Being a Better Writer: Ending Type Variety and Planning Ahead

I apologize for the lateness of this post. Despite not having work at my part-time due to a knee injury yesterday, this post ended up so long (my longest yet) that it wasn’t done in time to post.

Man, it feels like I’ve been writing about endings a lot lately, at least to me personally. Maybe that’s just because that topic sticks in my mind fairly vividly. Or maybe I’ve been covering endings too much lately and you’d all rather here me talk about something else. In which case, let me know in the comments! After all, there is Topic List X coming (currently I’m on IX)!

Right, no beating around the bush today. I want to dive right in. Let’s talk ending types.

Okay, some of you might be scratching your heads at this one. After all, an ending is an ending, right? I’ve talked about endings before. What more could I have to say?

Well, as it turns out, a bit. Because as I’ve said before in another post, endings are a bit like a keystone: Everything moves toward them. Every story has to have one. Or, again as I’ve said before, the whole thing falls apart.

But there is something I’ve not talked about with regards to these endings yet: What type of ending you want to have. Or, to put it another way, the various ways you can close your story based on what you expect to make of it at a later date.

Yes, today we will be talking about sequels. And lack of sequels, though neither of those is the total topic. No, we’re still going to be talking endings. Just the different kinds of endings your story can have to make those work or not work.

Or perhaps “endings” isn’t the best way to put it. After all, many people tend to use terms like “the ending scene” or the like to talk about a climatic battle, rather than the actual ending. So perhaps I should say “conclusion,” or maybe “resolution,” and frame our discussion in terms of that. Or maybe even “approach.”

Why? Because again, as I’ve said before, everything in your story points toward the ending. The conclusion. So the type of conclusion you want your story to have? Well, it’s better if you know going in so that you can adjust the rest of your story to fit. Know which one you’re going to want to pull out of your writer’s toolbox to frame the rest of the story. Just like keystones can be in varying shapes and sizes, so can endings.

A minor note here: What I’ll be talking about today is somewhat flexible. More than one story has been written with one type of conclusion in mind only to deliver another, and while yes, this does affect how the story is received … it’s not the end of the world. It’s a bit like having … oh, a keystone that isn’t cut quite right but still does its job when slotted into place. It might not fit perfectly, and the top might be a little uneven … but it still does its job. However, much like a paving stone that is raised or lowered slightly above or below that of its fellows, it still may feel odd to the pedestrian, and the discrepancy will likely be noted. If you’d like an example of this, think of any movie or book that in the last moments made a sudden sweep into sequel territory. Makes you stumble a bit, doesn’t it? Even if it doesn’t necessarily not make the rest of the story worth it.

Point being, today’s topic is very much a question of making everything line up right. If you happen to swap ending “types” at the last minute, well, your story isn’t going to come apart. Not in this context, anyway. But if you know beforehand what you want, you can lay the groundwork of the story much more carefully so that everything lines up nice and neat at the end.

Got it? We’re talking about types of conclusions you can make your story work toward. Types of endings, in other words, you’ll see in various media, and when and how to make them work, or what you’d need to do to pull that off.

So, preamble done, let’s start with the most basic type of ending.

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Being a Better Writer: The Keystone

Welcome back readers! As you may have guessed from this posting date, I had another Monday shift at my part time, hence why you’re getting this today (I’m at the moment writing it up during the early evening of the 22nd, so you’re reading this in what would technically be the future). Nothing too unusual there.

So, let’s dive right into today’s topic, shall we? I really don’t feel like beating around the bush; but rather I’d prefer to just get down to it. Today’s topic comes from … well, it comes from a number of sources, actually. Listening to other authors talk about writing, certainly. Reading a few books and whatnot over the last few weeks. And just following various forums about writing online. Toss all those things into my head, and let simmer for a few hours, and this post and topic is what came from it.

First question: Are you familiar with what a keystone is? You might remember this from your history classes, particularly if they covered the Roman Empire. A keystone was, well, the key to constructing those awesome Roman arches ancient tourists would see everywhere in Rome. And modern tourist still can see in the same places, 3000 years later. You know the shape—the classic pillars with the half-circle on the top?

This design was the one of many things that took Rome to stardom and made them the most influential empire in the world (so influential that many today still underestimate exactly how much of our day-to-day society was shaped by them). It enabled Rome to build bigger, grander, more spacious structure than anyone that had come before them.

So yeah, kind of a big deal. But how did it work? And what does it have to do with writing?

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Being a Better Writer: Don’t Rush

Just a heads up, there may be a skipped BaBW post in the coming weeks, as I work to get Colony ready for release. Scheduling, time in a day, and all that.

In a manner that is somewhat fitting, I picked today’s topic because it’s one that I can rush through, so that I can get back to work on Colony all the quicker now that the weekend is over. I get the irony; I’m rushing through a post on not rushing. And since I’ve already laughed at it, don’t feel ashamed for snickering. It is ironic.

Anyway, in the spirit of that rushing, let me dive right into things and get to the crux of what I’m talking about today. Don’t rush, after all, could probably be pushed into a number of writing areas, from editing to brainstorming. And yes, it applies to all of those areas as well. You see evidence of this from time to time.

