Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Writing & Our Personal Demons

What’s dark, holds secrets inside, and has a story about it’s past?

No. It’s not a haunted house.

I’m talking about our inner demons, those unpleasant things that can trap us if we allow them to.

Everyone has their own story with tribulations and hard times, and our experiences are so different from anyone else’s. Something that’s a strength to one person, might be another’s downfall. We’re born in different homes and families, and raised in different cultures and religions, where we learn completely diverse ways of living. We see the world distinctly through our own eyes with what we’ve been dealt.

Maybe, we lived in a neighborhood where hearing gun shots was a normal everyday occurrence. Or maybe we personally struggled with liking the same sex, but felt ashamed for speaking up. Maybe, we had a physical disability that others could see, but the pain inside of feeling like an outcast was something you handled alone.

Abuse.

Neglect.

Failure.

Criticism.

Bullied.

Outcast.

Suicidal.

Alone.

Felt any of this before?


No matter who you are, there’s been turmoil at some point in your life and the feeling of defeat has overwhelmed you. It’s hard. Damn hard.

I’ve been working on a novel that I’ve been stuck on. Not because I didn’t know what to write or where to go, but I’ve been afraid that my dark and gritty story, would be too much to share with others.

With that thinking, my inner demons turned me back into that abused little girl, with a crooked back. The one who had no friends and felt all alone.

I knew exactly where I need to go and that was into my own backstory. Writing about your pain and endeavors isn’t easy. It takes guts to put yourself out there, with your heart and hands bleeding from the emotional pain you went through, or are going through. This is not something to shy away from though. Stand up for yourself and share how far you’ve come. No more fear.

When I personally struggle, I pour out my thoughts. I write my anger, fear, and sadness on each line, until I have nothing more to say. Sometimes for me, that’s hours later. I get it out. It’s not pretty. A bunch of ugly feelings and tough emotions, but once I’m done I find clarity.  I have peace knowing that as long as I have my words and writing, rather they’re beautiful words or not; they’re real, genuine and honest. This impacts not only myself, but others as well. When we can relate to each other in the darkest of times, there’s a connection; and a bond of understanding forms. Compassion and empathy comes into play and our words make the biggest of difference. We introduce readers into a new perspective, a different culture, and another view. They come out having an appreciation for various ways of life.

One of my favorite things is to hear about what other’s have gone through. Their hardships, their triumphs and their fight to get out of the murky waters they felt stuck in. We all have these stories to share.

As the character, Dean Winchester from Supernatural says, “Huh. Man, that’s crap. You always have a choice. You can either roll over and die, or you can keep fightin’ no matter what.”

Unlock those hidden doors inside you. Let yourself own the challenges you went through and how you’ve overcome them. Share these often with those around you, and don’t be afraid to write the ugly.

Our inner demons may make us cry, but our tears will turn to gold.

________________________

Lauri Schoenfeld’s first love is her little clan of three silly kidlets and her wonderful hubby, Andy. Writing is a close second. She began writing poems at the age of nine, and her love for literature and music developed into composing thirty songs.  In 2014 her short story, Christmas Treasure, was featured in an anthology called, Angels from their Realms of Story.  Her favorite genre to write is anything dark, psychological, and suspenseful, but she enjoys expanding her horizons and dipping her feet in other genres as well.  Lauri teaches summer writing classes for kids and mentors teens throughout the year. She’s a Child Abuse and Scoliosis Survivor. Lauri runs a group for teen girls with Scoliosis called, The S Squad. Their motto is Strength, Support and Self Confidence.  She’s been known to dance around the house with a spoon as her microphone and sneak toppings from the ice cream bar. Lauri’s taken online classes at the Institute of Children’s Literature and was the President of the League of Utah Writers, Oquirrh Chapter for two years.  She’s a member of Crime Writers and International Thriller Writers.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Four Ways to be Intentional Online

I've been thinking about online presence quite a bit lately. This is due, in part, to running social media for myself and four different organizations to some extent, but also because I'm helping college students understand some key ideas to having success in a digital and technological world.

In discussing this with a colleague recently, I realized I still had a lot to learn. Todd Petersen is a published author who is also very engaged project-based learning and active in the higher education community. His website reflects this as well as other interests that help people understand a bit about him.

