Final Advice on Writing Endings

It’s appropriate for my final post of the year on the final day of the year to be about final advice on writing endings. This advice comes from three YA authors, Jill Williamson, Stephanie Morrill, and Shannon Dittemore, in their recently released book Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel. I finally received my copy once Amazon figured out that I didn’t live in Maryland. The advice these ladies offer on how to craft endings is worth the price of the book alone.

There’s no single way to craft an ending, and each author offers different approaches. Ms. Williamson discusses “the five-step finale”. Ms. Morrill uses the ending of Frozen to illustrate certain concepts and give tips on when to use an epilogue. I particularly like the section by Ms. Williamson entitled “Make Your Main Character Integral to Saving the Day.”

One of my biggest gripes about YA books is when I feel cheated because the main character is sidelined at the climax. I’ve followed the teen through the roller coaster of the plot, rooting for them through all their battles, only to have some adult character save them during the finale.

The questions the authors pose in this section are ones I’ve wrestled with as I’ve shaped the ending of my YA mystery, such as how to make the climax exciting and surprising but not shocking and the denouement satisfying. One way is look back at what you have built throughout my story. Ms. Williamson calls this bringing the story full circle. I’ve been calling it echoing. I need to echo themes I’ve woven into my story at the end.

And this is what I’ve gotten out of one chapter. If you need writing advice, check out Go Teen Writer: Write Your Novel. For more tips on writing endings, visit my blog post, “The Three Key Elements of an Ending”.

Any final thoughts on how to write endings or stories with great ones?

Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel

Very excited to provide an interview with the three YA authors who’ve recently released their book, Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel by Stephanie Morrill, Jill Williamson, and Shannon Dittemore. I reviewed Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel by Ms. Morrill and Ms. Williamson in November. Be sure to check out their contest in the meme above!

What is the most challenging part of the writing craft for you?

Jill: Getting the first draft completed. I like writing first drafts for about two days, then I’m dying to be done. It sometimes just feels like I’ll never finish. And sometimes it’s just really hard work because I’m still trying to discover my characters and my story. It’s so much more fun for me when I’m done with all that and I can focus on making the story the very best it can be. Once I know all my characters deeply and understand their motivation, that’s the fun part for me.

I hear you, Jill. I had to fight through the last fifty pages of my first draft for the YA mystery I wrote this year.

Shan: Moving in and out of my story. Like you, I have many roles to play: Mom. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Every day requires something different from me. If I had my preference, I’d focus on one thing at a time–a storyteller until the book is done, and then a mom–but life isn’t like that. I have to be a storyteller alongside all these other roles, and that takes its toll on me. It can make staying in my story difficult, and it can make being present with my friends and family a challenge. I work on it constantly.

Yes, I find it hard to balance all those roles and to know when writing should supersede the others.

Stephanie: I always run into trouble after the 50% mark in my first draft. Endings are tough for me, so I often get a bit panicky after the midpoint.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as an author?

Stephanie: Talking about my books has often been a struggle for me. I would much rather bewriting or editing books than marketing them! For my strength, I’m pretty disciplined with my writing time. If it’s time to write, that’s what I’m doing. (Mostly.)

Jill: I struggle with literary prose. With making things sound beautiful and profound. I’m just not that kind of writer, and some days it bothers me. I’ll spend an hour trying to rewrite one section that is bothering me. I think one of my strengths is dialogue. Natural dialogue has always come easily to me, but once I know my characters, I really know what they’d say and what they wouldn’t say. This is another reason why I enjoy the editing stage so much. I really enjoy tweaking dialogue to make it just right.

Shan: This question is always tricky. We don’t always see ourselves objectively, but the things that come most naturally to me are voice, worldbuilding, and character development. I have to work harder at things like plot and structure. Part of this is because I discovery write so much, but I’m always looking for ways to improve.

What craft issue was your greatest roadblock early on, and how did you overcome it?

