Month: May 2012

8 Ways to Find an End to Your Story

Where to begin? With so many who never get around to that, the question stops many from putting pen to paper. But come now, you know everything, you’re off the ground when it comes to writing.

But where to end? Did you see that one coming?

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Dear Writing All Wrong,

First, I have to say, I really enjoy reading your posts, both for fun and taking notes for my own writing. It makes me laugh and cringe at the same time, because, honestly, yes, I make some of those mistakes.

But, on to my question — How do you know when you’ve written enough? Sure, readers like to know details, but when is “the end”, the end?

—Nichole B., Pensacola, Fla.

Written enough to reach the end? I guess you’ll know when you get there – hah!

Fair question. You’ve many a factor to keep in mind when it comes to that notion of “enough.” It’s not all about where and when you stop, but what you stop. So we being:

1) Know your story

“Well, duh, W.A.W, I know my story.” Do you? Then do tell. Sum up. Whatcha got? When you’ve got that summary written down, circle the last sentence(s). End it there. You now have a “stopping point.” Get there. It’s not that simple, but it’s that simple.

2) Write only what serves the story

Not “write only the story.” Readers like details, pigments, shades, and hues of colors that paint a vivid picture. And a bit of backstory won’t hurt. But when those details lead you on the rabbit trails laid in brick and carved for miles? That’s beyond enough. I don’t care how interesting the trail is, or what scenic view it offers. Story. Not served. Back to it. Lose yourself in things that don’t serve the story, and you’ll miss that end in sight.

3) Creating appetite vs. creating “food”

Unless you’re in the special place where you can afford all sorts of extra details, backstory, and handouts via blatant authorial intrusion (see: Rowling, J.K., “Pottermore,” YHGTBFKM), don’t waste time cramming your narrative with excessive details. Create an appetite; let what is unsaid tantalize the reader. Get on with “just enough” detail to tease the senses. You’ll find that keeping to boundaries will keep the story marching to its desired end.

4) Write what’s interesting; don’t write what interests you

There’s a difference. If you have to convince a reader that your subject is interesting, you may be fighting a losing battle right away. Peanut butter in mousetraps, stegosaurus-grade shotguns, underground Monopoly tournaments, Murphy’s Law enforcers: I could write of such things until the sun spits out a flaming hairball. I find them interesting. But not everyone’s interested. There’s a story that needs telling. Leave out detours of obsessions and digressions.

5) Asking “Is this enough?” and “Is this too much?”

Nothing wrong with asking the “too much” question. The answer’s usually “Yes.” Edit down until you’re asking if it’s enough. If the answer to “enough?” is “Yes,” then you’re done writing. If “No,” keep writing. Add, subtract, edit, redact. Get to where you always answer “Is this enough?” with “Yes” and “Is this too much?” with “No.”

6) Don’t end when you’re tired

Your story, or whatever you write, doesn’t end when you can no longer expend the effort. A rushed ending screams in agony if cheated by the whim of fatigue. Ask why you’re ending the story. If your answer isn’t good enough, then your ending isn’t good enough. Don’t stop until the tale is concluded well.

7) Do end when the story has been told

Obvious much? If you’ve told all there is you set about telling, then go for the landing and get that plane taxied in. Don’t crash it (unless that was the intention). Don’t crash land (unless that was the intention). And don’t leave the plane on the tarmac for too long. If that was your intention, then you’re doing this wrong. End the story when the story ends. Happily ever after. END SCENE. Save writing the “ever after” for the sequel. Your duty is done.

8) Do you really have an ending?

That might be the problem right there. If there’s no end in sight, you may not have an end, period. Even after all that writing. Drink deep into the story and muster up the courage to write the ending. Just get it out there. Does it work? Good. Go write your way there. It’s not always about writing, then ending. Sometimes you’re writing the ending, then writing to the ending. Then you’re done.

How do you end up at the end?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

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One Year of Writing All Wrong!

One whole year of Writing All Wrong! I’d make a celebratory cake for you all, but my baking skills range from the inept to the maladroit.