My website was not what I wanted a while ago, so I moved it, and have been slowly (too slowly) working to improve what I have there. There can be a great temptation to be online "develop a presence", so much so that people forget that before the internet, we dressed for the job we wanted to have, we highlighted ways you were involved in the community, at work, and the skill sets we had.

Just because we can do this more easily doesn't mean our message can all of a sudden get sloppy.



1. Think about your audience. 


John Lee Dumas is a very successful entrepreneur, creator of eofire.com and the associated podcast. He explains the necessity of really considering our ideal client, or what he calls, our avatar. This means we need to lock in and think about who is going to be looking for us.

When I first started blogging, I knew I needed content but didn't know what. I actually had two blogs before working on the one I have now, and the first was called Random Thoughts of a Mom. What did I blog about? Whatever came to mind. That might have been a book I liked, something funny my kids did, that random quote I saw that I liked, or if there was a challenge that sounded fun. My only followers were family, and that may have been out of relative obligation.

Fellow TTOF contributor Elaine Vickers has done a great job thinking about her audience: she writes middle grade, her site reflects that. Her Pinterest board explores all sorts of middle grade novels, with pretty much any category you might imagine, and she sent advanced reading copies for LIKE MAGIC, her book that received a Kirkus star last week. She has considered her audience, has worked to make her posts reflect that, and it is scaleable.

2. Allow your audience to get to know the real you. 


This can be a scary part. You don't have to let them know your deep dark secrets (I wrote a character who loves spiders but they seriously creep me out). You do want to give them an insight into who you are though.

Rita award-winning Laura Drake does this well. She posts pictures on Pinterest and Facebook that showcases what she likes (writing things, the west, beautiful and secluded settings, funny and/or cute animals with cats and horses being at the top). Following her on Twitter allows her audience to know that she like writing and cowboys because she posts a writing quote of the day and cowboy quote of the day. She also talks about fly fishing, riding her motorcycle or pedal bike, and life in Texas.

Sharing a bit about the person behind the craft allows our humanity to come through and creates the opportunity for readers to connect beyond what we create, and even has the possibility of drawing new readers to what we write because of what we are willing to share.

3. Steady, consistent content is key


PLEASE don't flood your readers with tons of things, and really think about how you can make each platform unique. Those people who share the same thing on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook all the time think they are saving time, but really, they are dissuading readers from following them everywhere because everything is the same.

There is a mantra out there that suggests our postings should be 80% about cool things others have done and 20% promotion of our own stuff. Share books you've loved, engaged in online communities, have conversations with people, and nudge occasionally regarding what you have been doing. Seriously think about the kinds of people you will find at each place. As a women's fiction writer, I have a great chance to access to my readers on Instagram and Pinterest, with Facebook probably next and Twitter toward the end. However, as a contributor to a professional community, I know that my interactions with other writers will most easily take place on Twitter, that I can develop deeper relationships with other writers through Facebook, and that sharing insights about me are better served through Pinterest and Instagram. I do have a Tumblr account what goes through ebbs and flows, and I've not yet seen a reason to explore Snapchat but it could be valuable to younger readers.

Not sure which platform gets the most use for you professionally and for building and interacting with your audience? Think about writers who have been in the game longer than you, search them on each of the applicable platforms and look at the REACTIONS to their content. Not how much content is there, but how much people interact. At the very least, register for an account on each platform you know of so that, if at some time in the future, you want to use that platform, you have already got your accounts to reflect who you are.

Which brings me to my last point.

4. Have the same username/profile name/web reference across platforms. 


While you might be super excited about a project you have on deck, your next project might be totally different. You want to make sure that you are easily found, and similarly found, on every platform out there. In the olden days, people used to joke that "X" marked the spot. In the digital world, it is your name, your consistency, your content, and your accessibility that mark your spot. Make sure it is solid and your audience will find you.

______________________________

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How a Dinosaur Nightmare Can Help You Face Your Writing Fears

So I’m guessing you love to write. It’s probably why you’re here reading this blog. I’m also guessing there’s an element of something more that you want from your writing escapades. You are searching to complete the details of that dream. 

Welcome to our common pad.

