How to End a Story

Stories are like relationships: the beginning is always so much fun, and the ending is fraught with turmoil.

When I sit down to start a story, the first sentence just sort of comes to me. The second sentence too. If I’m lucky, the third swiftly follows. The inimitable short story writer Kate Braverman once visited a class I was teaching and told the graduate students that she channels her characters. They speak through her and onto the page, she said, as if she isn’t even there.

I, unfortunately, channel nothing. It is all rough work after sentence three. By the time I’m in the middle of the story, I’m feeling more than a little uncomfortable. Where am I going? Where have I been? Have I gotten lost in the labyrinth? Probably, yes.

Somehow, I find my way through. The characters do things. They meet with hardship and grief, or maybe they just meet someone challenging in a Laundromat. They get into trouble, maybe out of it. Probably not. I find myself feeling that they have done all they can do. Not much more can be said. The action has fallen. We have all had our dénouement (which, by the way, is a French term meaning untying, from Middle French desnouement, from desnouer - to untie - from Old French desnoer, from des- de- + noer meaning to tie, from Latin nodare, from nodus knot.) And here we are in the labyrinth again, attempting to untie the knot, unwind the rope, escape the not-so-fun funhouse.

It’s time to write our way out.

One wants to resolve things, after all.One feels a deeply human need to conclude. After the falling action, there is often something more. Something unexpected. And here we come to what I have been meaning to say all along: a good ending is layered. The reader thinks she has discovered everything she can possibly discover about a story, but then: another image appears, another paragraph hums along, another question begs to be answered. One is left with the feeling of having walked out of the dark theater into the light, only to realize there was something else playing after the credits, some secret part of the film, some final moment. You can hear it through the door, vaguely, but you can’t get back in. You’re not sure what you’ve missed, but you’re certain that you’ve missed something, that the reel kept on playing, the story kept on going, after your departure. You were only an observer, a brief malingerer, there but not there. The lives within the story carry on.

Online Writing Classes with The Book Doctor

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How to Write & Pitch the Cross-Genre Novel – Part 1

by Michelle Richmond

(This article originally appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine.)

The term “genre fiction” traditionally refers to any novel that fits neatly into a prescribed category: science fiction, romance, mystery, Western. But the line between genre fiction and mainstream fiction becomes blurrier by the year, in part because readers have become more sophisticated, and in part because the publishing industry is expanding, finding new and ever more creative ways to reach audiences.

Just because a novel contains a murder doesn’t mean it will check the old boxes one used to expect from a mystery. Likewise, a man on a horse doesn’t automatically mean we’re in for a traditional Western. Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories and Cormac McCarthy’s celebrated apocalypse novel, The Road, come to mind. A thriller may be intensely character-driven, like Stewart O’Nan’s Songs for the Missing; and a novel that inhabits a richly imagined science fiction world may also be marketed as mainstream fiction, like Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles.


M.J. Rose, internationally bestselling author of twelve novels and two nonfiction titles and founder of AuthorBuzz.com, knows what it means to face off against genre conventions. Her novels combine such diverse genres as romance, paranormal, and mystery, and are often also classified as historical fiction. Last year, Rose’s The Book of Lost Fragrances simultaneously made two best-of lists in very different genres: Amazon’s “Best Fantasy Novels” and Publishers Weekly’s “Best Mystery/Suspense.” But the success of Rose’s recent books belies a dilemma that she faced from the beginning of her writing career, and which she still confronts today. While reviewers and readers often praise the diversity of Rose’s books, that very diversity has been a headache in terms of publishing. “For years,” Rose says, “publishers told my agent that they loved my work but didn’t know how to market such cross-genre fiction.” If anything, she says, the cross-genre nature of her work made it harder to sell.

Literary agent Elizabeth Pomoda agrees. “Fiction in different genres is packaged and marketed differently and shelved on different bookstore shelves,” she says. “There’s no shelf for cross-genre fiction, so cross-genre fiction wouldn’t be the easiest way to start a career.” That said, the literary landscape is changing, and the gates are opening in ways no one could have predicted ten years ago. She notes that we are now living “in a bottom-up culture in which readers, not publishing conglomerates, are the gatekeepers, and word of mouth is replacing reviews.”

Julianna Baggott, bestselling author of nineteen books running the gamut from YA to poetry, knows a few things about genre-bending. The header logo on Baggott’s labyrinthine website reads, “Baggott, Asher, Bode,” the three names under which she writes. Baggott’s extraordinary career serves as proof that the challenges of crossing genre can also net huge rewards. “Switching from one genre to another is like hitting a release valve,” she says. “When one genre starts to feel limiting, another begins to look liberating.”