Instead, I’ll highlight some of the year’s most popular, hated, and engaging posts. Thank you very much for visiting, and I look forward to more of you picking up something here and putting it to use.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Without further ado: This Year’s (Completely Arbitrary) Top Ten of Writing All Wrong 

Forsaking Flash Fiction 

Because it’s by far the most hated, argued, loathed, and despised post in all of Writing All Wrong. It’s been accused of “missing the point” and being “clearly flawed.” I’m fine with opinions on opinions. But if you’re a flash fiction connoisseur, this is a must-read. It’s the only post on the interweb that argues against flash fiction, daring to go where no others are brave enough to tread.

You Don’t Need to Make Your Characters “Relatable”

Because all of the hits on this post come from people who are trying to make characters relatable, and nothing more. If you’re not questioning “why” things should or shouldn’t be done in writing, then you’re doing it wrong.

8 Things to Keep Out of Your Opening Sentence

Because you cannot afford to stumble right out of the gate. A bad enough opening sentence will close the door on your book before there’s a chance to crease its spine.

Block Writer’s Block

Because writer’s block is nothing more than a pothole that you dig yourself. It’s a disease suffered only by the “aspiring, wannabe” writer.

Ten Ways to Move from “Wannabe” Writer to “Writer”

Because you’re a fake if you continue to trumpet yourself as something you aren’t – a writer. NASA Weapons Engineer, NBA 3-Point Specialist, Pope: those are things you “aspire” to be. Not with writing. Off the duff and to the desk with you!

Writing Contest? Duh, WINNING!

Because writing contests are less about writing and more about attention. That is fact. But since they’re part of the ecosystem, it’s best you know how to play the game.

Like-for-Like

Because I had fun on this post, and I think the simile is an underused tool in fiction.

Incongruous Juxtaposition – Genre Combination and the Art of Mayhem

Because it’s funny, and you need to laugh.

Writing Group Therapy

Because . . . writing groups – ugh. They’re beyond redemption.

10 Questions Writers Must Ask Themselves

Because you need to be asking more questions of yourself. Calibrate that craft, and interrogate your instincts.

Here’s to another year of Writing All Wrong. Cheers.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Showing vs. Telling: Round Two

Last week on Writing All Wrong, we touched upon the ongoing battle between “showing and telling” in writing.

You may “know show,” but can you “tell telling?” They don’t call it “storytelling” for nothing. Perhaps we should find some unbribed referees and make this a fairer fight.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Writing All Wrong:

I hear the “show vs. tell” mantra to know that telling something I shouldn’t be doing in writing. But should I? Doesn’t “telling” also have its place? How are they all that different. I figure you will have some smart answer to this so I await your response.

—Rachel Kovac, Thornton, Co.

And here’s where we let “telling” take Round Two. Can’t have one without the other, no matter how many pseudo-purists tell you otherwise. Heck, they tell you to show more. That should tell you something indeed. Some takeaways on telling:

Telling is underrated.

“Oh,” the pedant cries, “it’s writing, don’t you know! You can tell anyone anything. Showing is the sizzle of the steak, dear writer.”

This guy needs to sock it. Showing might be the sizzle and the shizzle, but telling is your beef. It does more with less (if done right). It keeps the car in gear. Compare:

“The fire raged to the last vestige of the house. The roof caved at last, crushing all his belongings with a punishing blow. He allowed an exasperated breath to pass from between his lips, carrying with it the air of long-held, pent-up desperation.”

You can just say: “He sighed.”

I think we get it. You tell a little, and you let your reader do more reading into it. Don’t do the thinking for your reader.

Telling hammers home the nail of showing.

“The stallion’s eyes become one with the black. The foaming ceased. He was dead.”

Anything past that, and you’re beating a dead horse. Literally. You don’t have to show it all when you can drive the point home with a forceful tell.

Telling is the soul of dialogue.

You may be a master showman, but you’re going to be a master cheesman as well if you don’t get your telling in line when it comes time to dialogue:

“‘How?’” she asked, barely hiding her confusion.

“With the spray cheese canister,” he said, matter-of-factly. “You can rig just about any of them to explode,” he explained, sensing the worry in her voice.

“But why?” Elena pressed. “Couldn’t he have gone . . . some other way?” Her voice trailed off, audibly conveying her hopelessness and dismay.”

