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. 

Writing Tp — The Writer’s Journey: Small Steps

This blog post is not for the people who leap out of bed every day ready to take on the world. It is not for the people who face a challenge with eagerness and a certainty that they are up to the fight.

No. This blog post is for the people who hear the 6 a.m. alarm and wonder how they are going to get their feet to swing onto the floor. It’s for the people who face a challenge withe a groan and a certainty that one more problem in their lives will do them in.

I am very much a member of the latter group. I don’t do major changes or challenges well. But since they will come after me anyway, I’ve learned a very important lesson: small steps.

We are halfway through the school year. When the alarm rings in my ear, I hit it and consider the next two hours for getting kids ready for school. The though is overwhelming. So I’ve coached myself to say, “All you have to do is get up. Just get out of bed. That’s all you have to do.” Once I get my momentum going, I can work through the run to school.

When I was told I needed to build a social media platform to get published, I sank into despair. I’d never done social media personally, let alone professionally. So I started small. I got on Facebook and started a blog on writing tips. For four months, I wrote content for my blog before I let people know it existed. I experimented with topics, adding writing prompts, and deleting others. I eventually branched out onto Instagram, and I’m still learning how to use it well.

But if I had gone into platform-building with the idea that I had to construct a skyscraper as fast as I could when I’d never even slapped together a hut, I probably would have given up.

Right now, I’me trying to write a YA mystery novel that’s a sequel to my short story, “A Rose from the Ashes.” I’ve written a novel before, but that was when I was single and I wrote it over years. I want to get the novel finished as quickly as I can. But unlike a short story, I can work for hours and feel like I’ve accomplished nothing.

So I’m taking small steps. I wrote in long hand my first draft of my first chapter, typed it, reviewed it, sent it to my critique partner, got her responses, and I’m reviewing it again. I’ll get one chapter in good shape and move to the next. Each small step takes me closer to my goal.

What challenges have you overcome by taking small steps?

Writing Tip — Attending a Mystery Writers’ Conference

police-w3284258_1920If you want to write crime fiction, you should investigate the possibilities of attending a writers’ conference for that genre. I attended my first crime writers conference in August. Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference covers crime fiction in all its subgenres – suspense, cozy mysteries, whodunits, police procedurals, even YA and middle grade mysteries. Attendees ran the gamut from people who haven’t published anything to authors with multiple novels. The experience was so rewarding for a number of reasons.

1. It was small. At most there were 200 people at the conference. It was held in an Embassy Suites hotel in Franklin, just outside of Nashville. The conference rooms were a short walk from the hotel rooms. I didn’t have to navigate a huge conference complex to find my sessions. And with that number of people, it was easy to bump into the same ones over and over again and strike up conversations.

2. The variety of sessions. Each time slot offered six different sessions. I went to ones focused on writing, like what makes a mystery a cozy, writing mysteries for teens, and adding humor to your writing, Then they were the informational sessions. One was led by a recently elected sheriff from Tennessee, another by a retired officer in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and another by a retired FBI agent. They provided us with the kind of information you can only get by talking to a person.

3. The professionalism and support. Since I’ve decided to purse mysteries with main characters who are police officers, I’ve been shy about approaching law enforcement professionals. After all, I’m just a writer. Clay Stafford, the conference director, encouraged all of us to feel free to ask the professionals any questions we needed to. He said they are flattered that writers with little or nor law enforcement experience have made an effort to learn about their profession so they can write accurately.

Most of the writers I talked to were published with several books or short stories to their names. Not one of them made me feel less of a writer because I only had one short story published. I thought I might be a fish out of water because I write Christian fiction. But there was a session on writing faith and fiction with five writers leading it.

4. I didn’t pitch. I know many writers attend conferences for the access to agents. At Killer Nashville, I didn’t think there was an agent who would be interested in my YA novel, and I was debating whether to scrap it and start on a new project. Without the pressure to land an agent, I was free to relax and enjoy learning. Maybe that should have been my attitude toward all the conferences I’ve gone to: go to learn and if I pitch and get an agent, that’s a bonus.

What writers’ conferences have you attended and would recommend?

Interested in my short stories or Christian fiction? Click here for my giveaway!

 

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Lonely Places as Writing Inspiration

fogw-3461096_1920Lonely places aren’t unique to October, but I wanted to write about them for this month’s theme, mysteries. I’m drawn to lonely places, whether it’s an abandoned house, an office building after hours, or an empty beach. The lack of people suggests some kind of story behind the emptiness. Or it allows me to project all kinds of ideas for stories.

In my short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, an abandoned children’s home is a clue and a key setting for the mystery. Many, many years ago, when my dad would take me out into the country to practice driving, we would pass what looked like a large, two-story house. He told me that at one time it was a home for orphans. The building was made of stone or brick and had a simple, flat facade with the door centered on the bottom floor. As I drove by it in the evening, with the windows dark, the home sitting by itself in a field, I got an eerie feeling.

Below are four ways to use lonely places as writing inspiration.

Set the mood or foreshadow

If I want to make my readers uneasy, setting a scene in a lonely place is a great way to do it. It’s an experience all of us have had, so readers instantly relate to it. The lonely place hints at something awful to come. Or I can subvert that notion. I can have my characters worry about being in some dreadfully lonely place only to discover friends are waiting for them.

Aid character development

Having a character seek out lonely places can tell the reader something about their personality. Does she visit a local cemetery because she’s morbid? Or is it the closest place she can go to get away from violence in her home? If I create a character, who regularly visits the mountains to hike, I can signal to readers that he likes challenges, or he needs to relieve stress, or he’s chasing freedom that he can’t find in his usual routine. If my character is drawn to an old house with a spooky legend attached to it, I can show that she’s curious or a truth seeker or wants to see justice done.

Challenge the main character

At a conference I attended, author Steven James recommended isolating the main character (MC) to increase tension. Lonely places do that and also give me the opportunity to stress and test the MC. I’m a hug fan of the underdog story, and the best way to set that up is to force the MC to go it alone.

And I don’t use lonely places just for physical isolation. If I really want to get the MC to rely on her strengths, I need to isolate her from technology. That’s one of the reasons I love rural places and visit rural areas to see where I can realistically cut off the MC from the rest of the world.

I can also create tension in a lonely place by having my MC phone for help that will be a long time in arriving. But I prefer to cut him off completely. Then the readers can anticipate the MC will have to succeed on his own abilities.

Slow the pace for reflection while maintaining tension

When writing a chase or action sequences, the MC has no time to think. Surviving is all that matters. But if I need her to realize something during the pursuit, I can have her find a lonely place. She can hide, catch her breath, and be on the alert for her antagonist but also think about what’s happening. Maybe she suddenly realizes the identity of her mysterious pursuer. Or she figures out how to elude him. Or she reasons out the key to the mystery she’s been trying to solve and must escape to tell the police.

A lonely place works just as well if all I need it for is time for the MC to think, even if it’s as simple as having him taken a walk in the morning. But I must make sure when I slow the pace of my narrative not to bring it to halt by dumping information I haven’t worked into the storyline yet.

What stories have you read or movies you’ve seen that effectively use lonely places?

 

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