Month: June 2011

Endgame

The end. It fails or succeeds. It completes or leaves hanging. It fulfills the promise or cheats the premise.

Reaching the end and closing with brilliance takes a wholly different set of masterstrokes. Anyone can begin a work, and most anyone can keep it going. Bringing it full circle is the provence of the devoted.

When you’re at the end of your cliff, do you give the hero wings? Do you paint his next adventure? Do you let him fall? Do you leave the chasm in the void? There’s no right answer, but an answer that doesn’t live up the journey leading to the cliff’s edge undermines the effort in getting there. In these cases, Occam’s Razor cuts backwards; the simplest answer is not always best.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Hi Writing All Wrong, I hope you can help me out here. Im halfway through my first fantasy novel and its going great. While I think I’ve mastered the meat of the story, I’d like to try to end it in a significant way. Since it’s about two warring kings who don’t know they’re brothers, I’m curious whether I should make more of a surprise ending (where one finds the other’s family heirloom on the other), or if I should go for a more triumphal sort of victory to end it? What do you think? Thanks.

—Josiah Sparks, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Remember, you can pick however you want to end this story. It doesn’t have to be anything worth reading. You’re shooting yourself in one foot already, while keeping the other in a bear trap. I think we can salvage the rest here.

Let’s list the predictable endings. Don’t use any of these.

1: King finds revelatory clue on the other king during battle, ends the war.

2: King finds revelatory clue on the other king during battle, kills him anyway, suspects fraud.

3: King finds revelatory clue on the other king during battle, gets killed by maniacal lieutenant.

4: King finds revelatory clue on the other king during battle, later kills his own “adopted” father for engineering war.

5: Yeah, I’m not discovering anything grand in the revelation sweep here.

6: The triumphal sort of victory. You can do better than this.

Now for the worthwhile endings, if you really want to craft something that you don’t want as a dust magnet on the shelf. That is, the shelf of your own house where you keep all the unsold copies of the book.

1: King kills king, only to have dying king claim to be his brother all along. (Wait for it…) In grief, king murders his “adopted” father and mother for pitting him against his brother (wait for it…), only to find that the dead king’s parents are the “real” “adopted” parents, who then claim (wait for it…) that his real brother wasn’t the dead king at all, but rather another king of a stronger rival kingdom that they feared would alliance with the “adopted” son’s “adopted” brother’s kingdom.

Then again, I’m not so sure about that one.

2: King reaches truce with rival king, as they discover they both came from a noble family of a third kingdom, which they once had mutually loathed, despised, and eventually eliminated. The animus turns to the respective sets of parents for their deception. Each king kills his own, thus fulfilling some sort of obscure prophecy that the third kingdom would rise from its death to engulf its tormentors. It is later revealed that the deception was a mind-altering curse of some sort, leaving the kings unknowingly guilty of wrongful patricide/matricide.

3: Kings battle with more fervency, driven to rage at the knowledge of their lost brotherhood. The revelation doesn’t halt the warfare. Kind of an anti-twist, left ambiguous. Pick your winner.

If I commandeered your novel, I’d go with this ending. It cannot be surpassed.

4: Each king finds that they cannot kill the other, no matter how fiercely they wound one another. This confirms what they both suspected to be true: they are in fact separate parts of a bifurcated soul. After performing an obscure ritual based on a lullaby sung by their respective parents, they fuse into one entity: the Overlord of the Realm. Taking a sober look back at their past, they (or he) begin(s) to realize that their (his) combined efforts were part of a larger plot to destroy the weaker kingdoms of the realm and eventually turn on one another’s kingdom. They soon discover the architect of the grand scheme: the Dragon Mage, Explausibius. He summons a dragon kingdom from another dimension, irrupting into the human kingdom universe to keep this newfound alliance from forming against him. Since his grand design failed, the Dragon Mage takes it upon himself to destroy the remaining armies sooner than expected. As the Overlord of the Realm and the Dragon Mage rage their war, they soon realize (again), that they’re unable to mortally wound the other. This confirms what neither of them suspected to be true: they are in fact two additional parts of higher bifurcated soul. By reciting forward and backward an obscure prophecy of dragons and men, they form into a unified OverMage of the Dragon Realm, Expossiblissimus. This transformation summons an even grander architect of evil, a Dark Celestial Mage, who—

Nevermind. This is going nowhere. Now that’s an ending for you.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and fused into a celestial being if you sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to the tune of “Greensleeves.”

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The Good, the Bad, and the Protagonist

The agony of protagonists. Imperfections. Perceptions. Heroics. Do our characters exist as gems of virtue, only mildly flawed? Or are they hewn from the quarry of reality unashamed?

Too real, and nothing compels. Anyone defying believability unhinges that delicate suspension of disbelief. Not knowing the finer points of this tightrope walk dooms our protagonists to an indiscriminate fall to failure.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I’ve been wanting to write a book for a long time but I feel like my main character is too bad of a person to be the good guy. It’s a good story, don’t get me wrong, but the more I think about my main character, the more I wish he had good guy standards, like not drinking, swearing, and smoking. It’s a Western, so it comes with the territory. Is there a such thing as a good guy who can truly be good? Thanks!

—Ava Gonzalez, Houston, Tex.

In lousy fiction, make your good guys as good as you want. We don’t care. And by ‘we,’ I mean ‘we.’ In good fiction, there are none good. I’m not advocating the raw, gritty, hardboiled route. Overcompensating is an endless loop, an inefficient parlor trick. Pare down the excess, whether it be toning down raunchy curses that would curl Satan’s ears or de-glorifying exaggerated acts of saintliness and kindliness that would make Jesus puke.