Shan: My process is always evolving. As a discovery writer, plot is something that develops organically for me, but it was a very messy part of my writing early on. It’s still messy, to be honest, but I’m better at controlling the chaos these days. I’ve tried my hand at various tools and I know what works for me and what doesn’t. While I’m loathe to fully plot out a story, I’ve learned to give myself landmarks to shoot for, and that helps me move through a manuscript much more directly.

Stephanie: Figuring out what ideas could sustain an entire novel and what couldn’t. The best thing I did to overcome that was FINISH BOOKS. Once I pushed myself to write beyond the first few chapters and make it through to the end, I began to understand what kind of ideas were big enough for a novel.

Jill: Showing vs. Telling. I just did not know what people meant by that! It took me a very long time to understand the difference. And even once I could understand it finally, learning not to write that way was another hurdle. I just needed hours and hours of practice, but I wanted it to happen much faster than the time I was putting in working on my craft. Overcoming it, however, simply took time. I had to write and write and rewrite and rewrite until I started to figure it out. Until it started to become natural.

I was so frustrated with this aspect of writing, too, until I read Understanding Show, Don’t Tell by Janice Hardy

If you could go back to the beginning of your writing journey and give yourself advice, what would say?

Stephanie: Write what you want to write. When I first started pursuing publication, I wanted to write impressive novels that you would study in English class. Literary fiction. But I had zero ideas for literary fiction, and I don’t really enjoy reading it that much either! I wanted to write that because it seemed impressive, which isn’t a great reason. I wanted to write young adult fiction just out of love for the stories themselves.

Jill: Trust your gut. There were several times when I didn’t think something was a good idea for my career, but I trusted other people instead. Turned out that I was right. I knew my market. I knew my audience. And I knew how my stories would be received. I wish I would have trusted my instincts and not given in to pressure from others. Once you’ve been in publishing a while, you need to trust your gut. Not every opportunity needs to be pursued. Think carefully about your own goals and make careful choices.

Shan: My answer to this question changes frequently, but one thing I’d want rookie writer Shannon to know is that writing stories is, in itself, a reward. Writers do this job for all sorts of reasons. I began to pursue writing as a career because I wanted a work-from-home job that satisfied my creative itch. And while it hasn’t made me rich financially just yet, storytelling has met some financial needs, but more than that, it has been the catalyst for growth in my own life. As I try and fail alongside my characters, I learn and I change and I am so grateful for that experience.

That’s been my experience, Shan. Being able to create is so satisfying. And it also has brought me a better understanding of my Heavenly Father.

I’m so glad I could post this Q & A! Writing can be a lonely art, so it’s wonderful to hear how other writers deal with the problems I face.

******

Stephanie Morrill, Jill Williamson, and Shannon Dittemore have written a combined 30+speculative, contemporary, and historical novels for young adults. Since 2010 their critically acclaimed website, GoTeenWriters.com, has offered honesty, community, and encouragement to teens (and not-so-teen) writers working to improve their craft. When not writing, blogging, or mom-ing, they can be found hanging out with young writers at conferences or wherever chocolate is being given away. 

Leap Day as Writing Inspiration

For this unique event, here are some unique suggestions for using leap day as writing inspiration.

Speculative fiction

Such an unusual day seems ready-made for inspiring speculative fiction. In the thirteen-book series, The Notebook of Doom by Troy Cummings, Alexander Bopp’s leap year birthday proves pivotal to the plot as he and his elementary school friends battle monsters in their hometown. The first book starts with Alexander moving to Stermont right around his birthday. The importance of his birthday isn’t revealed until the last book. Mr.Cummings uses this plot point cleverly and brings a cohesion to his series that I don’t always find in middle-grade books. The Notebook of Doom is a lot of fun for second and third-grade readers.

The rarity of leap year should signal something rare for the characters and plots of speculative fiction. Perhaps a character discovers her special power on February 29th and is at her most powerful on that day. A particular magical phenomenon only occurs on February 29 or during the leap year, and various parties try to take control of it.

