Tag Archives: writer’s block

Guest Article: Endings and Climaxes

22 Apr

Hey everyone! After the big discussion on writing climaxes and endings last week, we’re happy to present a guest article by Kat Zhang on just those issues!

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Endings and Climaxes

by Kat Zhang

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So you’re 50,000 (or 100,000—or even 150,000!) words into your latest manuscript. Things are going well: your main character is lovable, the plot is engaging, troubles have piled up, and your heroine is in over her head. The foremost question on any sane reader’s mind is What’s going to happen next??

Wonderful, right? Except you, as the writer, are scratching your head and pondering the exact same thing. What is going to happen next? In order to build suspense, you’ve put your heroine in a seemingly impossible to fix situation. Maybe the love of her life thinks she’s killed his dog and won’t return her calls. Maybe the Big Bad has kidnapped her parents and hidden them in a top-secret lair in Madagascar. Or maybe she just needs to gather up all her strength and defeat the Forces of Evil. For the third time. With a toothpick.

Not the last one? Okay…

Whatever your heroine’s problems are, yours as the writer is how to end your story satisfactorily. In many ways, this is the most important part of your story. It’s certainly what’s going to be freshest on your reader’s mind when they close the book, and there’s nothing more frustrating than 300 pages of build-up only for all the tension and drama to leak out the last chapter like a squeaky balloon (Breaking Dawn, anyone?). No, you want your book to end with a bang!

The trouble is, endings are what most writers have had the least practice with. I don’t know about you, but I have so many orphan first and second chapters laying around, I don’t know what to do with them! So for everyone close to plotting out the last few chapters of your novel, here are some quick tips.

First of all, avoid the Deus Ex Machina. I tend to agonize over this myself. Many times, it’s a matter of opinion what counts as a Deus Ex Machina and what doesn’t. Think about the first Harry Potter book. There’s little Harry, facing the most powerful and evil wizard in the world, and what saves him? His mother’s love? What?

But it works. Why? One reason is buildup. This seemingly sudden savior was first mentioned in chapter one, and it actually answers other questions raised in the book, such as why Harry was left to his aunt and uncle. It doesn’t hurt that Harry has already been saved by this love once before, as a baby.

If you’re going to bring in something at the last second, make sure to foreshadow it first. Foreshadow it enough so that it seems slightly obvious to you—I’ve learned that if it seems very subtle to the writer, it generally goes over the majority of the readers’ heads. Will a hidden knife prove essential to the climax? Mention the heroine using it to peel an apple in the second chapter, or have her almost forget to pack it. Layer it in between other, seemingly more important things, and your readers will almost forget about it until your protagonist triumphantly pulls it out during the last battle.

The second reason the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone works is the fact that Harry has worked so hard already. The last few chapters are all about him, Hermione, and Ron braving challenge after challenge to reach the last chamber. Tellingly, both his friends are left behind during the course of this journey, leaving Harry to act on his own at the very end. So even if the final “attack” against Voldemort is taken out of his hands, we as the readers don’t feel like we’ve been ripped off because Harry has already proven himself worthy of the victory.

Finally, don’t forget the denouement. Derived from the French word meaning to “unknot,” the denouement is often left out of discussions concerning plot structure. But that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant! The denouement takes place after all the major action is over. It allows everyone (characters and readers alike) to take a deep breath, recollect themselves, and take one last look around before the ending forces us to say goodbye. Sometimes, this takes the form of an epilogue, but that needn’t always be the case.

What makes for a great denouement? Well, it’s a good time to show How Things Have Changed, and unless the fact that nothing has changed is the point of your novel, things should have changed! If nothing else, your characters should have developed. Think about the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m talking about the movie here—apologies to the book enthusiasts!). The return to the Shire is one big denouement. Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry sit among the other Hobbits, home at last after grueling adventure. Everyone else is happy and celebrating, but these four are in what seems to be their own little bubble. Their travels have changed them. They can never again be as innocent as their friends. (On a happier note, Sam gains the courage to ask out that pretty little hobbit lady he’s been eyeing!)

To summarize:

  1. The ending should not happen out of nowhere. Even if you intend it to shock your audience upon first reading, they should be able to go back over the body of the novel and think to themselves “Ah—there’s a hint in chapter three that this would happen!”
  2. If there is a happy ending, your main character must have earned it through her own actions and growth.
  3. Allow for reflection and proof of growth/change in the denouement.

A lot of work has gone into a novel before an ending can be solidified. But for most, tacking on a figurative or literal “The End” after the last few words is really just the beginning of another few months or even years of editing. Don’t let this overwhelm you—celebrate your accomplishment! Jump up and down a few times! Finishing a first draft is a great accomplishment, and if you’re not in a big hurry to perfect this particular manuscript, it may be a good idea to take a short break to work on other things. That way, you’ll be able to approach your editing with a fresh eye.

