This week: Multiple PathsEdited by: Jay -- Thank you, ANON!
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How do you determine what is the right way to end your story?
I've been thinking a lot about endings this week as one of my close friends just finished a project she's been working on for years now. We both like to talk through projects as we work on them and that's just become part of our process at this point. It was a project that has been picked up and put down a few times at this point, in part because something about the ending simply wasn't quite right despite having prodded and poked at it each time she picked it up again.
Anyhow, so this story had been outlined, the bulk of it already written, even, for a very long time. It had an ending that we both thought was more or less conceptually solid--but every time she sat down to write it, it was, simply put, all wrong.
Because it's not my story, I can't really speak to the specifics, but I think that for most of us who write fiction, it's an experience we've had in one way or another. It took visualizing a different path for the story to go down for her to be able to break through and put THE END on it.
By "paths," here, I mean "series of decisions that point to the character's future," more or less. In the case of this story, it came down to visualizing different futures for her main character. The path she had envisioned the first time around was good, but didn't really take into account the true depth of the main character's growth from the beginning of the story. Knowing everything that had changed in the character's life throughout the story, it was important for the path forward to reflect this.
Writing out different versions of this ending helped her figure out which of these endings was the "right" one for the story as it was written. For some authors, it might be enough to write a short part of the scene to figure out which path is the right one, when more than one possibility presents itself. I like stories with a sense of inevitability to the endings that happen, but even with that inevitability, generally speaking, the reader wants to be surprised but not disappointed by the shape of the story based on the rest of the story that has gone before.
Sometimes a story simply doesn't come together in full right away. It may, in fact, take years to figure out an ending that works right for a particular story. (This can make writing stories for contests like the Writer's Cramp very challenging, obviously. In all seriousness, this is why I wish more people would revisit their older contest stories, because time and distance can do wonderful things for your writing, but I digress. )
There are times when it's more important to just get as much of the story out of your head where you can work out the ending as you go.
I think a lot of times it's important to listen to your gut in this case. If you suspect something is too boring or too complicated, it might be! It's worth pushing yourself to take a second, or a third, look at it to see if you can arrive at something that really ties the story together in the end. Resonant details from elsewhere in the story can do really well for this.
The nice thing is, technically speaking, you can always go back and try a different path, even after the piece is finished. Who knows where you'll end up?
Until next time,
Take care and Write on!
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Feedback from "Choices, Choices"
Elisa, Stik or Treat writes:
This choices topic feels rather familiar.
In all seriousness, I find that I do enjoy the story segments where a decision has to be made. I find a quiet moment weighing the outcomes can be a more natural way to build suspense (well, for me) and can be really fun for dialogue construction.
Not exactly sure what you're referencing; it's a pretty open topic, though! I think about choice a lot when I'm thinking about writing.
and yes--I think that's one good possibility to build tension for the reader! I like introspection in my characters, myself.
Character choices are always important for stories. Something I've noticed though, is that even if you've plotted out a story fully and all the decisions and choices the characters make, you'll sometimes reach one of these junction points and the character makes a completely different choice than you meant or expected. These can change a story and have long reaching consequences for the future.
Sometimes you find out in the writing that what you expected would work isn't quite right, and may even be dictated by the other events of the story! This is quite common, I think, and is something I thought about a lot while composing this month's newsletter.
Masterclass student writes:
I love to put characters in a situation they have to make hard choices. Isn't that why we read books? We want someone who can overcome challenges to show us the way. We want to see the underdog triumph over the oppressor. I'm writing a book on a serial killer AND the investigator who has to carve herself a spot on the team and fight to keep it. She is a woman who wants to stay on the BCA and there is a man who wants her out. All women out. But utmost is a serial killer who needs to be stopped. I Love a good character driven story. I just hope I can meet the challenge.
Sounds like quite the project to me! Good luck with it!
Thanks for including my story (The Rise of AI) in the editor's picks! I wrote it for a contest, but it also doubles as "brainstorming" for a scifi trilogy I'm planning to write in 2020. I'm flattered you highlighted it!
Thanks very much for including my story, A Tooth Fairy Tale, amongst the Editor's Picks.
Of course! Thank you for writing such intriguing tales!
Got a question, comment, or a topic you'd like me to look at in future issues of the Short Stories Newsletter? Let me know!
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