But, I also know that there is probably something you fear in all of this. You may not label it “fear” but you cushion it with words like “I don’t know how…” and so you sit comfortably there without learning and applying. For me this would refer to cover letters. Bleh. I don’t know how so I write and finish things without submitting. I’m comfortable here. Maybe all your dreams are cushioned with “One day I’ll…” this kind of wording keeps the hope alive and the rejections and sleepless nights far away.

And that fear keeps us in a bubble. You know the bubble. It keeps us from getting hurt, rejected, or finding our great success.

Whatever the case I believe every writer has a “fear” that they need to face. Maybe an established writer fears public speaking, or travelling, or talking to complete strangers (wouldn’t it be easier to write down how the interaction would go and hand them the script to your conversation?). Ok, maybe that’s a little extreme. 

Anyway.

The key to progressing in a writers’ life is to first identify the one thing that is holding you back. What is keeping you from the next real step? Identify your “fear”. Go ahead, figure that out. 

Got it?

Great. I had a real life eye opener to how to get past these fears by my little guy’s nightmare. I think it can help.

End Result of the Nightmare and the Dare


He just stared at the closet. “Mom, stay in here.”

“I can’t. I have things to do,” I said. Though I sensed there was something that was keeping him up at night I knew they were just scraps of his imagination. It seemed that my night time always got gobbled up by the bedtime routines.

He clung to my arm. “Mom, what about the monsters?”

I sighed. I already knew there were no monsters in that closet but my pre-logic days reminded me of the gnarly, snarly, crocodile under my bed. So I did the logical thing and I flipped open the closet door. I jumped a little when I saw the monster mess. Yikes. “See, no monster,” I said. 

He paused a little, “What about when I go to sleep?” he asked.

Ah. I could see the real problem now. The nightmares. I thought for a minute then the idea came clear to me. Psychology classes were about to take on a real life application. The section about dreams suddenly solidified… I wondered if this would really work.

“You know what? I know this little secret: Tonight when the monster comes I need you to do something for me,” I was putting full trust in my college textbook.

His eyes were suctioned to my words, not even a muscle flinched.

“… when the monster guy starts chasing you I need to turn and face him. Then do something really nice for him and he will become your friend. Ask how he’s doing or something. But, you have to turn around and look at him. Can you do that?”

He smiled and relaxed a little at the thought.

Easy enough. That went better than I thought.

But as I started to leave he still clung to me. Ah, forget my to-do list. Tonight I’ll help him off to sleep and hopefully he makes a friend tonight.

It wasn’t long before he was finally asleep.

Night, night.


My eyes flashed open the next morning when the sirens blared, “Mom, Mom, Mom!” he burst through my bedroom door. Emergency colored his words.
Oh no. It didn’t work.

“Mom last night a scary dinosaur was chasing me. He was gonna bite my head off,” his words were rushed. 

I cringed a little, “I’m sorry babe.” But my pity was only a flitting moment.

“Guess what mom? Guess what? I turned around and gave him a hug.” A huge smile spread across his face lighting his eyes, “And hearts started popping out of his head. There were hearts, Mom.”
I shouldn’t have laughed but I did. Wow. Unexpected ending to the near death experience. And so that is his happily ever after. A tale of a boy who finds courage to face his fear and finds a power to control how this ends. Psychology is right. The end turned out much better than I expected.

So, what is your fear?

My sit down request to you is the same: There’s no real monster lurking. It’s much worse than you are imagining. And when these fears start chasing you the wrong direction just turn and face them. Then put in your best effort and this fear will become your friend. You will find a strength you didn’t know you had. Ask how others do it or something. But, you have to turn around and look at him. Apply yourself. Can you do that?”

As for now we are here helping you to the next level. But it will be your efforts that help you get that big creepy dinosaur to pop some hearts out of its head.

Even if it doesn’t turn out exactly how you imagine it, it will turn out much better than you think. How do I know? Because all wins don’t bring happiness but all efforts will bring a win. You will learn something great that will take you to the next level in your writing.

What fears are you going to face this week?

_____________________________________________________

Christie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing and is a nonfiction junkie. A couple of national magazines have paid her for her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her at howperkyworks.com.        


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Finishing the D*MN Story

This is going to be a short post because I’m in the middle of FINISHING THE D*MN BOOK.


