From the End to the Beginning

Part 7: Re-visioning Your Story     Why from the End to the Beginning? Many writers spend a significant amount of time crafting the beginning of their story. They know the beginning of a story is critical. If you don’t hook your reader, the story will go unread. But did you realize the ending is just as important?
From the End to the Beginning, lynettemburrows.com

 

No amount of convincing characters, intricate or thrilling plot, nor vivid story world construction can overcome a poorly crafted story end. And a failed ending of your story will cause an agent, editor, or reader to put down the book never to pick up another of your stories. But a great ending will reward your reader with an emotional payoff. Hooked, he’ll eagerly seek out more of your stories. So how do you construct a great ending? In revision.

First, in order to craft a perfect ending, you must understand the key components of the ending of a story: the crisis, the climax, and the resolution.

CRISIS

The crisis is the pivotal moment of your story. Your protagonist’s choices and actions have led her to this point where she must make a final, irrevocable choice. “At the point of crisis,” Bob Mayer says in The Novel Writer’s Toolbox, “the protagonist is forced to make a choice whether or not she wants to attempt to restore the balance that was disturbed by the inciting incident.” She is boxed into a corner and there are only two, specific, concrete actions she can take from here. And she must make a choice.

Robert McKee calls the crisis “the story’s Obligatory Scene. From the Inciting incident on, the audience has been anticipating with growing vividness the scene in which the protagonist will be face- to face with the most focused, powerful forces of antagonism in his existence.” In other words, the antagonistic force must appear to be overwhelming. The protagonist, and thus the reader, must feel the antagonist will win.

In order for the crisis to work, the choice with which your protagonist is faced must be of utmost importance to the character at that moment. He must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice (whatever he thinks that may be) in order to attempt to achieve the object of his desire.

“The Crisis must be a true dilemma,” according to Robert McKee in Story, “a choice between two irreconcilable goods, the lesser of two evils, or the two at once that places the protagonist under the maximum pressure of his life.” In Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain suggests this should be a choice that forces the character to act in accordance with or against a principle he has held dear up to this point. He says “to make a choice between self-interest and principle is difficult for any of us, in any situation, at any time. ” Once the choice is made, the crisis leads directly to the climax.

THE CLIMAX

All the choices your protagonist has made up to this point have built increasing tension in your reader. The climax delivers the goods in a big, explosive scene. The protagonist having made his choice succeeds in reaching his goal, realizes he wants something else or fails to reach his goal. In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass says, “Climaxes are both inner and outer, both plot specific and emotionally charged. The payoff needs to fully plumb the depths in both ways if it is to satisfy. ”

The best climax pulls together subplots as well as main plot into a final deciding action. Dwight V. Swain reminds us in Techniques of the Selling Writer, why this act is important: “In adherence to or abandonment of principle, your focal character proves ultimately and beyond all doubt what he deserves. ” And while the reader’s tension is released by the climax, if the story ends with the climax, the reader feels the ending too abrupt. He struggles to guess the meaning of the ending. He has no sense of closure. You, the author, must provide closure with the third component of the ending, the Resolution.

The Pot of Gold at the end of the Rainbow

RESOLUTION

The resolution explains that the crisis is over and the effect of the final decision and action has upon the principle characters. It gives a sense of closure by highlighting the emotional impact of the final action. This can be accomplished through the viewpoint of your protagonist or a narrator. And in the best stories, the reader has an aha moment when she realizes that this is the ending the protagonist had been working toward since the beginning. However, if the resolution details every character’s emotional reaction, the ending of your story will drag. It will lack the impact it needs. Keep it short. Give it resonance through a powerful phrase, gesture, or setting that the reader remembers from the beginning. The resolution is the reader’s payoff for reading the story. Make it count.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT

Part One

Now that you know the three key components of a great story ending. Read the endings of five novels that you love. Examine the crisis, climax, and resolution of each novel. What elements do they have in common?

Part Two

So now it’s time to read the ending, and only the ending of your story and answer the questions below. Remember, take notes. Do not try to fix any of the problems or concerns you identify.