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Kat Zhang is currently an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing, who spends all her free time furiously editing her YA novel, HYBRID, to get it in shape for querying. She’s currently finishing a series about a three week trip to China on her blog, but will soon switch over to more writing related topics.

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A Little Trick to Consider

7 Apr

by Biljana Likic

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REMINDER: The Comedy Contest is still going on! Get your admissions in before May 1st!

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Here’s a little trick I use when I feel stuck or uninspired.

But first, some context!

Plays and scripts aren’t meant to be read; they are meant to be acted out. When a playwright or screenwriter begins composing their piece, their first thoughts probably aren’t, “Man this is gonna be a damn good script to read.” Instead, they most likely think something along the lines of, “I really hope this connects with the audience watching!”

But who says they can’t be read?

Why I love reading scripts, plays in particular, is because it’s such an exercise of the imagination. There are a lot of ways you can interpret a piece of text. Words can be very ambiguous, and dialogue can say so much about what’s happening, and yet so little. When you see a play, the director is generally the one that makes all the decisions about what kind of messages need to be sent out. That is one person interpreting a piece of dialogue in a way that is hopefully unique. And while I love watching plays, this is why I like reading them: I get my own interpretation, my own little production, right inside my head. I get to be the one to make those decisions, and apply what emotions I feel are appropriate.

So sometimes, when I feel completely uninspired, I’ll take out a script, pick a piece of dialogue, and write a narrative for it.

Here’s an example. Take this blurb of dialogue:

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The Dialogue:

Man: “Where’d you go?”

Woman: “I went to the supermarket.”

Man: “What did you get?”

Woman: “Carrots.”

Man: “I hate carrots.”

Woman: “They help your eyesight.”

Man: “They taste like cardboard.”

Woman: “I’m just looking out for you.”

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Now here it is interpreted into two narratives:

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Interpretation 1:

The woman walked through the door, throwing her keys onto the coffee table and continuing on to the kitchen.

“Where’d you go?” the man asked, snaking his arms around her waist and leaning his chin against her shoulder.

She smiled and turned her head to kiss his cheek. “I went to the supermarket.”

“What did you get?”

She dumped out a mass of gnarled, vibrant orange sticks onto the granite countertop. “Carrots,” she declared, grinning triumphantly.

The man groaned and tried to pull her away from the counter. “I hate carrots.”

“They help your eyesight,” the woman said, giggling and grabbing onto the handles of the drawers to stop him from dragging her away.

“They taste like cardboard,” he muttered.

She turned in his arms and put a hand on his cheek. “I’m just trying to look out for you,” she said, giving him another quick kiss, and moving away to start peeling.

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Interpretation 2:

The woman walked through the door, throwing her keys onto the coffee table and continuing on to the kitchen.

“Where’d you go?”

She froze. Grip tightening against her alibi, she flicked her gaze behind her. The man was watching her coldly.

She forced out a smile. “I went to the supermarket.”

“What did you get?”

A slightly trembling hand reached into the bag and dumped a mass of carrots onto the laminate countertop. There were too many. She’d panicked and grabbed more than she could ever need. “Carrots,” she said, staring at the now incriminating orange mound.

There was a tense pause.

“I hate carrots.”

The woman clenched her fists. “They help your eyesight.”

“They taste like cardboard.”

She bit her cheek. She could feel his eyes boring into her back, the short, empty distance between kitchen chair and kitchen counter threatening to drive her into a frenzy.

“I’m just trying to look out for you,” she said, barely keeping her voice level.

The man said nothing. She heard his shoes scuff against the tile of the floor and flinched, but nothing happened. He left the kitchen. The woman squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then took out a knife and started peeling.

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So there you have it, folks: two completely different interpretations from one little blurb of dialogue. Obviously, when it’s a whole script, the words and stage directions will push you towards a certain mood the writer wants, but there are still so many possibilities. It’s the reason why you can watch a play done by two different groups of people and feel as if they weren’t even the same piece of work.

In my opinion, it’s fascinating.

So next time you feel you need a good stretch for your imagination, try picking up a play and writing out a narrative just like that. It just might get your creative juices flowing.

Feel free to put your own interpretation of the blurb in the comments!

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Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.