Things to do to finish your own D*MN BOOK:

1) Keep your bum in the chair. The work is 99% not fun work. It just isn’t.

2) Give yourself mini tasks and be a taskmaster and stick to them. So if you say “I’m not getting up, even to pee, until I’ve revised two chapters,” then do not get up. Just don’t. (The fire alarm is probably just a false alarm.)

3) Learn to write with distractions. I always have some child screaming or singing or a cat crying or a neighbor mowing his lawn or the oven timer going off or or or… These distractions are not going to stop, and that’s okay. It means this isn’t a post-apocalyptic world and there are still humans around. Yay!

I read so many writing books about limiting distractions. How about you just sit down and write DESPITE the distractions?

(NOTE: I have ADD. If I can write with distractions, you can too.)

4) Send the query letter out a draft or two before finishing. It has a phenomenal way of creating a fire under your bum to finish a book you believe people are holding their breaths for.

(Just imagine them waiting at their desk, staring at their in-box, tears in their eyes as they await YOUR very much anticipated story.)

Okay then. Time to go finish the D*MN BOOK.

__________________________________

Sydney Strand is a fiction writer who has published two young adult books through New York and another six books via self-publishing. Over the last two years, she has focused on writing fun romances, but not of the Red Room of Pain variety. More like the Dan and Roseanne/Sam and Diane variety--humor is sexy, dontcha know. You can follow Sydney on Instagram (1st Favorite), Twitter (2nd Favorite), and Facebook (Not a Favorite). She's also at www.sydneystrand.com. (Her favoritest of favorites.)

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Flame in My Head: How Sensory Awareness Helps With Writing

There's exactly one month left of my summer break *cue violins,* and I've been trying very hard to be mindful of my everyday experiences and with my writing. I've had fair to moderate success with this. Last spring, I attended a lecture on the art of mindful learning (in a nutshell, this is a way to be more engaged with one's surroundings and experiences) and from that I began thinking about how to apply this to writing. But with summer break, kids, day trips, and all of the constant activities, being mindful has been more of a challenge than I anticipated. However, I have come away with certain (small) accomplishments, or at least some things I now know need to be my focal points. In particular, being aware of my own sensory experiences has been extremely helpful. Here are some of the take-home points from my rather bumpy journey thus far:


Seeking Quiet (or Dark Slide) Moments. This summer, I spent numerous afternoons with my kids at our local aquatic center, and WOW. Talk about overstimulation. Crowds, echoing, screaming, splashing, whistles blowing, and loud, loud, LOUD. After several weeks, my youngest son asked if I would go down the large tube slide, and as he was being brave about it, I said sure, trudged up the six flights, and went down the slide. The journey down that slide was less than a minute long, but it was less than a minute of darkness and quiet and solitude that was extreme in comparison to that world just outside that slide. In those fifty-or-so seconds, I had a minor story epiphany. I went down the slide about 6 more times that day to firm up the story idea in my head before I went home and wrote it down. And I always go down the slide now, and sometimes I get another story idea. (Methinks the slide is magical.)

Recognizing the Overstimulated Version of You. When I'm overstimulated, I get this crackly pressure behind my eyes that scatters my thoughts and inhibits my creativity. I call this feeling the "flame in my head."  Maybe it's my reaction to the collective emotions that often run rampant on social media. Maybe it's because I've had an overwhelming or stressful day for other reasons. Whatever the reason, and whenever possible, I try to unplug from the source of this overstimulation (e.g., turning off the internet or hiding out in my room for twenty minutes or going out for a smoothie or going down that wonderfully dark tube slide). This is not to say that I don't find equal value in venturing out into that busy, crazy world and keeping up on happenings. Sometimes I'll even peruse social media (FB more likely than Twitter) and stumble across an article that inspires me for writing-related purposes. Perhaps I'll find an image that serves as character inspiration or a post that reminds me of a character's struggle, and then I'm eternally grateful for finding it. Like anything, it's all about attempting balance -- seeking out stimulation or inspiration without getting too much. 

