Tag Archives: story resolution

Happy Endings

Friday night: Curled up on the sofa in a state of despondency. So quiet and lackluster that my husband continually asks me what’s wrong. To which I *sigh* and say I’m fine, just wiped out after a few days of steadily revising manuscript #1…yet again. What I don’t proceed to say is that I think my ending continues to suck, and I don’t know how to fix it, and I can’t wrap my brain around it anymore, and I’m so sick of my manuscript, and all I wanna do is lie curled there and sip from my glass of red wine and watch TV to lose myself in other people’s stories until I drift to sleep.

Saturday afternoon: Husband comes into our second bedroom/office to check on me at the computer because, masochist that I am, I couldn’t stay away from dear ms #1 for long. I look at him, smile, and proceed to bounce in my loudly creaking chair over and over and over again in a way that surely makes the neighbors think we’re up to something naughty. They’re not entirely wrong, because I am at  this point climaxing and reveling in a satisfying ending. My manuscript’s ending. The first version of it I’ve ever been happy with as providing decent resolution. My mind was massaged and able to get off in the end…it almost needed to smoke a cigarette afterward.

Sunday morning: I tweak a bit more at the ending and review how it follows after the climax (a bit tricky, this, as working with two narrative threads has kinda resulted in a climax-within-a-climax…I have zero clue if I’m handling it right, but it feels appropriate). And I realize that for all the work I just put into it, the revision of this ending wasn’t even a rewrite at all! Honestly, it was done through mainly structural changes in which I pulled earlier scenes (that worked better as falling versus rising action) and inserted them into the last couple chapters. It’s hard to explain how it works, but O-M-freaking-G it does!

One of my issues with story arc was an overly quick resolution. It wasn’t “satisfying” and failed to clarify what the heck had actually happened during the climax. This was a pure product of me thinking I’d be so clever and not hand-hold my readers through anything, make them work it out themselves and leave it fairly open-ended so the readers can do the work there, too, and form their own conclusions of what happens next…basically, make them do my job because I think I was honestly too tapped (or lazy) to figure it out myself. 🙂

Well, that’s fine and all, but when it comes down to it, I’ve learned we do need to throw readers an occasional bone. In my previous post on marketability, I’d mentioned the strategies I’d try to make my work more commercially viable but had come to realize: “Is that writing commercially exactly or just better?!” Writing in a way readers can understand and enjoy is not commercial. Writing a well-resolved, satisfying ending isn’t selling out. “Satisfying” doesn’t have mean “happily ever after” or that every single loose end is tied up and explained in full. No, we don’t have to dumb everything down so readers are not only hand-held but pushed along in an adult-sized stroller and spoon-fed a purée of the unthinking obvious—and that’s not me being a snob as a writer; that’s me being a snob as a reader who finds stories like that mind-numbingly dull if not insulting. Resolutions should be like “a flick of the wrist,” I’ve been told, so I think it’s left to the writer’s  judgment which matters can be wrapped up concisely, which developed a bit more, and which left to the reader’s imagination. I think a healthy mix of all of the above can be satisfying indeed for any novel.

I’m not saying I’ve written the perfect ending. It might not be satisfying yet to someone else or even to myself in a few days. It might go through dozens more face-lifts. But what I am saying is that the towel has been flicked at my arse, waking me up to the fact that the ending in my head wasn’t on the page, and mind-reading psychics aren’t necessarily my target demographic that would maybe make that okay. This is not only my story; it’s for future readers, so I need to be less selfish with what I share of it. And such is the moral at the end of this story. 🙂

How about YOU? What issues (if any) with your endings need some massaging out?

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The Red Pen: Editing Another’s Manuscript – Part II

Hello again! Just accommodating the overspill from yesterday’s post, as I yet wanted to address developmental edits on my first manuscript assignment in this capacity. Again, I can’t share any comments that would give away plot/character specifics, and I’m obviously not including the little microediting minutiae here (like reworking sentence structures), but what I am doing is grabbing the meatier highlights of what I found to be the most prevalent issues in the hope it helps reinforce what to check for in your own manuscript as it did for mine.

