Author: DeAnna Knippling (Page 1 of 52)

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 18

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Making people smile

MINIMUM WAGE

She had a retail job selling food products at a counter for consumption, a bakery-café with baked goods, sandwiches, soups, and salads.  The products had a certain amount of natural romance to them.  The entire shop was perfumed with the scent of baking bread.  You could get coffees and lattes and espresso drinks, chai, smoothies, that sort of thing, cups of tea in porcelain mugs so thick that your tea would stay warm however long you worked on your laptop back in your booth and when you were done you could beat someone over the head with the mug, you know, in case of zombie invasion.  The word “diet” had been eradicated from the menu.  It was comfort carbs with carbs on the side, that kind of place.  And she, like all the girls who worked the counters (only gay guys worked the registers; the rest of the guys worked on the sandwich line or in the back, more macho), she was supposed to smile.

I must always be selling something, she thought, I am always being told to smile. Otherwise she couldn’t get served at bars, men wouldn’t let her pass on the sidewalk without catcalling and trying to trip her, older men on the bus hurr hurr did you hear about the blonde? would harass her, grandmothers with strollers at the mall would swerve into her legs, her mother wouldn’t help her with first-month’s rent after she got dumped and kicked out yet again, and god help her if she was on the rag at the time and lost her temper, ever.

But you know what they say, she thought, the customer is always right.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

How to Study Fiction, Part 14: Scenes, Part 6. Final Endings.

This is part of a series on how to study fiction, mainly directed at writers who have read all the beginning writing books and are like, “What now?!?”  The rest of the series is here.  You may also want to check out the series on pacing, here, which I’m eventually going to fold into this series when it turns into a book 🙂

Endings of stories.

Two things to cover here:

  • The end of any given story.
  • The end of a story in some sort of series.

It turns out that there isn’t much of a difference, although there is some.

The goal of an ending is to satisfy the reader, right?  The reader should feel happy to have finished a story that, hopefully, is written so well that they don’t want to finish it.

Easy!  At least, if you’re good at paradoxes.

It actually is almost painfully easy, as long as you break things down in a methodical manner and don’t try to skip anything.

First, let’s look at types of endings:

  • “Up” endings.
  • “Down” endings.
  • “Ironic” endings.

These are sometimes known as happy/sad/mixed endings, or comic/tragic/ironic endings.  My definition is, “Did the character achieve their overall goal, and was it good?” If the character both achieved their overall goal and it was good, that is an “up” ending.  If the character both did not achieve their overall goal and it was bad, that is a “down” ending.

But if the character either achieved their overall goal but it was bad that they did, or didn’t achieve their overall goal but it was good that they didn’t, that’s an ironic (“up but down,” or “down but up”) ending.

An example of an “up” ending is in the original Star Wars.  Luke wants to become a pilot; he does; it’s good.  The story is more complicated than that, but the ending really isn’t.

An example of a “down” ending is A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Nancy wants to save herself and her friends from Freddie Kreuger.  She almost seems to win…but is dragged off by Freddie at the last minute.

An example of an “ironic” ending is Schindler’s List.  Schindler wants to live a normal life while making money off the war; he fails to do so, but saves his own soul.  Or you might say he wanted to save Jewish people and did so, but feels nothing but sadness because he wanted to save more.

It’s very difficult to have a straight “down” ending on a story, one that the audience will enjoy.  You often have to hold out the possibility of success until the very last moment in order for it to work.  Otherwise, it’s just too depressing.  (Even Requiem for a Dream has a bit of an ironic tone.)

How is an ending put together?  I’ll talk about this in more depth later, but for now, let’s go with:

  • It usually takes up the last quarter of the book.
  • The main character has been preparing for this final, definitive attempt at achieving their main goal throughout the book.
  • The main character attempts to achieve their main goal.  This is “the plan,” or “the big push.”  Officially, we’ll call it “the climax.”
  • The main character does or does not achieve their main goal and that’s either a good thing or a bad thing.
  • The rest of the story focuses on wrapping everything up.

So you’ve written everything needed to set up your ending, you’ve written the climax and it’s either “up,” “down,” or “ironic,” and you’re not sure how to wrap everything up.  What to do?