But today I’m going to talk about one of the more common “rushes” I see made, especially with younger writers. Go to a writing class in a college somewhere, or hop online and take a look a fanfiction (if you dare) and you’re going to find this issue in spades.

The rush to the ending.

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The End of Gravity Falls (No Spoilers)

gravity_falls_postcard_logo

Tonight, television saw the airing of the last episode of one of its greats. Gravity Falls, after two seasons (over four years, which made it feel like four seasons) has finally ended.

And did it ever go out on a high note.

Gravity Falls, if you’ve not watched it (and if not, you should rectify that) is one of those amazing shows that is made for more than just an audience. Some have said that rather than making a show for kids or a show for adults, the creator just made a show that would tell a good story that anyone could enjoy, and you know what? He succeeded. In a masterful way.

I’m not going to spoil anything, but the ending of Gravity Falls was a wonderful moment. It was sweet, poignant, and funny. Over the course of its run the show tackled a number of number of stories and topics, some funny and some serious, all wrapped up in a grand, adventurous mystery plot and a lot of jokes, but the best part about it was that the things it tackled were real, important, and could be understood by children and adults alike. This was a show where a parent could sit down with their teen and their six-year old and all of them could walk away not only satisfied, but with some appreciation of the concepts behind the show that it was bound to explore. You watched it for the fun and the adventure, but at the end of it all Gravity Falls explored some deep and important idea like the importance of family and the strength of a family’s love for one another, concepts a lot of television either handles halfheartedly or avoids entirely. Gravity Falls dove in and handled it masterfully.

Then came the ending a few hours ago.

Endings are hard. Good endings are even harder. With Gravity Falls, we got the latter. It was an ending that left you feeling good, and reminded its audience that nothing was truly over, even if the show was.

It was one of those sad, happy, poignant moments only the best shows and stories can pull off, and Gravity Falls handled it with aplomb.

Hats off to you and your whole team, Alex Hirsch. I await your next adventure.

Even if a part of me will always stay in Gravity Falls.

Being a Better Writer: Should I Build a Plot Structure?

Today I’m going to be tackling a topic by request. Now, it’s not a topic I’ve not heard discussed before. Or, to put that in a clearer context, this is a question that crops up with fair regularity in writing groups, classes, and cons … But it’s also not one of the more common questions because it implies a bit more forethought. Not that those who aren’t asking it aren’t thinking, but rather that those who tend to ask this question, at least as I see it, are probing for a bit more detail, making a bit of a “I should look before I leap” observation.

The question is: Should I build a plot structure?

Okay, there’s a bit more to it than that. Most of the time the writer asking this question isn’t really asking whether or not they should. What they’re asking is why they should or shouldn’t.

Shouldn’t? Oh yes. There are definitely cases where a plot structure might not be in your best interest, or even harmful to the overall story. Perhaps a better way to interpret this question then, is when should I build a plot structure?

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Being a Better Writer: I, Villain

This post was originally written and posted June 9th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Advance Warning: today’s post is going to involve copious amounts of spoilers from everything from games to movies to books. Most of them will be fairly obvious and over a year in age, but I’m giving this whole entry an advance warning anyway. Spoilers be beyond here.

Villains.

I think it says something about us that while some can’t name a favorite hero, almost everyone can remember a favorite villain (or “not favorite,” as the case may be). Darth Vader. Truth. Smaug. Agent Smith.Brother Jon. The Lord Ruler. The Joker.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The point is, you can ask just about anyone who their “favorite” villain is, the one who gave them shivers as a child or as an adult, and most of them will be able to think of someone. Villains are just as much a part of a good story as anything else. They haunt our heroes’ nightmares and waking moments, stalk them from behind the scenes, threaten them and their loved ones. Or maybe they don’t even notice the hero at first, too preoccupied with their quest for power as they dominate nations. Or maybe, just maybe, they’re on the heroes’ “side,” carefully playing within the rules—but only just, all while smiling a sickly sweet grin that promises future darkness.

So today, I’m taking a request topic, and we’re going to talk about villains—good ones. We’re going to talk about how you make an antagonist that sits in your reader’s mind, that’s just as memorable as the hero is, who worries your fans every time they make an appearance. The kind that haunts your reader’s mind long after the book is gone, that sits in the back of their head like a song they can’t stop thinking about. So buckle up, because here we go. Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Creating a Good Stinger

Wow, today’s post is off to a late start. But I’m okay with that. You know why? Because last night I got the first full night’s sleep I’ve had since I cracked my ribs over a week ago and tore my ab muscles all apart. They’ve finally done enough healing that rolling over doesn’t wake me up, and as a result, I finally slept without waking up every half-hour to roll over.

It feels odd, but man does it feel good.

Now, today’s post will probably be a little shorter (perhaps more in line with some of the older posts), but in the end I guess we’ll see. Today I want to talk about a relatively recently popularized element of story-telling: The Stinger. What is it? What makes up a good one? How do you use it? And do you even need one?

Let’s find out.

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