So to speak on a macroediting level today, this author’s main focus now as she makes her edits (due back to me later this month) needs to be on her ending. We’ve talked story arc before, and a scene after a critical moment of rising action in a later chapter seemed to drag out too long as the reader nears the story’s climax, for which I noted:

[…] I’m not suggesting cutting these parts out, as they serve a purpose in the story and provide important information. Yet perhaps if they’re condensed a bit the pacing could keep flowing toward that climax. What’s key is to determine what you perceive as this story’s pinnacle and make sure everything is building up and up to that, keeping the reader compelled and not bogged down in too much talk or description that tends to flatten out the story’s trajectory when it should be climbing. Dialogue can be [tightened], limiting it to what keeps moving [the characters] and the reader forward.

And whereas that section seemed to drag on too long, the last chapter forced too much into too short a space in seeking a complete resolution. This is a romance novel, so that resolution naturally involves the two main characters attaining closure on where their relationship stands:

Hm, this sounds like a lot to load onto [him] all of a sudden […] when they’re only just working out whether they’ll stay together. I know in assessing that they may as well get all the big deal-breaker topics out of the way, but it still seems like a lot at once. Could she possibly just reference [her wants] in such a way that’s meant to show [him] she’s in for the long-haul with [him], too, in the spirit of taking it one step at a time?

And with romance novels, there’s always the risk of confusing “romance” with “sex,” so when the latter comes up (“up,” quite literally) right at the end and after a sweet moment of sentiment, I suggested:

Hm, seems to undermine the sincerity of the emotion. Maybe [this] can just be coinciding with his revelations of love for her, helping to unleash these realizations rather than being the way he chooses to show her his love after the fact (it’s a little caveman). Some description of her engagement with it might help as well to show this love as something they share in both the emotional and physical sense.

I expressed this merely as my reader’s POV, and not as a prude or a feminist. There’s a way sex can be written romantically, but this just wasn’t it, and I think the author agrees that the resolution can take a less easy, but higher road out.

Another item on the agenda is character development, and, in this work, I felt the two main characters were developed fully. I genuinely liked them and, from the romance aspect, really wanted them to get together—they made sense as a couple. Most importantly, I believed in them—they felt real, through their dialogue, actions, back-stories, chemistry, etc., and that’s all to the credit of this writer and her keen insights into people and engaging writing style. Where I did encounter some mixed feelings concerned the female protagonist and her ex-lover, a secondary character who is integral to the plot and the protagonist’s growth, yet himself appears very rarely in the story. Even so, his development felt too one-dimensional to me:

He is just so vile, and this makes perfect sense given his animosity toward [her revenge] and that he’s just a bad fit for her. What it leaves me wondering, though, is what it was about him that she used to care for. While I can see her insecurities leading her to choose the wrong men, [she] also has too much substance to go for someone with zero redeeming qualities beyond the materialistic.

Not that this would have to be developed in depth, but consider such opportunities where she’s [already] reflecting on him to somewhere incorporate (even just a sentence or two) the appeal he did once have for her, even if it only ended up being fake or that he changed.

In this case, the secondary character’s lack of believability could impact the protagonist’s, so this was a strongly suggested change to preserve consistency in her character—and, even better, it’s a quick, easy fix. Likewise with the following case where the protagonist still seemed to pine over her ex during the final scene with her new love:

From the way you’ve depicted him, I’m highly doubting [her ex-lover] would ever want [what she claims here], so I don’t see this as being the issue with him that would come to light at this point. I’m actually surprised that she’d be talking about him at all right now and getting choked up in residual emotion over it – [there was] sufficient enough closure [earlier]. Plus, she just [made several  grand gestures to win her new lover]—she’s all about [that guy] right now, and it doesn’t seem appropriate for her to bring up old flames in this intimate setting. […] Her not reflecting on him as anything that ever mattered would be a most convincing way of [showing her growth].

But that’s my take on it, which is why I label this as a “suggested” change, albeit a very strongly suggested one because I felt disappointed in [her] when she started saying all this.

And this last comment shows how I do try to approach my edits of another’s work delicately, keeping ultimate stylistic/plot control with the author while also trying to earn trust in my feedback. It’s very easy for all of us to get protective of our writing, but if we really want it to become its best, we need to consider reader response seriously. (Tahlia Newland addresses this fact and several other awesome tips on ms revision in her recent Lethal Inheritance post on how to know when your manuscript is ready.) And as I learned in teaching, the key with feedback is balancing the positive with the constructive so a writer isn’t feeling like there’s nothing of merit in his/her work; be honest, but preserve some pluck for carrying out those revisions effectively!