On to the meandering philosophical question: What makes and breaks the good of a good guy? I’ll present two protagonists and let you be the judge of the goodness of each.

Buford O. Brokelahoma

Buford strode into the bar, chest puffed out so far that it arrived a good five seconds before the rest of him did. He clenched his belt buckle, using it as a shield to ward off the sin and temptation floating around in the sordid establishment. With one hand, he supported his hefty frame while situating the uneven barstool beneath him, making sure he sat in just the right spot, avoiding any need to readjust. Couldn’t look weak here. Not in front of similar rabble, not much unlike the many foul souls he’d locked up the week prior.

A sheriff’s life wasn’t much to envy to begin with, but Buford’s pledge to chastity and the like made it downright unbearable. Not for him, but for everyone else. He grimaced at anyone who dared swear a curse. He rudely swatted cigarettes from people in mid-smoke. He made a show of ordering a tall glass of “white milk, with none of that devil’s alcohol.” He openly polished his already polished badge, noting that he wanted to make it so shiny that its glint would scare off ne’er-do-wells from ne’er-do-welling.

Jack A. Rakescrow

Rakescrow hated drinking, so he drank more to forget how much he hated it. A crumpled piece of paper lay next to his whisky glass. Six strokes, keeping count faithfully until the seventh glass. Got a little hazy after that. He was hazy to begin with, drenched in a cloud of his own cigarette smoke before he could summon the sense to order his first round.

The insufferable Sheriff Buford Brokelahoma snapped him out of his stupor. Someone’s cigarette butt pegged him in the cheek, courtesy of the Sheriff’s well-timed flick.

Shi—“ he started, but Buford’s agitated pug-like expression halted him. “S’watch what you aimin’ at, Sher’f. Been a long day.”

“I reckon. Bein’ a vigilante gotta takes it’s toll, I reckon.”

“Takes more doin’ the right thing than jus’ pretendin’. Chasin’ down mur’drurs ain’t worth riskin’ the pay, right? Keep t’them tax cheats and curfew brekkers in line and keep me to my real man’s work.”

That should have gotten more of a rise from Buford, but everyone’s attention swiftly turned to a raving drunk, more raving and drunk than the rest. He had a rusty firearm to the throat of an off-shift singer, the one who brought in more business from various hotel rooms than she did on the rickety stage here. Looked like a scuffle gone out of hand, something to do with theft. Apologies and begging weren’t cutting it.

Rakescrow hollered, just enough to get the assailant to stick out his head and see who yelled at him. Gave Rakescrow just enough room to thread a sudden bullet through the crowd and into his head. The woman retreated, silently sobbing, too shocked to shriek. The dead man was discreetly taken away as hushes seeped back into the bar.

“Damned fool nearly cut off my drinks for tonight.”

“Couldn’t’ve hit ‘em together, Jack?” goaded a sneering Buford. “They both of ‘em deserved it, God as my witness.”

“God ain’t yer witness.”

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and traded on NASDAQ Stock Market. 

Mistakes. Everybody’s Making Them

If you write, you make mistakes. If you make bad mistakes, you’re probably a bad writer. Can’t simplify it further.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

To Writing All Wrong: What are some common mistakes that I can avoid making as an aspiring author, especially when it comes to mechanics?

—Michael Alan Mitchell, Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

Easy. Just stop writing. Won’t make any mistakes that way. Oh, you mentioned mechanics? Drat.

I think I’d be more willing to lend mechanical advice to an aspiring grammarian or someone aspiring to pass English 101. Buy a grammar book. Take a class. If you’re iffy about mechanics at this stage, then I’d stop aspiring to be a writer and start getting cozy with the dashingly boring technical details of the language. Good luck.

Let’s fast forward and assume you’ve done this already. I’m sidestepping it anyway. As I conveniently ignore your inquiry into the mechanical nature of everything, I’ll be happy to address your question.

Common Bad Mistake #1: Redundant Redundancies.

This should make sense, right? Right. If it were easy, everyone would do it. And everyone does it. Whether it’s the unnecessary multiplicity of word within paragraph or unintentional lamemphasis (“They couldn’t see within the thick dark. It was so dark, it made all other forms of dark look like sunlight, such was the darkness.”), weaker craftsmen tend to drive home an idea with a dim-witted hammer. Writing isn’t made excellent by force alone. Other examples include:

“a dark night” – as apposed to a light night.

“raging tempest” – fantasy writers, raise thy hands in guilt.

“a quick bite” – never heard of a long bite, not even in my vampire fiction excursions.

“fat loser” – self-explanatory.

“exact same” – they mean the same exact thing.

“kneel down” – tried kneeling up once, to no avail.

“poorly-written Christian fiction” – you can just say Christian fiction.

“wicked stepmother” – your readers assume they get a bad rap anyway.

You could also look up “tautologies.” If you have to look that up in a dictionary first, you’ll be forgiven.

Common Bad Mistake #2: Circumventing Redundancies.

Oh, you thought the use of “charming cottage” was clever? Not when I catch a mention of “cozy cottage” dozens of pages later. Your thinness of image betrays you. If you’re going to stick with the image, either stick with it or make your point and move on. Don’t be slick in trying to change it up to avoid “sounding” redundant. Heed Admiral Ackbar’s advice: don’t trip into this readily available pitfall. “Spacious house?” Better not call that sucker a “sprawling house.” “Bristly beard?” Stay bristly my friend, because we’ll bristle at mentions of a “prickly beard” three pages later. Skilled speaker, “silver-tongued?” Don’t turn him into a “golden-tongued” anything. That’d be weird.

Common Bad Mistake #3: Using Clichés

If it’s not wholly original, it’s a cliché. Don’t use it.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and lightly seasoned with kosher salt and rubbed sage.