  • Is the action on the page or did everything happen off stage?
  • Have you wrung every bit of tension out of it that you can?
  • Did you pull your punches at the end or did you make it difficult for your protagonist?
  • Were there ‘well, duh’ choices your protagonist should have made? Your reader will know and think less of your character.
  • Does the reader have to guess the ending?
  • Do you have a ‘Hollywood’ ending, a la the hero finishes hacking the bad guys to death and the heroine rush to embrace him in a steamy kiss with the sunset/sunrise in the background? Ewww!
  • Does someone other than the protagonist save the day, or have him wake and realize it was all a dream?
  • Was tension maintained to the last possible moment?
  • Did you force your protagonist to make a choice?
  • Is the choice worth the cost to the protagonist?
  • Did you build up his desire or need as he moves through the story so the reader believes the protagonist would go to all that trouble?
  • Did your protagonist translate his choice into two concrete, specific, alternative actions?
  • Was it a choice between an ‘easy way’ and a way that would lead to disaster or sacrifice?
  • Is the alternative to the easy way out disastrous for your protagonist?
  • Did you keep the ending in doubt by making failure look likely?
  • Are there any loose ends or subplots that haven’t been already resolved?
  • Was your character rewarded or punished based on his choice?
  • Has poetic justice been served?
  • Did you focus the emotional fulfillment into a punch line?

Part Three

And now that you know your ending, re-read the beginning of your story.

  • Does the ending answer the question posed in the beginning of your story?
  • Have you planted clues for the ending in the beginning of your story?
  • Is the mood and tone of your beginning echoed in your ending?
  • Finally, are themes, motifs, or phrases from the beginning echoed in the ending?

From the ending to the beginning doesn’t measure up in your first draft? Don’t worry. You now know where the weak spots are. And you’re subconscious is already working on the solutions!

NEXT WEEK:

The final post in the Revisioning Your Story series: Preparing for the Rewrite

You’ve made my day by just by reading my post. And I am thrilled and honored when you take the time and care to comment below. Thank you!

If you haven’t been following this series. Please check out the first six posts on Re-visioning Your Story:

A Blogfest You Can’t Miss!

Awesome. Inspiring. Funny. Touching. Real. Beauty of a Woman Blogfest 2012, created and hosted by August McLaughlin, is a blogfest you can’t miss. Man or woman, you will find posts that tickle your funny bone, bring a tear to your eye, and a lift to your heart and soul.

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest Logo is a blogfest you can't miss

I had not planned to post today, but after visiting a few of the more than forty writers that are participating in this blogfest exploring the concept of beauty, I knew I had to share this with my readers.

August is a writer and author who has worked in the fashion, entertainment and wellness industries, wearing hats ranging from Parisian runway model to culinary coach. While to some of us it may seem that August has had a charmed life, she has had her share of dark times. She states she turned to Sam Levinson’s poem, “The Beauty of a Woman,” over and over again.

The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.” — Sam Levenson, “The Beauty of a Woman”

Ultimately that poem inspired August to lead this wonderful blogfest. The ripple that was her inspiration is now a tsunami of beautiful souls sharing, laughing, and inspiring.

Oh, and there are prizes. All you have to do is follow the links on August’s blog, tweet and share and comment on August’s blog. See the rules here.

ETA: It’s 2022 and while this particular blogfest and its prizes are long since done. August McLaughlin maintains the old blogfest posts, and they are all wonderful. Go to her website. If you want to see a blogfest you can’t miss, visit every February.

But truly the best prizes are in the blog posts of all these fabulous people. Please, check it out. It’s a blogfest you can’t miss. I promise you won’t be sorry.

Monday Mashup: From SOPA to Nuts

I don’t know about you, but there are so many great things posted on the web, I often miss them when they are first published online. So today, I’m sharing a mash-up of my recent, eclectic discoveries with you. The links cover everything from SOPA to Nuts.

SOPA and PIPA

Someone once called me a ‘slow thinker’ because I prefer to weigh both sides of a situation before I make a decision. So characteristically, the movement to protest SOPA and PIPA moved faster than I did. I object to the language of the bills known as SOPA and PIPA, but I’m not necessarily against their intent. I practiced a ‘grey-out’ on Wednesday of last week in that I did not black-out my website or blog, but I also did the bare minimum of internet business. And I continue to read a variety of articles on the subject. Here are two that made me go ‘hmmm.’

