn’t expected it since I have a pretty good idea where everything is going, but there it was. I was having a hard time pressing forward.
Some of it could be attributed to the first draft feel of the work ahead of me. It feels like taking a few steps backward even though this is the third go around. I’m sure it has something to do with the feeling that I’ve put in so much work and want to feel closer to being done.
- First and foremost I tried not to beat myself up over the relative lack of production.
- Second I kicked up my reading schedule some, reading The Scar by China Mieville (see side bar for link) and the occasional short story from any number of places (Just got my first issue of Realms of Fantasy and I have several short story anthologies). I even watched a movie (Hot Fuzz – watch it if you haven’t – great comedy).
- Third, I took time away from writing and enjoyed the 4th of July weekend in the company of family. Good old fashioned physical fun (swimming, teaching our daughter to swim, jumping in the water, etc.) does wonders to clear the gunk from my mind.
- Fourth, I did write regularly, but just not at my normal rate (1k-2k words daily), so that helped. I tinkered with some stuff I’d already written so I could get my head around where I was really going, the timeline of events, and so on. This was invaluable for getting my head back into the story deep enough where I could sustain longer periods of productive writing.
Now, with copious amounts of A/C and coffee, I’m moving forward again. I’m shooting to have some copies of my story to send to beta readers late this summer. That’s a big deal because it will mark the first time that anyone other than me or my wife have had a look at the story. I look forward to seeing what comes back (I think).
I’m sure there are other methods to get back on track, but these are the one that work for me. What do you do to get your writing back on track from the fits and starts into which we sometimes fall — an artistic defibrillation if you will.
Way back in the beginning of the new decade (Jan. 15 to be precise), I was reading Albert Zuckerman’s Writing the Blockbuster Novel. Although there were some useful bits in there, it was Ken Follett”s successive outlines for The Man From St. Petersburg that caught my eye. When people talked about outlines and writing I had always imagined a scientific outline replete with capital and lowercase letters, numbers and indentation. Follet’s ‘outlines’ are more story summaries. Each version is about 15 pages long. This was a revelation.
Now I am working on my third draft of Shadow of the Black City, but instead of forging ahead and just revising my second draft, I’m using Follett’s method to explore the story deeper. It seems to be working out pretty well. I find that looking at it in a distilled form allows me better see themes, character relationships, and story arcs. It also makes it easier to play with different things without committing to writing 5 or 10 thousand words about it.
My hope is that working over these outlines a few times before working on the third draft will be more efficient in the long run, allowing me to really revise rather than completely rewrite my next draft. I feel like I could have saved myself that horrid first draft (replacing it with a mildly repugnant one) had I approached my story this way.
My blogging friend Teresa Frohock has a nice post related to her experience of working from an outline versus off the cuff. In her post she compares two novels she’s written – one from an outline and one from the seat of her pants. The side by side comparison is illuminating. Check it out.
For my next novel, I’ll be using this approach at the beginning rather than in the middle. If you haven’t tried, I recommend at least giving it a shot.