Leverage the Power of Story

In fiction writing, we often say “story is king.” Remember how I define that:

Character + Plot = Story

To make your nonfiction engaging, use stories either on a small scale, like anecdotes, or on a large scale, as in a memoir.

A story may be brief, like Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus. Continue reading

Use dialogue to move story forward

Back in my college days, I had the great opportunity to take a writing course from TV comedy writer Danny Simon. He taught us a lot in that class, and I’ve probably forgotten most of it, but I kept my notes, so I can always go back and check.

One thing I don’t need to check is this: “Leave out the orange juice talk.”

What he meant by that is the boring conversations we have every day. Continue reading

Logical Flow Propels Pacing

As we look at this item about pacing, it may sound familiar, because it is related to plot:

Events flow logically in cause-and-effect relationships.

That is, each scene doesn’t just happen after the prior scene, it happens because of the prior scene.

When events flow from one to the other in a cascade of causes and effects, you have a plot that is profluent. We did discuss this idea before, especially under the organic model proposed by Steven James in his book Story Trumps Structure. Continue reading

Don’t rush the ending of your novel

I’ve spent a lot longer on this matter of the satisfying ending than any other point on the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist. That’s because it’s so critical. A bad ending can ruin an otherwise great book. But I’m nearly done with endings, and next time we’ll move on to Structure.

Don’t rush the ending

The pacing of a novel should increase as we approach the ending. Within reason.

But there’s a fine balance between speeding up the pace and rushing through to the end. Continue reading

The end of your novel is about characters

Lots of stuff is going on at the end of your novel. There’s action and revelation and emotional upheaval. But it all must be presented in terms of what’s happening to the people.

Ideally, your characters will be proactive. There’s probably a whole other blog post in that. Characters who have stuff happen to them are far less interesting than characters who make stuff happen. So, as much as possible, rely on character action and agency rather than circumstance and accident. This is true throughout the story, now that I think of it, but it’s especially important in your climax and denouement. Continue reading

Understand the difference between a twist and a trick

Your novel’s ending must be inevitable, but preferably not predictable. Yeah, that’s easier said than done.

This is hard to plan for as you’re writing. Editing is the place to make it happen. Because once you’ve written the ending, it’s much easier to go back and layer in the plants that need to be present to make the payoff believable. That’s what makes a twist ending satisfying.

Too many writers aim for a twist and wind up playing tricks on their readers instead. Continue reading

Avoid late character introductions

There’s a lot that goes into crafting a satisfying ending to a novel. So I’ll take a little longer covering this point than some of the others.

One problem I sometimes see, even in published books, is a new character suddenly introduced near the end for no apparent reason. Any new character who shows up at the end had better be a bit player, or had better have an organic reason for being there. Preferably both. Continue reading

Craft a satisfying ending

Writing books seem to give less attention to endings than they do to other elements of fiction. Yet a satisfying ending is a necessity. An unsatisfying ending will produce negative reviews, eliminate word-of-mouth referrals, and ruin your chances of getting repeat readers.

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.—Mickey Spillane

Continue reading

Don’t leave readers hanging off a cliff

Writers of series books have gotten into an ugly habit lately. They leave readers hanging, either by giving them a cliffhanger or just arbitrarily picking a stopping point for one book. You can tell by some of the one- and two-star reviews on Amazon that readers are sick of this game of “you have to buy the next book to see what happens! Bwa ha ha!” A novel is not an old-timey cinema serial, even if it is part of a series. A novel should have a satisfying ending. Not simply a stopping place.

Loose threads are tied up before the climax.

Once you’ve written your dramatic climax, you don’t want to then spend another three chapters wrapping up all your loose ends. Continue reading

Answer story questions before you get to the end

When we first started talking about plot, I mentioned the “story problem” or “major dramatic question.” A good story will raise multiple questions. They don’t all need to be—in fact, shouldn’t be—answered at once, but they do need to be answered for the ending to be satisfying.

We’ll talk more about satisfying endings later, but for now, let’s consider this point:

Questions that arise are left tantalizingly open as long as feasible

You do need to answer your story questions, but the longer you can reasonably delay the character’s discovery of the answer, the more tension you’ll create. That keeps the reader turning pages, because she wants to know the answer, too. And ideally, each answer leads to a new question, until you reach the end. Continue reading