Capturing Emotions of the Moment. I've started paying more attention to how interactions make me feel. This is actually a thought that came about in part by a conversation about kids (and how hard it is to raise them) that I had with my awesome CP Megan Paasch a while back. Babies express themselves by smiling, cooing, and crying, but learning how to express your feelings in words is a learned practice. When my sons get their feelings hurt, I now try to get them to explain in words how the other person made them feel. I've experimented with this too, trying to describe my own emotions from simple things like seeing an old friend for the first time in a long time, or my feelings after I have an awkward encounter with someone (it happens a lot). This practice has been helpful for me in expressing those same feelings for my characters. This is just an example of something I wrote on the fly based on one of those awkward moments:
She skips into the coffeeshop wearing a flowing green dress, her presence much larger than her five-foot-two. Eager brown eyes sweep through the crowded sitting area, and a grin flashes on her face as she waves at me. Do I know her? I chance it, lifting my hand and waving back, only to watch her walk past me and hug the person behind me. If I adjust my headphones immediately, maybe no one will notice the burn creeping into my cheeks. But a momentary lull in conversation is like a spotlight shining down on me, and I wish I could sink into the floor.
Being mindful about your own needs and your emotions takes practice, but I've found this venture to be worthwhile for writing-related purposes. It also comes in handy for overall emotional health, or when you need to quash the flame in your head.

How do you cope with overstimulation? What are ways you can work on being mindful? 

________________________________________


Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her at www.helenboswell.com.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Tropes (in Romance): Are they Avoidable?

"Trope." Ever notice that when the word "trope" appears in writer or reader conversation (or reviews), it has negative connotations, akin to invoking an evil spell or committing a crime? While the definitions of "trope" have several variations in the English language, for writers and readers alike, the most common usage of this term is an "overused plot device." Are tropes overused because they represent reality and common themes? Does the fact that they're overused mean that it's time to discard them like a threadbare dish towel? Do we love certain tropes? Hate all of them? Or, more moderately, should we simply accept that tropes are a fact of writing life, or are there some that we should perhaps be cautious about using?

When readers complain about tropes, it's because they've seen those plot devices over and over in other stories and have a gut oh-no-not-this-again reaction. True, one could easily argue that every idea has been already written, and this may indeed be the case when you examine an isolated description of a trope. For instance, take the friends-to-lovers theme. There are lots of romances with a friend-to-lovers theme. If done well, a friends-to-lovers theme can generate deep emotions and positive responses. So what differs between a time-tested theme and a tired old trope, and is there anything we can do to avoid committing the latter? 


The following are just three short examples out of a list of many possible tropes. The broader principles I'll discuss can apply to lots of different genres, but as I'm working on a romance right now, I'll focus on romance.

The Massive Miscommunication
Examples:
- A character acts unwisely because of a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of something that his/her love interest did or said. 
- A character acts unwisely because of a piece of misinformation from a secondary source (e.g., the BFF, an overheard conversation, or a fortune-teller).
- etc.

Red flag: A significant portion of your story carries on because of this miscommunication.

Why not try...
Ready for this one? How about some honesty? While your characters aren't perfect and can have the occasional misunderstanding (because they are only human), the misunderstanding or miscommunication should not be the main source of conflict. When I was in college, my boyfriend behaved like a total jerk to me for the equivalent of 167 pages of my life. I later found out that it was because he was stressed out about the fact that we'd both be graduating at the end of the year, he really did love me but the future was uncertain, his parents were pressuring him to make a choice, etc. We would have had a much more interesting conflict if he had just been honest with me and if we'd had to deal with these multiple sources of conflict. 

The Love Triangle
Examples:
- Two desirable characters vie for the attention of a single love interest.
- A character has deep feelings for two other people and just can't decide.
- A character is expected to have deep feelings for one person (because of parental or social pressure) but really has feelings for someone who defies parental or social pressure #rebel
- etc.

Red flags:
- The entire plot revolves around this love triangle with no growth or change in the love interests.
- The rivals are both swoon-worthy and attractive, and their love interest is atypical (perhaps geeky or clumsy or unpopular)

Why not try...  
This is actually a fairly tough one because love triangles definitely walk that fine line between overdone and well-done (like when you're cooking a steak). Characters have to make tough choices all the time, and love triangles, when done well, may be a powerful means to do so. However, when used solely as a plot device to create reader cheering sections, it can fail. If the love interests themselves do not change within the dynamic, it can fail as well. If you decide to write a love triangle, the key to avoiding disastrous effects of this trope will lie in the uniqueness of and dynamics among your characters. Be original in thinking about how the vertices of the triangle interact. Perhaps they aren't fighting for your MC in a possessive "he's/she's mine" fashion but in a way where the three are walking in parallel.