How to end a story (in general):

  • Wrap up your subplots, usually in reverse order of importance (see below for how to wrap anything up).
  • Wrap up your main plot.
  • With the last line, tell or confirm to the audience what kind of ending they just read.

It’s weird.  People want you to explain things to them, but not in a way that makes them feel like you’re explaining things to them.  I’ll explain.

There are basically five ways to wrap something up, and a sixth to not wrap things up and just leave the readers hanging (but not in a bad way).

  1. Happily ever after.  State or hint that no major changes or problems will occur after this for the character.
  2. Happy for now.  State or hint that life goes on, but for now, it’s mostly good things for the character.
  3. Doomed ever after.  State or hint that the character is screwed and that this situation will not change.
  4. Doomed for now.  State or hint that the character is definitely screwed and has a long road ahead of them if they want to fix it.
  5. OMFGINE, or Oh my f@#$%^& God, it never ends.  State or hint that all of this is going to happen all over again, in some form or other.
  6. Unresolved.  Move the interpretation of the story onto the reader’s shoulders; usually balanced between two possibilities.  You tell me, you tell the readers, what happens next.  “The Lady and the Tiger” by Frank R. Stockton is an example of this.

So when you’re wrapping up subplots, each subplot gets one of these wrap-ups.

Here are some examples, in order: “The two hitchhikers who won the lottery got married, the town drunk has stopped drinking for now, my brother is dead (and I was the only one at the funeral), Raymond’s in the hospital in a full-body cast, my parents are convinced that they need to hold another over-the-top Christmas party next year, and either Gail is still alive or she isn’t.  I still get postcards from her, but the postmarks are all old, her messages have been lost in the system for years before they reach me, and I’m still not sure whether she loves me or I’m going to wake up someday with a knife on my throat.”

Most of the time, the endings and the wrap-ups match:  happy endings and happily ever afters.  But a lot of horror movies have happy endings with doomed ever afters at the last moment.  And ironic endings get the endings that they get, with an extra reminder that the ending is happy–but wasn’t what the character wanted–or doomed–but was what the character wanted.  The irony itself is like a separate subplot that has to be wrapped up and pointed out.

You don’t have to tell the reader “this is a happily ever after,” but you really should hint at it, even when the reader clearly can already tell what that ending is.  The last scenes in The Princess Bride (movie version) show a) the kiss that was the most perfect, the most pure, then b) the grandson inviting his grandfather to come back and read the story again:  “As you wish,” he says.

That extra bit of confirmation of what type of ending you just read is something that audiences love.

But what to do with series?  Most series just need a regular ending as you wrap up all the plot threads (or most of them).  But some series have over-arching plots.  What do you do about those?

  • Wrap up all the subplots, generally in reverse order of importance.  If a lot of the subplots are to be continued, indicate that.
  • Let the reader know if this is a “happy for now” or “doomed for now” type of wrap-up.  “As they celebrated, they knew that there would be darkness ahead.” “Even as they grieved, they knew that for the first time, there was hope.”
  • The important part isn’t making the reader feel like what they read is “a complete book.”  Each book should have, as previously discussed, a beginning, a middle, and an ending.  Even high-fantasy sagas have steps that the characters have to take in order to reach their final goal; stop the book at the climax of the first, or second, or seventeenth set of steps.
  • The important part in this type of series is to reaffirm to the reader what exactly got accomplished in this book, how the reader should feel about that, and the expected tasks ahead.

An example, this time from Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny:

I would never rest until I held vengeance and the throne within my hand, and good night sweet prince to anybody who stood between me and these things.

The sun hung low on my left and the winds bellied the sails and propelled me onward. I cursed once and then laughed.

I was free and I was running, but I had made it this far. I now had the chance I’d wanted all along.

A black bird of my desire came and sat on my left shoulder, and I wrote a note and tied it to its leg and sent it off into the west.

It said, “Eric—I’ll be back,” and it was signed: “Corwin, Lord of Amber.”

A demon wind propelled me east of the sun.