To give a story an Indian-Jones flavor, two groups, one good and one evil, are attempting to discover some powerful object that is only accessible on February 29th. Once they find it, they must use it during the leap year. After the year is finished, the object becomes dormant.

Mystery

I’ve encountered two stories in which leap day was a crucial clue. In one short story, of which I can’t recall the title, an old diary is proved to be a fraud because the person who supposedly kept it had an entry for February 29th, 1900. Leap day occurs at the turn of the century every 400 years. 1600 and 2000 had leap days, but not 1700, 1800, and 1900,

In a radio episode of “The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” from the 1940’s, a Scottish nobleman waits for his inheritance, which will happen on his twenty-first birthday. Because he was born on leap day, he is 84 years old but has only had twenty actual birthdays. A key plot point, again, is the fact that 1900 did not have February 29th. The nobleman must wait until 1904 to celebrate his twenty-first birthday.

Here’s another approach: greedy relatives contest the will of a wealthy woman because she instructs her lawyers not to make its contents known until the next leap day. Why the condition? A relative plays detective to uncover the answer.

Or a small town had a notorious murder committed on February 29th. Legend has it that the ghost returns every four years. The town’s tiny police force is strained to the limit dealing with an invasion of ghost hunters. When one ghost hunter turns up dead, the cops have to figure out if there’s a connection between the old murder and the new one.

Other Genres

In a romance, a couple meets on leap day. Events and their own flaws tear them apart, but on the next February 29th, they have a chance to reunite. Another idea is for a couple who met on leap day to hold a special celebration every four years, and the story charts the development of their relationship on those days.

For a family drama, a tragedy on leap day still haunts the survivors years later. On another leap day, a character somehow brings peace to the family so they can move on with their lives. Perhaps the family had a misconception about the tragedy.

For more ideas on how to February can inspire your writing, check out this post.

How can leap day as writing inspiration ignite your writing?

Writing Tip — New Author, JPC Allen

As I wrap of this month of beginnings, I am interviewing myself as a new author. I talk to myself all the time when I work on dialogue, so I decided to apply this schizophrenic talent to a blog post.

What do I consider my first story?

When I was in second grade, I wrote a mystery based on Scooby Doo. It was the front and back of a sheet of notebook paper. I liked a boy in my class and made him the Shaggy character. He was so mad that he threatened to tell the teacher. In my very first story, I learned the dangers of using real people as characters and censorship.

What do I think is the main difference between a writer and an author?

God made me a writer. I’ll be a writer if I never publish anything else. It’s a way of looking at the world, to see stories in a myriad of details, people, events, and settings. An author is someone who has crossed over to the business side of writing. An author reaches more people with her writing, but now the writing is not about art alone. It is also a business. Those are two distinct worlds.

Why did I decide to become an author?

I’ve been pursuing publishing since I was in college. It just seemed like a natural goal because, at that time, I thought everything I wrote was utterly brilliant. I got serious about publishing and writing over the last five years and know God is moving me to become an author. He wants me to share the stories he filters through me. He hasn’t let me me in on why.

What was the most difficult thing to learn about being a new author? 

How extremely difficult marketing is. I have no business background whatsoever. The last time I had to sell something was in college when I worked at the the Dairy Queen. When I worked as a librarian, I only had to persuade people to take advantage of their own tax dollars.

What was the biggest surprise?

The support of the writing community. Almost every single author and writer I’ve met has been kind and encouraging. Another surprise was how much I like working with an editor. My stories improve when other eyes review them, and I love the collaboration.

What advice would I give to writers who are considering becoming author?

Research what it means to be published. Are you interested in marketing? How can you learn about it? How much money and time can you invest in it? How do you find and work with an agent? How do you work with an editor? There is so much about the business side of writing for an author to learn as well as the art side.

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, M. Liz Boyle

Today my new author is M. Liz Boyle, whom I also met online. Last year, Liz published her first novel, a YA adventure. Welcome, Liz!