How about you? Have you ever had to edit someone else’s writing? How did it help you with your own?


Fraying at the End

Ah, yes, that Family Guy clip makes me laugh and want to cry at the same time…little Stewie may as well be prodding me over how it’s been over a year and a half since I started my manuscript.  And that’s when I actually started writing it; the idea had come to me a couple years before that, in the form of random scribblings on the pages of my journal or Starbucks napkins and envelopes…and the more I read about other writers’ processes, the more universal that mode of transcription appears to be—I see us all just dwelling in these rooms with Post-Its and index cards and newspaper scraps thumb-tacked to the wall and strung together with yarn, the map room in the midst of a warzone where our batty, “Beautiful Minds” strategize…

That digression aside, I’m seriously having issues pulling it all together right now.  I haven’t even been able to follow the advice I shared in “The Beginning of the End,” back in March…yeesh.  And why, when the journey has already been so long and is so close to its end destination?

Because there is very good reason for that initial voyage to require some time.  Unlike what many tend to perceive, writing is a lot of work, not merely something one just dashes off in a burst of inspiration as one’s Muse sings softly in one ear as Her sister strokes a harp into the other, with the brooding writer sequestered in a candlelit garret, feverishly scribbling with ink-stained fingers—films like Becoming Jane or Shakespeare in Love would have you believe even a masterpiece can be penned overnight.  Not that I’m remotely considering myself in the ranks of Jane Austen or William Shakespeare simply by virtue of taking a stab at this writing thang, but I can’t keep psyching myself out with how much I’m not them either, or I’ll utterly paralyze myself.

You know what helps with that, though?  Empathy.  Lua Fowles, for instance, shares her experience grappling with “The Fear of the First Draft” in her Like a Bowl of Oranges blog.  And if it isn’t the fear that can slow you down, it’s the procrastination—Eva, author of the Write in Berlin blog, shares a few surefire tips on how to do so in “The Art of Avoiding to Write.”  Even when you do find your groove, there is a process to it, a method underlying all that madness that ensures the narrative is structured and worded effectively—I love author Wendy Robertson’s take on her own process in “The Joys of Cranking the Engine of a Novel” in her A Life Twice Tasted Blog (she’s one of the gracious and encouraging facilitators of the Room to Write workshop I attended in Spring).

And even when a writer does finish that first draft, the pilgrimage is far from over.  Never mind the elusive quest of getting published, the revision alone is going to be another prolonging factor.  Some revise as they go along, others leave the bulk of it for the end; regardless, it’s yet more process to undertake, and that requires some time, people.  Again, empathy to the rescue!—see Lua once more in “Editing 1 (oh no) 1” and Agatha’s appropriate analogy in “Digging in the Dirt” from her Here Be Dragons blog.  I personally am one of those who revises along the way, so my constant backtracking is another reason for delay.

Whatever excuses I can arguably throw out there to defend why it’s taking me so long to finish writing this book, the brutally honest truth about it is that the story has gone quiet in my head.  I’ve sat, and I’ve written.  But whereas before I was satisfied and moved forward, now I only go back and delete and rewrite and delete and think and re-envision and write and delete…never seeming to get it right.  What I write these days feels artificially imposed on my characters, you see, because I don’t seem to see them or hear them anymore.  No kidding, I almost feel abandoned…and melancholy, as I didn’t get the proper chance to say goodbye.  So what sort of cerebral seance could I conduct to summon their spirits back to my consciousness?  How can I get them back?

Maybe it’s because the story really is ready to end, and this is its way of telling me.

Or, egad!  Maybe the story already ended within its alternative universe, and I failed to write it down in time!

Maybe it’s only because I’ve been tending to it lately in fits and starts and need to more fully immerse myself back into its world.

Maybe it’s because after stringing those varying colors of yarn all around the walls, I now sincerely have no idea where to take those loose ends, which to tie up neatly in bows and which to continue on out the window and into the sunset on their own happy trails unbenownst to any of us.  Seriously, maybe I’ve over-thought myself into a rut and simply don’t know how to end it.

Maybe the Muses have stopped singing for me.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m not ready for it to end…

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“I’m a novelist; I’m never going to finish the book.”  – James, Sliding Doors


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