Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Writing This Novel IV

by Kathleen Bradean



The end is near! 

The last two chapters took longer to write than the rest of my novel. Usually, writing the ending is easier than the beginning because as you near the final chapters the story should be converging on the event horizon, collapsing on itself like a black hole, and the ending should be inevitable. Right? It will seem that way to the reader. It isn’t that simple for the writer.

What if you didn’t end up telling the story you meant to tell? That isn’t always a bad thing, but that means there are choices to make. You can follow through with the ending that seems to flow naturally from what you’ve written or you can force the story back on track in the final chapters. I’m not a big fan of forcing for the sake of plot, but if you feel strongly about it, do it. (because later you're going to rewrite the novel in such a way that the forced ending seems to flow naturally, but more about that next month.)

For Night Creatures, I chickened out and wrote a weaker, albeit happier, ending. My beta reader wasn’t impressed. He felt cheated that everything pointed to a darker conclusion. I should have known better. Considering the extremes of the rest of the story, the end was no place to play it safe. I promised to fix that in the next draft.

If you’re a complete pantser, you might not have any idea how your story should end. But as a storyteller, I’m sure you have an instinct for the natural conclusion. Quest completed? Goal achieved? Character transformation complete? Congratulations, you’ve reached the end of this tale. Don’t linger too long after the big climax but do give the reader a sense of closure.

Please, don’t wrap up all your loose ends in the final two paragraphs. Those should have been woven into the story as you were nearing the ending. Twist endings take a deft hand so be cautious with them. Have you ever seen the play/movie Murder By Death? At the climax, the protagonist yells at the assembled detectives, “You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it.” Don’t be that writer. (On second thought, since he was accusing parodies of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, maybe you should. Even the Doctor carries an Agatha Christie book with him in the TARDIS.)  

So… Now you have a completed first draft. Congratulations! That’s a huge accomplishment. Be proud of yourself. What’s next, you might be wondering. Send it off to a publisher?

Don’t. Don’t even think about that yet.

I used to think that if I were any good at writing my first draft would be perfect. *rueful chuckle* Then I read a quote that changed my mind. I wish I knew who to attribute it to. “Even F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald in the first draft.” Wait! What? Stories didn’t just flow from his fingers perfect and wonderful? He didn’t type The End at the bottom of his first draft then drop the manuscript on his publisher’s desk?  Holy smokes! So the work of writing isn’t simply the physical act of typing the words? Who knew? 

Apparently everyone knew except me. Ernest Hemingway stated, “The first draft of anything is shit.”  That might be a bit harsh, but I’m not about to argue that succinct comment with him. (I’m aware that he couldn’t win a debate with a flower at this point, but I meant hypothetical him. You knew that.)

You’re going to have to write a second draft. Even if you didn’t force the ending. Even if you never made a typo. Even if you ruthlessly polished every word before you finished your first draft, you’re going to have to do a second one. I can hear you groaning from here. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. And I sympathize. I truly do. I’ve always hated reading my work once I finished writing it. Telling the story is fun. (Let me dream here that the first draft wasn’t a pain in the butt.) Fixing the first draft is the same work without the creative fun. This is the craftsmanship level of writing. This is where you put in your time.  


So – onward to the second draft, right?

Sorry. No. I have some advice that I hope you’re ready to hear. This is one of the biggest secrets of writing. It’s probably the most important trick up a writer’s sleeve. Are you ready for the big reveal?

Patience.

Boo. That’s no fun. I know. It sucks. It’s a virtue, fer chrissakes, and I’m not exactly a virtuous person. I hate it and part of me wants to rebel against it, but I’ve learned how important it is.

My novel needs all the breathing room I can give it. Yours does too. A couple months is ideal, but at least give it a few weeks. The longer the work, the longer the break. Don’t open the file and don’t touch anything for a while. Time will make you more objective and you’re going to need that distance.
 ~

Do you have problems bringing your story to a close? Do you know before you start how it will end? Has the ending ever changed while you were writing your novel? Share your tricks for wrapping it up.


Next month, we’ll talk about the second draft.