What do you consider your first story?

When I was about 7 or 8, I made up a cartoon about a ladybug and a worm named Sarah and Crawler, but the plot was pretty bland! Growing up, I worked on several stories after my Sarah and Crawler days, usually about horse-crazy teenage girls. The bonafide, full-fledged story that I consider my first is a Christian YA novel entitled Avalanche. The plot is much more developed than my earlier stories!

What do you think is the main difference between a writer and an author?

A writer’s work is more for personal use than for sharing, and an author intends to share his/her work with the public. When I hear the word writer, I picture someone lounging in the grass using a pen and paper. I think authors start that way. When they become published authors who write to share ideas with others, hopefully they can keep writing for the love of it, while managing to get their work into readers’ hands. 

It would be miserable to become an author and lose the love of writing.

Why did you decide to become an author?

When I first had the idea to write Avalanche, I saw a great opportunity to share an adventure and an example of strong morals with a teenage audience. I love how stories leave us with memorable lessons that we can apply in our own lives, and I’d love to have a positive impact on readers looking for clean adventures. 

What was the most difficult thing to learn about being a new author? 

I’ve had a hard time with patience, whether it’s trying to be patient while waiting to hear back from editors, reviewers, etc., or waiting for a chance to write down my ideas in the midst of my busy schedule. Sometimes I have a brilliant brainstorm and want to develop it right away, so I get really frustrated if it’s a busy day or week and I need to wait to work on it. 

What was the biggest surprise?

I have been pleasantly surprised by the kindness and generosity of so many authors. Before becoming an author, I had the misconception that in general, authors would have an ‘every man for himself’ mindset. I’ve found quite the opposite to be true! Fellow authors are happy and quick to offer advice and support. It’s a great group of people. 

That’s been my experience too. What advice would you give to writers who are considering becoming author?

I would advise aspiring authors to read books and articles about publishing and find some credible AuthorTubers on YouTube to learn as much as possible, to network with other authors in a similar genre, and to brace yourself for rejection. It can be discouraging, but keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep your eyes on the prize. Listen to constructive criticism, and ignore outright negativity. Also, and I know this sounds cliche, but identify your audience so you can best share your work with them. 

*****

AVALANCHE COVER 3When fifteen-year-old Marlee Stanley joins her two sisters and the sons of their family friends on a secretive hike in the middle of the night, she is thrilled and nervous. Battling her conscience, she prays that the hike will go flawlessly and that they will return to the safety of their campsite before their parents wake. The start of the hike is beautiful and wonderfully memorable.

In a white flash so fast that Marlee can barely comprehend what has happened, an avalanche crashes into their path. Buried in packed snow, Marlee is forced to remember survival tips learned from her dad and her own research.

This group of friends, ages eleven through seventeen, is about to endure bigger challenges than many adults have experienced. Digging out of the packed snow is only the first of many challenges. Injuries, cold, hunger, fatigue, aggressive wildlife and tensions in the group make this a much bigger adventure than they ever imagined. As the kids strive to exhibit Christian values throughout the trials, they learn numerous life lessons. But they are nearly out of food, and their energy is waning quickly. How will they ever reach help?

BUY LINKS: Amazon

*****

Liz is an author, the wife of a professional tree climber and the mom of three energetic and laundry-producing children. She received her Associate’s of Arts at the University of Sioux Falls, where she received the LAR Writing Award for her essay entitled, “My Real Life Mufasa.” Liz once spent a summer in Colorado teaching rock climbing, which she believes was a fantastic way to make money and memories. She resides with her family in Wisconsin, where they enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Liz and her husband have also backpacked in Colorado and the Grand Canyon, which have provided inspiration for her writing. She likes making adventurous stories to encourage others to find adventures and expand their comfort zones (though admittedly, she still needs lots of practice expanding her own comfort zone). She has thoroughly enjoyed working on her first novel, Avalanche.

Follow her on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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