Art and Writing – Inspiration For the Tired Mind

8 Mar

Vanessa Di Gregorio

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Whenever we read, our imagination runs wild; and everything we see is thanks to the writer. Large trees loom ominously over a protagonist’s head; or the sea churns angrily, throwing a stowaway violently to and fro on a pirate ship. Tall, imposingly beautiful castles tower over someone as their horse’s hooves clatter on the cobblestones before coming to a halt. Perhaps you are on a ship, flying through space, with nothing but the stars and the glow from the controls in your cabin surrounding you. White silk gloves could be covering a young woman’s arm, matching the white silk detailing on her crimson petticoat; her hair tall and majestic, her eyes dark and mischievous.

But have you ever found yourself running into writers block? It’s happened to all of us. Now, maybe this is because I’m a visual person, having been an art student for a number of years, but I find that images can really inspire me. Sure, putting down your manuscript and picking up another book is a great way of finding inspiration. Other people swear in just writing, even if faced with writers block; that eventually, after writing a bunch of nonsense, it will suddenly just appear like a flash. Others yet will grab their ipod and listen to music, to both the melodies and the lyrics. Some will watch movies and tv shows to get their inspiration, be it from a character, or a setting, or an expression. And there are those who will do a mixture of these things.

The truth is, sometimes we just exhaust ourselves. Take the time to fill up your head with anything inspirational; maybe writing poetry gets those juices flowing. Maybe painting does. Maybe talking a walk in a park, or an art gallery, or even playing on your PS3 helps; or maybe drinking your coffee in a cafe while watching people does (hey… us writers are observers by nature!). Do what you love to do.

Me? Well, I love to look at art. Sure, I also love to paint; but as an artist, I know that I can exhaust myself that way as well. Other artists can really inspire me. Images can speak volumes; cliché, I know, but it’s absolutely true. Colours, perspectives, expressions, sharpness, composition; all of these can affect how an image appears, and how it, in turn, makes you feel. The feelings an image can evoke can become your inspiration.

Having trouble with a romantic scene? Look at a romantic photo, or watch a romantic movie; maybe read a romantic book, or listen to a romantic song. Having trouble seeing the world from a child’s P.O.V.? Look at childhood photos.

For me, writing prose is similar to writing poetry. Sure, I’m not as flowery, but I try to choose words to help readers visualize. Showing, not telling. Writing is an art; think of yourselves as artists.

I’ve decided to show you some of my favorite images that I’ve collected over the years. None of this is my own work; they all belong to other artists (all of whom are on deviantART). But something about these images speak to me. They make me want to write.  And I have to admit, I’m a bit curious too! Do any of these images make you feel inspired? Do they evoke feelings? Perhaps even create scenes or moods for future works?

What do you turn to for inspiration? Do any of these images make you want to write? (Be honest!) And is there one image that speaks to you more than others?

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Vanessa is an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also taking courses in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.


Sudden Novel Death Syndrome: Why It Didn’t Work Out

23 Nov

Sudden Novel Death Syndrome: Why It Didn’t Work Out
or:

“Why That Novel You Were Really Excited About Dead-Ended Into A Black Hole of Guilt and Lack of Plot Development and What To Do About It”

By Savannah J. Foley

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I have them and you have them: failed projects. No matter how exciting the initial burst of inspiration, no matter how striking and significant the initial chapters, something causes the story to descend into a frustrating nothing, subsequent chapters diluting themselves into a boring parody of that first, promising beginning. As a writer, your excitement turns to hesitation, then panic, then disgust, and your project gets shelved and locked into the back files of your computer, never to be developed further (except for those occasional, guilty tweakings).

Why does this happen? What, if anything, can be done to prevent it? I’ve compiled a list of reasons—and solutions—to this stagnation, and I hope it’s a help to you:

1. The first rule of writing is: Don’t talk about your novel.

2. The second rule of writing is: Do NOT. TALK. ABOUT. YOUR. NOVEL.

Discussing ideas with your friend or audience seems to be a sure-fire way to kill a project from the very beginning. There’s just something about debating possible plot options that effectively stops production in its tracks. My theory is that it turns your project into an attempt to please everyone at once. Others suggest it distracts you from the delicate process of actually working on the project; you become the type of writer who is always talking about his/her book without ever actually writing it.

This phenomenon has been noticed by other writers as well. Consider the following quotes:

Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper about it to your friend, if he be an author especially. ~A. Bronson Alcott

I think it’s bad to talk about one’s present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension. ~Norman Mailer

Solution: Don’t talk about your project! Don’t you dare let anyone encroach upon the amazing process that belongs only to you and your writing. Your friends can’t write it for you, and they can’t be there in your head when you’re working out all the details, so why would you involve them at all? Let them read the finished product, not influence a work in progress. Rule of thumb: Consider it bad luck to discuss the details of a project until it is finished. Bring out your novel or story like it is Athena emerging from your head: fully-formed and beautiful.