14 comments:

  1. Hi, Kathleen,

    I find endings much harder than they should be. Often I'll get to what I think should be the end and then discover there's another chapter. And another one. I begin to get really annoyed.

    You're right about patience, though. I don't think of it as a virtue. It's quite simply a necessity, if one is to avoid making oneself totally crazy in this enterprise of authorship.

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  2. Lisabet - I always love hearing that other writers have the same experiences. It makes me feel slightly less weird.

    Patience is so important. Be patient when an editor doesn't get back to you right away. Be patient with yourself and your story (no rushed endings!) Be patient with the whole process. I don't like it, but I've learned its value.

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  3. I don't like to design a novel. Writing leads to the end.

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  4. My writing always surprises me with how it ends, whether a brief short story or a novel. And I don't exactly mean the plot, although it can be that. I usually have some idea how things will wrap up, but the spirit of it is always more complex than I originally planned. I guess it's like a trip--you get to the destination, but the flavor of the experience has an effect on how you feel when you arrive.

    You are so right about patience in the writing and rewriting process, but it seems that more and more writers are being pressured to crank out the stories and books without bothering to copy edit much less do a thoughtful deeper edit. We're told, if we fail to meet these productivity goals, that we're missing out on the opportunities that more prolific writers gain by having a huge catalog of work for fans to buy. I'm REALLY glad to read some advice that allows for a different, higher quality approach!

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  5. Lady Flo - If I'm reading you right, your objection is to plot driven stories versus character driven. I have the same bias, but a really good writer could fool me into thinking everything flowed from the characters rather than from an outlined plot. I also suspect that it's not an either/or situation. Some of what happens has to come from plot. (Or as I sometimes put it, none of my characters caused that typhoon)

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  6. Donna - I love this comment "I guess it's like a trip--you get to the destination, but the flavor of the experience has an effect on how you feel when you arrive."

    I advocate patience because I'm an impatient person and it ALWAYS bites me in the ass. I also see the pressure to crank out more books and I'm dismayed at the quality of some stuff being published. The reader is being shown the slush pile. Is that like showing them the man behind the curtain (initially disenchanting but ultimately a good thing) or like seeing the production line of a sausage factory?

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  7. @Kathleen. I understand what you say.
    The plot is necessary, but the stories constructed with a rigid schema are inevitably stereotyped.
    I consider the stories as if they were life. We don't know what will happen tomorrow, even if we have an idea, but the unexpected can happen.
    This is my idea of writing. Is it okay to have a plot, but also the freedom to get caught by the unexpected when writing. Or not?

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  8. "like seeing the production line of a sausage factory?".

    but writers are not a factory, and stories are not a sausage. :-)

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  9. Lady Flo - I think it's a great idea to write whatever you want to explore. Just because we're used to seeing narrative in a certain form doesn't mean that's the only way we can experience it. Are you a member of the writer's list from ERWA? A couple weeks ago there was a long discussion about stories without conflict and non-western styles of narrative, which often don't resolve plot lines.

    "but writers are not a factory, and stories are not a sausage." You're right. But a poorly edited manuscript is about as appealing as raw sausage.

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  10. @Kathleen. I haven't read the post you quoted. I'm italian and I read occasionaly your blog.
    In my Country the approach to literature is different.
    I need a comparison with english writers, because I know that there are different methods of writing.
    I ask you to be patient with me, even if you said it is not easy for you to be it. :-)
    Now, I'll read post you have qouted.

    And, of course... "a poorly edited manuscript is about as appealing as raw sausage".

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  11. Lady Flo -

    Although she mostly seems interested in m/m erotica, you might find a kindred spirit with Elisa Rolle. http://elisa-rolle.livejournal.com/
    She's also Italian and reads extensively in English.

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  12. I saw Elisa Rolle' website. Are you sure she is Italian and she is a woman?
    She write too much male homosexuality novel to be an Italian erotic writer.

    Anyway, about the topic of the post. Have a plot and have in mind the ending is important when you write an action story.

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  13. Elise isn't a writer, but she has many contacts among writers and publishers. She is Italian, and she is female. I've met her.

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