Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Writer's Wednesday - Beginning To End

This Wednesday at the Pink Heart Society, columnist Jennifer Hayward brings us the ninth installment of her Confessions of a Sophomore Author series.  She's talking about endings...

I’m not sure if I like writing beginnings or endings better. I love beginnings because it’s my chance to start my story off with a bang: to create a powerful inciting incident that draws readers in and takes them on a ride. I relish the challenge of introducing real, distinctive, characters with just a few sentences that define them with a minimum of back-story so the action keeps rolling. It’s all a big rush.

For me beginnings are like the first day of school. Fresh, shiny and full of possibilities. But they aren't without challenges. You have to try and avoid clichés, things that have been done before. You need to put a twist on a loved theme and make it current. Make it yours.

Photo credit: Slaff via photopin cc
Then you get to the middle and that’s where the work really starts. The slugging it out, page by page quest to build your conflict piece by piece, upping it with every scene. You can’t be repetitive, new information must be revealed and through it all, your characters must grow and you must pick the right times to show this growth. 

Intimidating? The middle of the book is always my OMG moment (well usually, there could be others). It’s my panicked call to a CP to talk it out moment. But I figure it out and then, there I am facing the ENDING. My favorite part.

Neither are they easy. When other writers say they struggle with openings and write them two or three times, for me it’s endings. It’s the last impression you leave the reader with. It’s everything you've built to. It’s the fruit of all the groundwork, all the foreshadowing you've laid – your entire character arcs. No pressure there – at all. 

But since I was asked by a reader to do a column on endings, here are my thoughts:

For me, a successful ending is like a drive down a football field. If the ball doesn't go in the end zone, if a field kick isn't scored, you have failed. It doesn't matter what’s comes before, if a writer messes up an ending for me, it colors my whole perception of the book. If he/she rushes the ending, it kills it for me too. It should be natural, it should be built to at the right pace and it must be satisfying. But even more than that, it has to have MAGIC. That elusive quality that makes you sigh.

So how do I attempt this daunting task? 

I do an outline when I start so I know my turning points—so I know all the peaks and valleys I need to hit with my plot. Then I get a clear understanding of my character arcs—what my character’s journeys are going to be—what they have to learn. 

Once I have this, I can figure out where my internal and external conflicts dovetail and climax at the end of the story. Often my external conflict is resolved just before my internal conflict – but it must be a kind of perfect storm. And to have that, you must have interwoven both the entire way.

If you’re wondering about turning points, Google a three or four act structure. There’s lots out there to help. Or read The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

These are the points of a character’s journey that make them heroic—that make stories work.

You tie up all your loose ends and make sure all the reader’s questions are answered. But there’s one more thing. That magic. It means creating an ending that can only belong only to those particular characters of yours. 
 
You pick up foreshadowing, markers you set down earlier in the book for the reader and now they come full circle. You play on a theme you’ve sewn throughout your book to pick the perfect moment to end with. Or you bookend a story with two ying and yang examples of how the characters have grown. 

I've done this with my hero’s manifesto in The Magnate’s Manifesto coming in December. We begin the story with his manifesto that inflames the entire female population and we end with his rebuttal – really the only thing I could have finished with.

Sometimes  you do the unexpected. In my latest release, Changing Constantinou’s Game, my heroine Izzie, a reporter for a Manhattan television station, is torn between a hot one night stand that becomes so much more than that and the job of a lifetime. At no point in the story does Izzie take the expected route like she’s done her entire life. She learns to follow her heart. And even though her decisions have a huge fall out effect on her career trajectory, even though they put her in near impossible situations and test her character to the end, it’s what she must do to learn herself. To learn who she truly is. There could have been no different ending to this book for me. 

I’d like to hear your thoughts on endings! Or anything in between. Is there a particular act you find harder to write than another? Part of the storytelling which comes naturally to you, like setting, dialogue or plot? Let us know in the comments!


Jennifer Hayward's most recent book is Changing Constantinou’s Game:

Alexios Constantinou is notorious for his lethal charm, so when the  exquisite Isabel Peters is—literally—dropped into his lap during a hellish elevator ride, he doesn't waste the opportunity! With tensions sky-high after their near-death experience, an insatiable desire ignites between them, and all bets are off. 

But when Alex discovers that reporter Isabel's next story is him, he's furious…yet determined to use it to his advantage. He's calling the shots, but the closer Isabel gets, the closer she comes to discovering his carefully concealed secret. Now, with everything at stake, he'll need a whole new game plan….

To find out more about Jennifer and her books, you can visit her website or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

6 comments:

  1. Middles are the WORST!! Thanks for sharing, Jennifer - these are great tips to keep in mind from cover to cover. I can't wait to pick up The Magnate's Manifesto! I've loved your work so far.

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    1. I love it when I get through the middle Emily! :) And so glad you are looking forward to The Magnate's Manifesto! I am very excited about that book!

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  2. I'm a sucker for language and description. I resist outlines and structure in the type of writing I enjoy because this feels creatively restrictive to me, but there is no doubt you have it figured out for your genre, Jennifer.You are a inspiration to me! Enjoyed this article. Thanks and continued success!

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    1. Oh me too Sweet C! I have to write my way into a book to get started as that inspires me, then I give myself some structure so I don't flail around :) But we're all different thank goodness! Appreciate you stopping by!

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  3. Your post is brimming with wisdom, Jennifer! Although I try to begin my stories with a bang I'm guilty of not putting that same effort into my endings. Shame on me, because in shortchanging the wrap up of that extra bit of TLC I'm cheating the reader.

    I especially love your advice about thinking of the ending as the last impression. The reader's final impression is every bit as important as the first, and I never really got that until now. I hope you don't mind, but I need to steal a nugget of gold from this post. ..."If the ball doesn't go in the end zone, if a field kick isn't scored, you have failed." deserves a place of honor above my computer so I don't forget to live by it.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share! I'm off to put your tips into play and to capture the magic.

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  4. Glad you found the blog helpful Lisa! So glad you stopped by. I'm glad someone else appreciates the sports analogies ;)

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