The character states his goals and the stakes.  The character then states how he feels (curse then laugh), which is how the reader should take it, too.  The character states what he has accomplished (freedom, a chance).  The character threatens someone else, so we have that promise of what will happen next.  Then we get a little foreshadowing about how his goals will come out:  he’s going forward, but maybe his plans are not going to go as expected and may even be co-opted by something else.

You might want to think of the wrap-ups in an ongoing, overarching series as status checks rather than wrap-ups.

At any rate, try the easy, obvious solution when you’re ending a story: check in with all your plots and subplots in reverse order of importance while stating how things ended for the characters involved in that part, then kiss off the audience on the last line with something that tells them how they should feel about the events of the story.

A good wrap-up can take a lot of words, and that’s okay.  You aren’t belittling the reader or giving them something they don’t want.  Readers want to feel strongly about stories.  You’re allowed to help them along.

What’s up next?  When we’ve been looking at scenes, what we’ve really been looking at is structure on a micro level.  We’re going to look at macro-level structure next.  I’m going to just call it “structure,” though…

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. TURN TO PAGE 87 TO GO DOWN INTO THE BASEMENT ALONE.  CLICK THE WONDERLAND PRESS NEWSLETTER SIGNUP LINK TO HAVE SOMEONE GO WITH YOU.  CRREEEAAAAAK.

 

 

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 17

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  The smell of sunscreen

THAT WORD FOR WHEN YOU KNOW BUT YOU CAN’T PROVE IT YET

I walked into the room.  The smell of sunscreen lingered, one of those phantom smells that get in your nose and don’t go away.  In Iowa, I spent a year smelling manure and fresh-roasted coffee, even when I was cleaning rich people’s bathrooms with chemicals so strong I wouldn’t be able to smell at all for months afterward.

“When did Jasmine get in?” I asked.  My sister, she lived in another state and we didn’t see her often.  But that was the smell of her, sunscreen and sand.

“What are you talking about? Jasmine hasn’t been here for six months.”

I said, “I must have just been thinking about her.”  Then I made some excuse to go down to the basement fridge, which is where the beer is kept.  Mom said, “I’ll get that for you, I have to get something else anyway.”

It always makes me nervous, seeing her go downstairs; she fell down those stairs once.  She came back up with a six-pack a few minutes later.  The smell grew stronger. I said, “Come on, stop pulling my leg.  Where is she?”

“Who? Jasmine? You must be hallucinating.”

I pushed past her and went down the stairs. The landing at the bottom was still a little bit wet.  “Jas?  Jas?”

Then I heard someone screaming at me.  It was my mom.  The bottle–Jas’s brand, all right–kicked into a corner, a wadded-up shirt half-covering it, dark from the grease.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 16

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Bonfires

BONFIRES

…A bronze plate etched with patterns, the kind of big metal platter that you get at a Turkish restaurant, out in the back yard, a pile of letters on it, a box of matches and a slight breeze.  The letters are from your ex.  He says, “I expect you to burn all my letters out of respect.”  What he really means is: The least you could do is let me express one more act of control over you.  But you’ve always been a bit of a pyromaniac. You watch the letters burn and feel nothing but joy for a moment.  Then you spend years trying to believe you’ve actually escaped.

…A bonfire in the woods by the river when you were counting on solitude in the dark; you’re not supposed to go anywhere alone at night because of the rape scares, but you already know that it’s not strangers who you need to be wary of.  The real predators like to sniff around you first, to make sure you won’t resist.  You circle around the frat boys and they go silent. You might be the cops.  You might be bigfoot.  You have to be one or the other.  They joke about it.

…Out in a field under a harvest moon with a boy, the bonfire of the party an orange glow over the hill, your body burns up, you crave nothing more than to be destroyed, used, hurt, anything—you know no words for lust but those of suffering and punishment.  Unfortunately what is summoned is only wet ashes, still smoldering with annoyance the morning after, and a sharp piece of straw inside your pants that you can’t get out, digging into your leg all during class.  “Where did you go last night?” they ask, “What did you do?”

…He calls after midnight on weekends, and you know he made fun of you behind your back in high school and that he’s drunk now, and you say, “When you get the balls to talk to me when it’s daylight and you’re sober, then we’ll see” and he doesn’t. You learn to get used to this, the overexaggerated fear of a woman’s displeasure, this secret, ongoing mockery.  The rape jokes, the jokes about being pussy-whipped, not even a breath between them.  They’re boys with spears around the ritual fire, chanting that bitch, that bitch, who either did or did not give me what I want.