The Morning-After Regret
Examples:
- A character kisses (or does much more) with his/her love interest and wakes up with regret, guilt, and remorse.

Red flag: The morning-after regret creates the main conflict between the characters after "the morning."

Why not try....
Sure, we've all done something like this at one point in our lives, but we move on. Try making your character more of an adult (unless you're writing YA, and then, well... being more of a young adult) and waking up not with an oh, crap moment that lasts 167 pages but more of a Wow, okay, and now where do we go from this? moment. This can build sexual tension in a way that leaves us wanting to know the same question. Take a risk and try the "no-regrets" or the "fewer-regrets" approach. Who knows? It might be a better twist of this tired old trope, and your characters might like it better too.


What are some other examples of tropes in romance that you personally avoid? I'd love to hear from you!

* BookRiot has a great post with story trope BINGO cards, for several different genres. 
___________________________________________

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her at www.helenboswell.com.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Landing the Plane

From a physics standpoint, flying a plane is pretty straightforward. Because a plane is designed the way it is, all you really need to do to take off is to apply enough forward thrust, and then gently pull back on the stick. The Bernoulli effect kicks in and creates lift, and you’re up, up, and away. And once you’re in the air—barring any major problems—maintaining level flight is relatively simple as well. Shoot, planes basically fly themselves. The real challenge isn’t in the takeoff or cruising, but in the landing. Pilots will tell you that landing a plane is always the most challenging part of any flight, and it’s not hard to understand why. After all, you’re trying to wrestle a giant metal tube with wings traveling several hundred miles an hour down to the ground without crashing into a giant fireball.

Writing can be likened to flying in this regard. You have the takeoff, the flight, and the landing. I don’t know about you, but I personally don’t have a problem coming up with story ideas. I have a whole folder on my computer filled with great beginnings to stories that I’m constantly adding to. I see a sad news headline about police arresting a woman who was pushing the body of her dead toddler on the swings, and I see the beginning of a horror story or mystery novel. I read on Wikipedia about the “Dancing Plague” that occurred in Strasborg in 1518, where hundreds of people suddenly and mysteriously started dancing for days on end, and my mind starts sparking with ideas. Just the other day I thought up the opening scene to a crime thriller based off the recent “Pokemon Go!” game that’s so popular at the moment.

So yeah, I’m awesome at story beginnings. The story I’m currently working on is a good example. I had a solid idea and got the plane in the air with very little problem. And I’ve been cruising along smoothly for a while writing the middle parts. It’s ending the darn thing that has turned me into Ted Stryker sweating buckets in the cockpit while trying to land the plane.

You know the feeling, I’m sure. Once you’re up in the air, so to speak, your story will only end one of three ways. One possibility is that because you’re not sure how to end the story, you’ll putter around in the air until you just run out of fuel and crash. Another possibility is that you’ll do something terribly wrong during the ending, and you’ll crash. Neither of those options are acceptable, and your readers will never forgive you if you ruin their flight by crashing and burning the ending. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an amazing story that kept me on the edge of my seat with suspense, but fell apart in the last ten minutes. Lord of the Flies was all but ruined for me because of the very last line of the book. TV shows such as Castle, How I Met Your Mother, and LOST are other examples of otherwise excellent storytelling being hijacked by weak and/or terrible endings.


To avoid these same kinds mistakes, let me suggest a few ideas to help you land your story in one piece.

It’s all about conflict. 


Your story’s ending should be a natural extension of the primary conflict. It’s the answer to the question the story has been asking all along. Will the homicide detective catch the murderer? Will Alan finally get up the courage to confess his love for Stacy? Will Blast Ironsteak find a way to save the world from the nefarious schemes of Dr. Darkbad? That question is the reason your readers have been following along, turning pages with ever increasing speed. If the ending doesn’t answer the question the story has been asking, then there’s going to be trouble.

