October has long been my favorite month of the year. I like how quickly the world around us changes in just a few weeks. Mother nature knows when to say when, and she makes a good show of sending our summers into the history books.
This Wordslinger will take a cue from the Fall leaves and focus on endings. I shall call it…
Shutting Up Now.
Knowing when any creative project is complete, and more importantly, knowing when to stop tinkering, is difficult. I hear its hardest for painters. They have to just decide to put that brush down sometimes that happens too late.
It’s easier for musicians I think, because songs usually have time limits and strict composing rules. That can be very helpful when in the throes of the creative process. (Sure, there’s plenty of music that breaks those rules, and I rather prefer the progressive stuff myself, but for the purposes of today’s essay, I’ll stand by my original observation).
Now let’s talk Fiction. There’s a much looser set of rules when writing stories, plus each chapter within a book also needs its own beginning and ending.
Endings to chapter sections can’t always be poetic. Endings to chapters can’t always be cliffhangers. And endings to novels can’t always be unexpected. The only rule that needs to be followed, is that ending feel like an ending.
Pop life lets us take our entertainment in gulps, and from TV to comic books, we know exactly when things will end, even if we don’t know how. It’s a comfort to the consumer. The more natural the ending seems, the more satisfying it will resonate. It’s compliments your work to punctuate it well with thoughtful conclusions.
(You will notice that I have never attempted to address actual punctuation. Nor will I. Hell, I only just learned that the period is supposed to come after the parentheses).
I can, however address endings to chapters and stories and offer some suggestions for simple ways to get what you want.
One of my favorite ways to see a chapter end, is with a particularly prudent line of dialogue. Something funny even, or just a good way to give that last bit of information. Dialogue can also create some of the best cliffhangers because we tend to speak to each other in riddles anyway.
Chapters also end well when a new piece of information is given to the reader. It immediately gets them thinking about how the story will change as a result. These are also the moments when the reader’s impressions of your story and your characters is most likely to change.
More on cliffhangers. Cliffhangers are great if not overused. They don’t even have to be big to be epic. It is not necessary to manufacture them but knowing when to draw the chapter boarders of your fiction is as important as separating your paragraphs and lines of dialogue.
I have known several authors that turned many ten thousand word chapters into two smaller chucks to make their stories more accessible and enjoyable. The act of breaking up the chapters afforded those authors a whole new way of looking at their work and found several cliffhangers and poignant endings just sitting there, literally in black and white.
Like many writers, I let my stories carry me away and I don’t always know how the scene is going to end. Sure, I have a general idea of where I want to be, but there are many, many distractions along the way and the specifics tend to change. The key in that case, is to recognize a good ending when you see it and use it.
Knowing hot to end the whole book? Well, that depends greatly on the story of course, but if you don’t know this by now…I’ll tell you…publishers only want happy endings.
Who can blame them? Still, this is a difficult concept for synodical writers to grasp: Art doesn’t have to imitate life. We want to escape to happy places when we read and even though we’ll go through Hell with the characters we love, it’s because we know that in the end we’ll still have them.
I’m all for pushing the envelope, but tearing it up and throwing it in the face of readers is poor judgement, so, I highly suggest that resolutions be positive even if the subject matter is dark.
For instance, someone’s epiphany and personal growth through a tragic experience can become a very affective ending. A characters growth can let you get away with telling a sad story. Let’s say it ends with a break-up. It just doesn’t work out between your romantic leads. If the characters are happy with the decision, you’re reader might be satisfied as well.
It’s still a risk, and not what publishers are looking for.
I’m a sucker for happy endings so I have no problem with providing them. This is freeing actually because it means that I can really twist the knife. After all, it’s presumed by that they’ll be okay in the end.
Interestingly enough, fiction isn’t the only thing that we humans have trouble ending, so if I may, here is some other “ending” advice.
When you dread seeing your romantic partner all the time and you fantasize about life without them, it’s time to end the relationship.
When the vehicle is in a tree, it’s time to end the vacation, (or school field trip).
When you see one friend abusing another friend, it’s time to pick sides, because to both of them, you have already.
End the party (or school field trip) at the first smell of vomit.
When anyone brings up Jersey Shore, end the date.
When your monthly post starts to sound like a Jeff Foxworthy bit, you might want to end it.
Have a wonderful October everyone! I’ll be celebrating the month of Halloween by preparing my next post on writing thrillers and suspense novels.
Shutting up now.