…You remember: burning trash in a barrel out in the gravel driveway, poking it with sticks, inviting it to burn your arm hair, tossing in leaves, pieces of paper, dead grass, live grass, watching the print on advertisements and Christmas wrapping paper flame up green and blue.  But now you don’t trust candles, you don’t trust incense, you never leave anything, no matter how contained, lit at night.  It’ll be fine.  Will it?  Don’t you know what fire is like? One moment it’s your slave, and the next it burns down barns, fields, haystacks, trees, cattle, cats—the water in the rural firetruck is frozen because it’s February—just because it’s cold doesn’t mean it isn’t dry tinder, ready to burn.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 15

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Alone time

EXTROVERT

She was out in her driveway again, in the dark, at eight o’clock at night.  This being suburbia, and she being the sort of woman she is, it is impossible for her to understand that it is an imposition to be constantly greeted: to leave the house, to return to the house, to get the mail, to drop off the mail, to go for a walk, to return from a walk, to mow the grass, to pick up bits of trash from the front yard, it is like being constantly barked at by the neighborhood dogs, until one is on the lookout, until one of you (if you are with someone) is chosen as the one who has to throw themselves under the bus of making conversation with someone who is both helplessly likable and hopelessly unable to allow herself to say anything other than what she thinks one ought to have said, at length.

Her husband’s friends were over, playing a game together as they once had in college, and she wished to apologize for the irregular number of cars parked in the street, she was lonely, they only wanted to use her as a hostess but not to speak to her, her child had been sent off with its grandparents, and she wanted nothing more than to be alone, alone, alone in the bath with a glass of wine, and she could not.

“Blow them off,” I said.  “Just lock the door and take a bath upstairs, if you would like to be alone.”

She changed the subject to how we never really talk to each other, nobody does, and I think what she meant to say was: I didn’t know it would be like this, I didn’t know that I would have to stay here, with my kid, working from home, cleaning house, not cleaning house, feeling guilty about not cleaning house, wanting to reach out to other people and grab onto them, to put down roots, feeling everyone around me slip through my fingers and not understanding why, why, wanting to belong, I thought it would be different, that I would feel comfortable and safe here, but no matter how safe it is I can only feel that I am in danger, the kind of danger that cannot be spoken of lest it be laughed at, I am constantly followed, I am haunted by another self, a past, a future, a self that somehow, somewhen, chose something that would have allowed me not to be here, now, forever, one day is so much like another, when will this be over, am I doomed.

I went inside the house; I have learned that there are perfectly pleasant people in this world that are bottomless in their hunger for security, and they will, charmingly, swallow one up.

She was not meant to live here, with her fear of being alone.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 14

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Cute journals

THE JOURNAL

Tanya received a journal for her twelfth birthday from her Great-Aunt Vasilisa.  It was an important birthday, her great-aunt told her, in a year you will be a teenager and you will go back to an ordinary sort of life, good or bad or both.  But when you are twelve, it will be the worst year of your life; if it is not the worst year of your life, then you have no soul.  Her mother laughed and said, “I wasn’t miserable until I was sixteen,” and Great-Aunt Vasilisa patted her on the cheek and said, “You were always boy crazy,” and Tanya’s mother fell silent. The cheek that had been patted went a little paler than the other.

“This is a magic journal,” Great-Aunt Vasilisa continued, turning back to you.  “Whatever you write in it, if you write something that is not true inside of it, the ink will disappear.”  Tanya could not have told her great-aunt exactly why that was nonsense, but it was; however, she accepted the journal in all seriousness and promised to write in it every day—or at least she would try, she said with almost a wink, because there was such a terrible amount of lying that she had gotten into the habit of, that the first few weeks might be a struggle.

Great-Aunt Vailisa laughed then, one of her great walloping laughs.  The cover was brightly decorated in the latest fashion, by an artist of that place, and of that time, with brightly colored animals with babyish faces. It hadn’t the slightest bit of magic to it, that was obvious.