You can show less, tell more, and fail much less if you stop trying to show the dialogue. Observe:

“How?”

“Spray cheese canister,” he said. “You can rig just about any of them to explode.”

“But why?” Elena pressed. “Couldn’t he have gone . . . some other way?”

Showing off your dialogue gets annoying. Don’t waste effort on annoying your reader, please.

Tell what you don’t have time to show.

It wasn’t about the money, he explained. She’d been unfaithful. Too many walruses and seals. Not enough orcas.

I don’t think you’d have the time nor space to “show” me all of that. I’m sure it’d be a fun read, but you’ve told me enough to keep me reading regardless. Nothing at all wrong with that.

Care to tell me about how you use your telling?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Showing vs. Telling: Round One

I’ve always enjoyed a good bit of advice by way of adage, even if I’m not all too sure what it means:

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

“You jiggle more with laughter than you do with lard.”

“Choke on a bone, don’t come home.”

“Show, don’t tell.”

You’ll come across that last one more than once. And you’ll tuck it away as fact. But what does it even mean? Make the assumption of fact an action at that.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Writing All Wrong:

I hear the “show vs. tell” mantra to know that telling something I shouldn’t be doing in writing. But should I? Doesn’t “telling” also have its place? How are they all that different. I figure you will have some smart answer to this so I await your response.

—Rachel Kovac, Thornton, Co.

Smart answer? Me? Maybe.

I’m going to take this one to two rounds, as there’s a lot of the arena to be covered. I’ll let “Telling” have its say in Round Two. But with “Showing,” here are a few key takeaways.

Showing is overrated.

Is it now? It’s a critical part of the narrator’s framework, but I think it gets too much time in the sun.

While it takes you from:

“Joe was scared.”

to:

“Joe’s face ghosted white, his chin quivering.”

Too often writers will go for the show gusto with:

“Joe’s face drained of color, leaving it a ghastly white. His chin and lips quivered incessantly, and bubbles of uncontrollable drool gurgled from behind his teeth. His whole head went clammy as a cold sweat broke out unbeckoned…”

All right, all right, we get it. Sho’ no’ mo’.

Show only what needs showing.

“Three uneven chairs surrounded the makeshift table. They were chipped in odd places, one on its back, the others within the seat. One of the chair legs had succumbed to some termites, while the other two looked just as wobbly by virtue of age and disrepair. Together, they made a trio of—”

We don’t need to know all about the dumb chairs. Are you showing? Sure, but it’s showing too much. Like the half-ton hirsute neighbor of yours who doffs his wife beater once he finds out the apartment pool is now open.

If you’re looking to improve this kind of lame writing, then make it compact. The first sentence would have done nicely.

Show what’s worth showing off.

“Bubble, the goldfish, flicked his shimmering fins within the sullen confines of the tank. His bulbous eyes flitted to and fro, darting this way and that, like he were searching for a lost treasure.”

Don’t care how much you’re trying, but showing me Bubble’s escapades in the tank isn’t going to take this story from the mundane to the transcendent. Show me everything you want about a story not worth telling, and you’re showing in vain. Now, if you took this approach:

Bubble, the goldfish, flicked his shimmering fins within the sullen confines of the tank. The M1 Abrams afforded little in creature comforts—”

Stop. You win.

Show, but don’t overshow.

“The crazed zombie tumbled from the fridge. Paul yelled back in horror.”

The amateur stumbles here, inexpertly finding an area of improvement with the “yelled back in horror” part. Here’s what we get:

“The crazed zombie tumbled from the fridge. Paul shrieked with panicky terror.”

“Aha,” you may think, “shrieking shows the emotion so much better!” What about the tautology of “with panicky terror?” Yeah, not everyone catches that, unless there’s a way to shriek with “meted control,” or “disciplined effect.” And no, I don’t think anyone’s “shrieking with delight” at the sight of a refrigerated zombie.

Showing: simple, but elegant. Try too hard, and you’re trying too hard.

How do you make showing work for you and your writing?

(You can read the take on telling here: Showing vs. Telling: Round Two)

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).