In the story I’m currently working on, I was having a difficult time trying to figure out the ending. I went through draft after draft of unsatisfying endings before I made a stunning realization. I hadn’t introduced the primary conflict early enough in the narrative. I had stuck it in towards the end, and the story literally was ending two paragraphs later. The story was starting off well enough, but then was just in a holding pattern for several thousand words until I decided to essentially say “and then this happened, which was bad, but it was okay, because they did this, and everything was okay. The end.” I had written the equivalent of the Snow White ride at Disneyland, which sets up the story, building tension as you ride along the darkened corridors, culminating with a huge mural showing Snow White and the dwarves on a cliff during a thunderstorm. Action! Suspense! Peril! And then you turn the corner and see “And they lived happily ever after!” painted on the exit. Lame.

Begin with the end in mind. 


This is related to knowing your conflict. If you’re having trouble finding a satisfying ending to your story, it could be that you aren’t clear what the conflict truly is. If that’s the case, you might consider where you want the story to end up at, and work backwards from there. If you know you want to end with a kiss on a beach at sunset between two reunited lovers, then you have to figure out how they got to that point. What kept them apart initially? How did these two crazy kids get back together? Who or what stood in their way? When you can answer those questions, you’ll begin to see where the path begins as well as ends. This sort of structuring can be difficult for discovery writers like me who run scrambling to the airplane at the first inkling of an idea, and are airborne before we know what to do next, but it can really help you not get lost along the way.
This is also why a truly satisfying ending hearkens back to earlier events in the story. A great ending will cause the reader to remember clues that have been scattered all throughout the story, so that when they look back from the ending, it will be obvious this was the only possible way this story could have ended. Think of the film The Sixth Sense. Clich├ęd twist ending notwithstanding, that story left a solid trail of crumbs all along the way so that the viewer says, “Of course! I should have seen this all along!”

You need a resolution. 


Every story needs an ending, yes, but to be a satisfying ending, it needs to be a resolution. It’s when the solution is presented, the loose ends are tied up, and the questions are answered. Cinderella gets her prince; Parzival foils the Sixers’ plans; the Spooky Spectre is unmasked and shown to be Old Man Carruthers (who woulda gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!).

I saw a YouTube video recently where someone edited various Pixar films to end at the sad parts. The results were horrifyingly funny. Jessie is abandoned in a box to the strains of Sarah McLachlan’s “When She Loved Me,” only to smash cut to the end credits and “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” Mike and Sully send Boo’s closet door through the shredder and never see her again. Bing Bong fades away into nothingness, and then we get the Tripledent Gum jingle over the credits. Those endings are jarring because nothing gets resolved.

This doesn’t mean that in order to be a satisfying resolution, the ending must be a happy one. There are plenty of stories that end on spectacularly dark terms. Many of William Shakespeare’s best-known works, including Macbeth, Othello, Romeo & Juliet, and Hamlet are virtual slaughterhouses where most, if not all, of the main characters die. But they’re satisfying endings because the issues within the story have been resolved. Similarly, the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist is WAY darker than the original story (I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but . . . dang), yet King is on record saying he likes the darker ending better than the one he wrote. And dark as it is, it works perfectly for the story. It’s an emotional roundhouse kick to the gut, but it works.

The main character has to earn their ending. 


Ideally, your story’s ending will grow out of the choices made by the main character along the way. Whether it’s a happy or sad ending you envision for your main character, they’ve got to demonstrate along the way through their choices that they deserve the ending they’re headed towards. Frodo has earned the right to sail off into the Undying Lands because of the choice he made to take the Ring to Mt. Doom. The Blues Brothers go to jail, but it’s okay because they got the band back together and saved the orphanage. And Hamlet has to die because he chose the path of revenge.

Conclusion


In the end, all the fancy flying in the world won’t mean much if you can’t stick the landing. Your readers will be angry, and won’t likely trust you to tell them a story ever again. But by following these suggestions, you can avoid all that by carefully crafting an ending to your story that leaves them satisfied. You goal should be to write an ending that makes your reader want to turn around and read the story again. But first, you have to land that plane safely. And as the author, you’re the only person who can. So my parting thought to you is what Leslie Nielsen’s character said to Ted Stryker in Airplane!: “Good luck. We’re all counting on you.”

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people's words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults. Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he's excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers. Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read "Holy cow--I think I'm writing a book!" In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.