Tanya threw the journal away when they moved away from that town, when she was sixteen.  By then Great-Aunt Vasilisa was dead, and Tanya must have purchased a hundred journals, stolen more, been gifted dozens by her family.  But it was always the same.  As quickly as she wrote, her words would vanish.  In college, if she would so much as doodle in the margins of her chemistry notebooks, the entire page’s worth of notes would vanish.  Emails, love letters, Christmas cards: all would go blank.   No one would lend her their books.  She would inevitably have to lose them, for they could not be returned in the blank state that they soon acquired, once she had read them.

It began to comfort her, to be able to write anything down, anything at all, and to watch the words fade away, slowly, inevitably, like the drying of invisible ink.

Truth is beauty, she wrote, and laughed as the words faded.  Love makes the world go ’round.  

Then one day she wrote, “The year I was twelve was the worst year of my life,” and there they stayed, the words, still lingering on the page.

I remember, she thought.  Oh God.  Now I remember.

And then the words came, and would not stop.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 13

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Gift cards

THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS

He had been drifting away from people lately: he had left the country of normal gifts and had traveled to the land of gift cards, a gray sort of half-life in which he could never be sure if he was being given a gift or being bribed not to say that he hadn’t received one.

A personal note: gift cards to bookstores are always considered thoughtful. Ahem.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 12

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Plane tickets

L’APPEL DU VIDE

If you had two free one-way plane tickets to take you out of the country, where would you go? You can almost see them in your hand, two of them, on cardboard stock with a shiny foil strip.  You can just about make out your name on the first one, and you know that when you see the second one, it will have the name you have chosen on it.  And that person, well, they will somehow find it in their hearts—not recommended, picking someone dead, by the way—to go with you, to wherever you pick.

Will you go to Paris?  To Tokyo? To Wellington, New Zealand?  I’m telling you, you can pick anywhere, although if you’re the kind of smartass who says things like “Atlantis” it will be at your own risk.  Your plane will be the one that drops into the ocean and is never found again—and I can guarantee that there aren’t any mermaids down there, waiting to prettily rescue you.  If they are there, and I’m not saying they are, they’re more the kind of mermaid with black slime running over their sides and teeth like a viperfish. The song of the mermaid is what you hear when you’re driving along the coast and you look out across the cliffs to the waves and go, “One jerk of the steering wheel, and all of this could be over.” Although I could see the temptation, if you hated more than you loved, to go simply for the pleasure of dragging someone down with you.  To possess two plane tickets toward both the revelation of mystery, and an inevitable death.

You must be one of the people who goes.  That ticket is already drawn out.

Travel back in time! Travel to the stars! Travel to somewhere that does not exist! These things, also, are not recommended.  In fact it would be better to hand the tickets back, quickly, and forget you ever saw them.

But take the tickets, take them.  Your name and one other.

Anywhere you want to go: and all your troubles will be over.

Anywhere.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

 

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 11

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Arts and crafts

THE FOURTH WISH

Tamra Triplett was thinking about what would happen to her, when it finally happened, when she finally snapped. Snapped, I tell you, snapped! The frustrations of the world would become too much, she was already on the edge, and she would have to take up arms against it. And she thought, well, I don’t actually give a damn about climbing up to the top of the building and using a rifle to pick people off below me, like ants. I was never one to kick over anthills just for the pleasure of seeing them scatter.

Power? She would have liked the power to make people stop being complete idiots. That would be her secret superpower, if she could have one: the power to make other people realize when they were being hypocrites. Not the power to prove people wrong—that would have been too easy to abuse—but the power to reveal hypocrisy, yes, that would be lovely, she would love to have that. But that was probably the secret, forbidden wish that even the djinn wouldn’t give you: you couldn’t give yourself an infinite number of wishes, you couldn’t wish anyone dead (but ohhh the possibilities that one might have, if one wished to subvert that sort of thing), you couldn’t or shouldn’t wish yourself to become all-powerful or a god or something, and you couldn’t wish people to see their own hypocrisy; those are the four wishes which are forbidden.