Were you swept up in the internet protest against SOPA and PIPA? Read why David Pogue suggests we Put Down the Pitchforks on SOPA.

Jaron Lanier opines that we netziens harbor false ideals of the web and that our extreme reactions to SOPA can be doing us more harm than good. Read his article in the NY Times opinion page here.

Has either of these articles swayed me? I’m still thinking about it.

On Writing

Now, this is motivation! Write your story, finish and start the next one as if a sword is hanging over your head! Read Art Holcomb’s “Scheherazade” a guest blog for Larry Brooks on Storyfix.

Thanks to Lena Corazon for putting me onto this post “Ed’s Casual Friday: Everyone is a (one) Star.”

Space Exploration

According to this article, Orbital Junk Threatens the Future of Space Travel. Oh, man! I’ve got to finish revising my Repairman story. Reality is catching up!

How to Achieve Your Goals

Sarah Andre does a gig as a guest blogger at Pat O’Dea Rosin and Lark Howard’s blog: Reading, Writing, & Rambling. She makes a case on how Fierce Alter Egos will keep you exercising when all else fails.

Marshmallow Stuff

You knew I had to include the some of the posts that touched my marshmallow heart.

August McLaughlin tells her story of recovery from anorexia in this touching and inspiring post, Does Dirt Have Calories?

And finally, The Nuts:

A Random Act of Weirdness

This youtube video, courtesy of Lynn Kelley, made me laugh, watch Weird Al Yankovic’s Parody of Lady Gaga.

While this covers everything from SOPA to Nuts, still those are but a few of the blogs and articles I found on the internet during the past week. I hope you enjoyed them and found one or two that were gems for you. Have a terrific week!

Can You Write When You Are Sick?

Can you write when you are sick? I’m still fighting off my cold. It’s getting better, but breathing well, sleeping well, and having enough energy and attention to do my best work are still challenging. So, have I been just laying around feeling sorry for myself? Well — if I’m honest with you, mostly. But I’ve also gotten some work done despite being sick. You can if you follow some of these suggestions.

Be a Good Boss to Yourself

The first thing you have to do is to be a good boss. If you were employed outside of your home, a good boss would notice you are ill and tell you to take the day off.

I realize that for many freelancers taking a day off is frightening. If you don’t work you don’t get paid, if you don’t finish projects on time you don’t get rehired, etc. First of all, you should always build a little cushion into every project for those unexpected events, like getting sick. Second of all, if you push yourself too hard, you could end up with a more serious illness, more deadlines not met, and more disappointed customers.

Take Care of Yourself.Can you write when you are sick

Drink plenty of fluids.

 

Eat properly. Your body needs balanced meals: protein, fruits, and vegetables, to have the energy to help you heal. If you don’t feel like eating a big meal, eat smaller amounts of those foods or break them up into mini-meals.

Rest when you are tired.

Protect your eyes. When you are ill, your eyes are already irritated, so be certain to take frequent, longer breaks from staring at the screen. One of the things we do when staring at the computer screen is that we blink less frequently. Learn more in this Science Daily article: Blink Often to Avoid Computer-Related Eye Woes.

Adapt Your Usual Work Habits

If you’re a blogger, have pre-written posts for such occasions. Or post a youtube video or a list of questions for your readers.

Lydia Sharp has several tips to offer for writers like throw your usual goals out the window and allow others to help you at Writer’s Unboxed.

At Create Write Inc. the tip I like best is: find projects that are ‘easier’ to work on: if editing is easiest for you do that, or mind mapping, or getting caught up with e-mail. In other words, rearrange your priorities when possible.

No matter what your occupation,(yes, I most definitely believe housewife and mother to be occupations!) do short work periods followed by rest periods. Let go of the things you just cannot do. You’ll get back to it.

If it still looks like you won’t make a deadline, call your customer ahead of time to say, I wanted to let you know that I believe you deserve the best product I am able to provide for you, but I am ill and may not finish on time. Then the two of you can discuss reasonable alternatives in a way that maintains respect.