One last quote to pound the point home:

Writing is a product of silence. ~Carrie Latet

3. Beginning Too Soon

This is my biggest problem: trying to start work on the project when you don’t really have any idea what you’re doing yet. I have three pet novels in a suspended state of animation because I tried to work on them too soon and killed them: a YA about orphaned sisters, a scifi about global warming, and a steampunk about… well, I’m not really sure, but it involves poisonous, addictive perfume, and gangs.

The way my writing works is that I get a flash of an idea, typically just one scene or concept, and then work the plot around this idea. All I ever want to do is immediately begin writing so I can record this idea in explicit detail and start working on giving it the same vibe I envision in my head, but in the long run it’s better to wait. Remember what they taught you in school, and practice abstinence.

Working on a project too soon causes overstimulation, like touching a budding flower or playing rough with a newborn kitten. It’s just a baby idea; give it a little time to grow and develop before you start to mess with it. If you recall my earlier post, writing is a sort of mental disorder; you have to learn to trust your subconscious and let it develop plots and characters on its time. The conscious brain is a marvelous thing, but it’s not a very good writer in general. The best writing comes from the heart, the subconscious, and it can be terribly flighty.

Another metaphor: Think about your idea as a feral animal you have just caught sight of out in the wild. You have to be very still, very quiet, and very non-threatening before it will start to approach you. No sudden movements, lots of praise and encouragement, and before you know it you’ll be gamboling with that wild creature like you’re the best of friends.

A relevant quote:

As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall. ~Virginia Woolf

Solution: Develop a list of things you MUST have before you begin writing. For example, the names and personalities of all your main characters and their families/significant others, a strong sense of setting, where/when the main characters/love interests meet, etc.

4. Panicking (Writer’s Block Happens)

You’ve given yourself enough time to fully flesh out your characters and plot. You’ve kept the existence of your next work-in-progress as secretive as possible. “Yes,” you say to your friend, “the reason I’ve been so busy lately is because I’m working on a new project. No, I don’t want to talk about it until I’m finished.” Then, without warning, you hit the Wall.

You’re not alone. “Every writer I know has trouble writing,” said Joseph Heller. We all experience that jarring moment when you realize that you’re facing a great chasm in your writing, with no way to get to the other side. Sure, you know where you want the plot to end up. Your characters are well-developed and strong-willed, but how in the heck are they going to leap across this plot gap and make it safely to the next planned-out plot development?

Rule of thumb: Relax. Take a break. You’re probably working too hard:

Writer’s block is a disease for which there is no cure, only respite. ~Laurie Wordholt

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out. ~Ray Bradbury

Listen to Bradbury on this one; sometimes you just run out of creative juices. It’s okay; don’t panic, just take a break. Read a book; it’s how you get filled up with inspiration again. Watch television, take a walk, draw something, phone a friend (you haven’t talked to them in a while, have you?). Avoid thinking about your project, and when you do, think of it only as a dear friend. Only when you can’t wait to get back to your story and start working again should you approach your work-in-progress.

Need a different solution, or on a deadline? Try sleeping.

If I’m trying to sleep, the ideas won’t stop. If I’m trying to write, there appears a barren nothingness. ~Carrie Latet

The only cure for writer’s block is insomnia. ~Merit Antares

5. Not Getting Your Daily Dose of Inspiration

When writing a novel, it’s easy to lose track of the other recreational things in your life. You go to work or school, you come home, grab a bite to eat, maybe do some housework/chores/homework, but then you’re writing! This ties back into what I said above; sometimes you don’t allow yourself enough time to get properly relaxed and inspired again. Imaginations have to be fed and watered like anything else, or else they will stagnate and shrivel.

My favorite solution to counteract this stagnation is reading. When I was reading two books a day, in school and later when I worked at a bookstore, I read a wide variety of books, from fiction to self-help to comedy, poetry, scifi, fantasy, cultural, travel, biographical, etc. Reading other people’s styles and descriptions fires your own imagination.

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment. ~Hart Crane

Solution: My favorite books to read for inspiration are either poetry (Billy Collins ftw), or the biographies or autobiographies of other writers. Shell Silverstein’s biography A Boy Named Shell, and Hunter S. Thompson’s biography The Joke’s Over by his best friend Ralph Steadman are two of my favorites. Others would include Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series, the most famous of which is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Stephen King’s On Writing, and anything by James Thurber (if you haven’t heard of him, immediately get on Amazon and order Lanterns and Lances. Seriously. Do it.).

Well, that’s my list. What problems do you encounter when writing, and what solutions have you developed to counteract this? Or, share your favorite writing quote about the process.

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Woman’s World (now known as Antebellum) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency trying to sell Antebellum. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com.