To snap or not to snap? She had a pair of miniature scissors on her keychain, folding and razor-sharp, because she had always been raised not to bite off threads. It’ll wreck your teeth. And she did like cutting things, liked it in the thrilled, breathless way that one hears of pyromaniacs liking fire. And once, one magical day, she had been left to clean up after a work function in which name cards had been involved, and she had cut their names up, one by one, as thoroughly as if they were credit cards. But the scissors she had had to use had been rather useless and dull, mashing the paper fibers apart rather than cutting them with a quick, razor slice. They had gone out drinking without her, and all come down with food poisoning. “It was like my guts had been ripped out,” they said.  Good.

Yarn, she thought. Yarn.

I will take a hair—when I intend to snap, that is—and twist it up with some yarn, and then I will knit something that reminds me of them. Arigurimi, that is, those little crocheted stuffed toys. They’re easy enough to make, if you take the time to think through how all the shapes fit together. And then, on that day which will surely come, I will not have to climb all those stairs, which I did once for a fund-raiser, ran up every stair in the building, all the way from the basement to the top, and they mocked me afterwards because my knees hurt for months; I will not have to learn to shoot; I will only have to line them all up and take my best, my loveliest sharpest scissors, and take their wobbly little heads and—

—Cut.

But that won’t work, she told herself, sympathetic magic is just a woman’s fantasy of being able to change the world when there is no power, no justice, no virtue that will do so.

Better get a dab or two—or three, yes three is a good number—of their blood, too.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

How to Study Fiction, Part 13: Scenes, Part 5. Endings.

I would like to note that the real reason I have this complicated numbering scheme is so I don’t forget what the heck I’m doing!  This is part of a series on how to study fiction, mainly directed at writers who have read all the beginning writing books and are like, “What now?!?”  The rest of the series is here.  You may also want to check out the series on pacing, here, which I’m eventually going to fold into this series when it turns into a book 🙂

Endings.

There are two types of endings to cover here:

  • The ending of the individual sections of a story.
  • The ending of the story as a whole.

These endings have to accomplish two entirely separate things:

  • Make you want to keep reading (before the end of the story).
  • Feel satisfied by the end of the story (at the end of the story).

There is also a special case, the end of a story that is part of a larger series.  These series can be:

  • Episodic, or more focused on the story in each individual episode,
  • Over-arching, or more focused on an overarching story that spans across episodes,
  • Or a combination of both, with an over-arching story interrupted by standalone episodes, also known as “monster of the week” episodes.

We’ll cover the kinds of considerations you might need to take into account for series, but it will really depend on what you’re trying to do.

Today we’ll cover…

Endings of sections of a story

There are several places that you’ll need to write endings within a story:

  • At the ends of chapters.
  • At the ends of scenes within chapters.
  • At the ends of mini-scenes within scenes within chapters.
  • At the ends of beats within mini-scenes (if any), within scenes, within chapters.

Just as with beginnings, a lot of the wordcount of your story is going to be dedicated to endings, maybe a fourth of it–but it won’t all be at the end of the book.

The ending of most of the sections of your book will perform the following functions:

  • Tell the reader the results of the latest try/fail (see Middles for more information).
  • Tell the reader, if the results of the latest try/fail aren’t going to be told quite yet, that they will be told later.
  • Tell the reader what to expect coming up next, if not already covered.

This sounds kind of dry, but the implications can get exciting:  characters can have literal cliffhangers, black out, have someone sneak up behind them…

The point being, that the endings of every part of your story before the last one should all point toward some event further down the road in your book.  Why do readers keep reading?  Because they want to find out what happens next.  Most of the endings in a book are just exciting or subtle reminders of what will happen next.

Let’s go back to “The Cask of Amontillado.”  Here’s the opening paragraph:

THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled –but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

This is a beginning paragraph, so it does count as part of the beginning.  However, because Poe was such a smart guy, the end of the paragraph also has an ending.  Here, he hints that what will come next is a tale of revenge in which the avenger gets away with it.  This is also called foreshadowing.  

If you ended every structural unit of your story with foreshadowing up until the last one, you would not go far wrong.

The second paragraph, if you care to read it for yourself, is much the same way as the first.