Baggott’s most recent novels, Pure and Fuse, are part of a science-fiction trilogy featuring young adult heroines whose stories will also appeal to adults. The worlds Baggott creates are fantastical, and the writing is as lyrical as it is suspenseful. Baggott encourages writers to take what they know from one genre and use it to their advantage in anything they write.

“Each genre has its own demands,” Baggott says, “and the lessons learned in one are often transferable to another. The impact of image and brevity honed in poetry are useful in the novel. The truth of essay helps with insights and epiphany in fiction. I call screenplays ‘plot poems,’ because both the poem and the screenplay must be able to bear up under the weight of so much white on the page, like a house buried under snow.”

This is part 1 of a 4-part series. Subscribe to my weekly writing and publishing tips to never miss a post.

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How to Publish a Book – Online Publishing Class

In this six-week course, you’ll learn the ins and outs of publishing in the digital age. What we’ll cover:

Traditional versus Independent Publishing: Learn the pros and cons of traditional and independent publishing, and decide which path is right for you.

Agents and Editors: What They Do and How to Find Them: Understand the role of the literary agent and the editor, as well as the relationship between the two. Discover how to find an agent, what terms to expect, and what red flags to watch out for.

The Path to Publication: Learn how you can improve your chances of getting your manuscript noticed by an agent or editor. Get my secret for building a publishing portfolio that will make your manuscript stand out.

Preparing Your Manuscript for Publication: Learn the 5 common mistakes that will keep your manuscript from getting a serious read. Understand the industry standards that are key to a professional manuscript presentation. Learn how to format your manuscript for independent ebook publishing.

The Money Trail: Learn the basics of advances and royalties. Understand what to look for in a traditional publishing contract, and how to get the best royalties for independently published work.

Understanding Copyright: Whether you choose to go the independent or traditional publishing route, copyright deeply affects your income stream. Learn how to protect your work from copyright infringement, and how to balance discoverability with copyright protection.

This course is intended for:

  • Writers who are new to publishing
  • Writers who have published independently but are interested in making the leap to traditional publishing
  • Writers who are interested in having a hybrid career that includes both traditional and independent publishing
  • Writers who have published in literary journals, magazines, or online but have not yet published a book

By the end of this course, you will have a clear idea of how to proceed with your manuscript. You will have created a personalized publishing plan to help you take your writing career to the next level.

Each week features a downloadable lecture, an assignment, and a discussion forum, where you can ask questions and post comments.

Go here to enroll in the publishing workshop.

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Writer success story – why sometimes you have to tune out the criticism


Roald Dahl authored dozens of books, including the beloved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach

“This boy is an indolent and illiterate member of the class.” age 16, summer term English composition

“A persistent muddler, vocabulary negligible, sentences malconstructed. He reminds me of a camel.” Summer term 1932, age 16, English composition

“Consistently idle, ideas limited.” Autumn term, 1932, English composition

 

Roald Dahl is a great writer. He is probably my favorite writer.” Oscar, age 9

 

 

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The Art of Simplicity – tips for writers from graphic designer Chip Kidd

I’ve been reading Chip Kidd’s Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. Although the book was written for a younger audience, it’s a gorgeous, superbly readable crash course in the history and principles of graphic design.

One of the lessons that writers can take to heart is Kidd’s explanation of simplicity vs. complexity. “Simple, direct visual elements will get the attention of your viewer in a different way than complex images that the writer will have to decode,” Kidd writes. Complexity, on the other hand, “has to be very carefully managed or it becomes chaos.”

The best writing strikes a balance between simplicity and complexity. As a writer and as a reader, I am drawn to very direct sentences that are simple to navigate. I’m not talking about sentences that are very short, or sentences in which vocabulary is limited to the lowest common denominator. I’m talking about sentences that are clear and meaningful. The writer’s goal, on a sentence by sentence level, should be clarity. Overblown descriptions, adjective pile-ups, and self-conscious phrasing hinder clarity. Any sentence that screams “look at me!” fails the reader. The writer’s job is to communicate a story. The sentences should be clean enough to communicate that story effectively.


For me, complexity comes into the picture in the construction of the plot and the pattern of the novel. Kidd uses a wonderful spirograph illustration to demonstrate the principle of complexity. When you write a novel, there are many elements at play, including character, theme, plot, setting, and point of view. All of these elements must somehow find their way into an elegant design. The elements intersect throughout the novel with various degrees of symmetry, layered in a way that makes each element visible but none overpowering.

Michelle Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of four novels and two award-winning story collections. Ger her latest novel, Golden State.

Kidd’s book is a wonderful experience for anyone interested in graphic design or the visual arts. But it is also a powerful reminder that, as writers, we can find inspiration anywhere and everywhere.

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