Employ Your Support System

I hope you are all healthy and do not ever need these tips on how to write when you are sick. I also hope that if you get sick, you have a support system to run errands, fix your chicken soup, and help you take care of yourself until you are better. Sometimes support systems can help you when you can’t help yourself. Like the man in this video helps the puppies who just can’t stop crying:

Can you write when you are sick? Is it productive writing or do you find you have to rewrite? Have you ever made your health worse by continuing to work through it?

The Art of Saying Thank You

Your mother probably taught you to say please and thank you. She probably taught you to write a nice thank you note for birthday and Christmas gifts. Do you practice the art of saying thank you as a grown up? Your mother probably taught you to say please and thank you. She probably taught you to write a nice thank you note for birthday and Christmas gifts. Do you practice the art of saying thank you as a grown up?

Unfortunately, research says many people do not write thank you notes. In the rush and scurry to get things done, to read many tweets, or simply running from work to home to school, to children’s activities, it’s easy to feel too pressed for time to write a thank you note. It seems much easier to just say thank you when the gift is opened, the service received, or to dash off a quick text message, tweet or e-mail.

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say “thank you?” ~ William Arthur Ward

Texting, Tweeting, and E-mail have connected people in amazing ways. But does it do justice to the intent of expressing gratitude or has saying thank you become just an expression that you say? Messages like “TY for RT” may represent real gratitude by the sender, but does the person on the receiving end really feel your gratitude? Granted, we can’t send heartfelt thank you notes to everyone we interact with on the internet, but we can improve how we say thank you.


The Power of Two Small Words

Thank you in red

Have you ever thought about the power of those two simple words? When it is sincere, the very act of saying thank you impacts at least two people. It’s a form of respect. It creates a bond between two people. A warm, personal expression of gratitude of an act of kindness or to someone you do business with can create a lasting, positive impression. When the appreciation is unexpected, it can lift spirits, be shared as a heartwarming story, and be remembered a long, long time.

How to do it Wrong

I know you’ve received thank you’s spoken, written, or electronic where you felt the insincerity. I’m of the generation whose parents made you write a thank you note for every single gift you received within a week of having received that gift. The notes became rote and forced. It was hard to say thank you to an aunt you’ve never seen for a pair of ugly hand-knit socks. Worse, it was insincere.

If you are spending more time on recruiting comments on your blog, re-tweets, or business connections than you are in saying a thoughtful thank you to those who support your efforts, you need to rethink how you thank those who support you, assist you, and love you.

If you dash off a TY that isn’t personal, you could improve your methods.

How to Say Thank You

Look for opportunities to thank others. Be aware of what others are doing for you – the waitress, the postman, the nurse who cares for Aunt Susie. Find things that you genuinely appreciate about that person. Perhaps it’s that a friend or an employee is always punctual, perhaps it’s the words someone used tweeting about your blog, or it is the service that you got from a salesclerk.

Use the person’s name and not just in the Dear Uncle George line.

Be specific. Don’t say, ‘thanks for the candy.’ Say something like ‘how did you know that chocolate-covered cherries were my favorite?’ or ‘I love listening to you telling stories about your youth, like the time you told me about…’

Be timely. Send thank yous within a month if it’s a big occasion such as a wedding or at Christmas. For other events, days to a week or two would be best.

Give gratitude more than expected: commend people, refer people, send a note, give a gift. Comment on that blog you enjoyed instead of skipping on past to the next one. Tweet or direct message someone.

Keep it short. If you effuse too much, the receiver of your thanks may take that as you don’t really mean it, or get annoyed, ‘enough already!’

And don’t think I’m saying don’t say thank you in person. This is a must. Mean it when you say it – if the gift doesn’t inspire gratitude in you, look at the giver’s actions, the intent or the effort expended FOR YOU. Above all, be honest. If after looking for the meaning, you still don’t feel grateful, don’t say it. And when you do say it, make eye contact and SMILE

Finally, Thank You!

I started this blog two months ago. And in that two months, I’ve found a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction because of your support, your comments. I try to practice what I preach and respond to every comment specifically in reaction to your comment, in deepest appreciation. You’ve given me a gift of your time. It’s the only gift that cannot be replaced in kind. So, let me practice the art of saying thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to each and every one who reads this blog. May you have a New Year of Joy, Peace, and Success!

Yellow heart inscribed with Thank You

all graphics courtesy of mycutegraphics.com