Another good example is in The Princess Bride (the film version).  When Vizzini sees that the Man in Black is still climbing up the cliff, he tells Inigo to kill the Man in Black.  The end of that scene is a hint toward what will happen next:  a swordfight.

“He’s got very good arms,” says Fezzik.

“He didn’t fall?  Inconceivable!” says Vizzini, slashing with his dagger.

“You keep using that word,” says Inigo.  “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

They all look down.  The man in black is still climbing.

“My God.  He’s climbing.”

“Whoever he is, he’s obviously seen us with the princess and must therefore die.  You–” Vizzini puts the tip of the dagger on Fezzig’s shirt.  “Carry her.”  To Inigo, he says, “We’ll head straight for the Guilder frontier.  Catch up when he’s dead.  If he falls, fine.  If not, the sword.”  He sheaths his dagger and begins walking away.

“I’m going to do him left-handed,” says Inigo.

“You know what a hurry we’re in!”

“It’s the only way I can be satisfied.  If I use my right, over too quickly.”

“Oh, have it your way.”

And off Vizzini goes.

Something to note:  You don’t have to exactly tell the truth in your foreshadowing.  In fact, the more you tell about what’s going to happen next, the more your audience will expect things to not happen quite as foreshadowed.

If a plan is spelled out during a scene, especially at the end of a scene, you’re almost guaranteed to have something go wrong.

For example, in the above scene of The Princess Bride, it is strongly hinted that Inigo will win the swordfight.  Vizzini spells out the plan:  if the man in black falls, fine; if not, the sword.

However, Inigo loses the swordfight.

It’s perfectly okay for foreshadowing to not be exactly what was foreshadowed.  In fact, this is how you make something both expected and surprising.

The end of the scene in The Princess Bride starts when the characters look over the side of the cliff and see that their latest try (to cut the rope that the Man in Black is climbing, and therefore drop him off the cliffs) has failed.  They are seeing the results of their try/fail.  Then the reader gets a promise of what will come next: a swordfight.

Each “try” in that sequence has its own beginning, middle, and end:

  • They see the ship following them and try to outrun it.  They fail.  The end of that scene leads to the next try/fail, climbing the cliffs:  “Whoever he is, he’s too late! See?  The cliffs of insanity!  Hurry up!  Move the thing!  And that other thing!  Move it!”
  • They arrive at the cliffs of insanity and begin climbing, hoping that the Man in Black will be too weak to follow them.  Haha, no.  The end of that scene leads to the next try/fail, trying to outclimb the man in black: “He’s climbing the rope.  And he’s gaining on us.” “Inconceivable.”
  • They try to arrive at the top of the cliffs before the Man in Black can catch up to them.  (They succeed, but the overall outcome of the scene is in suspense, so there are a bunch of witty lines to show time passing and suspense building.)  The ending lines show that they’re still in suspense about whether they’ll make it or not: “Did I make it clear that your job is at stake?”
  • The arrive at the top of the cliffs and cut the rope, hoping that the Man in Black will fall.  He doesn’t.  “Inconceivable!”

Part of the reason the “Inconceivable!” line is funny is that it’s used for several try/fails, only for the try/fails to reveal that the Man in Black’s success, no matter how inconceivable, is real.

This is just a couple of examples of how endings can be used to draw readers from scene to scene.  Each author seems to have a different way of handling this, ranging from the dramatic to the subtle, the action-based to the emotional-based, and the straight-up truthful to the completely wrong-headed or false.

When an author stops to tell the audience what is about to happen, it doesn’t a) slow the audience down, or b) bore them.

Over and over again throughout The Princess Bride, the action stops to tell the audience what to expect next.  It’s not boring to get a hint about what happens next–it’s exciting.

There’s nothing like the moment when Watson tells Holmes in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,”

My dear fellow, I would not miss it for anything.

We, as readers, don’t want to, either.

This post is getting long, so I’m going to split it up.  Next time?  The endings of stories!

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. TURN TO PAGE 87 TO GO DOWN INTO THE BASEMENT ALONE.  CLICK THE WONDERLAND PRESS NEWSLETTER SIGNUP LINK TO HAVE SOMEONE GO WITH YOU.  CRREEEAAAAAK.

 

 

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