The End of the Story

… it is the end of a story that I find far more of a challenge, assuming we have written a story gripping enough to keep a reader through the entire book.

Andy Frazier

To Begin

An amount of time in our writer’s group, and I suspect in a few others, is allocated to discussing how a story should begin, in a way it would attract a reader to turn to page two. This is generally something I for one find reasonably simple, as long as a situation and at least one or more characters arrive with interest. 

To end

To me, it is the end of a story that I find far more of a challenge, assuming we have written a story gripping enough to keep a reader through the entire book. So many books and, even more so, TV dramas end in a disappointing manner. In a previous group meeting we discussed this subject, and at the time I raised several questions as to what is or perhaps not acceptable. Does a reader demand closure? Yes, of course so. Does the ending need to be a massive crescendo? Well, not necessarily.   

Not to disappoint

One of our members suggested it needs to be a cliff-hanger, so a sequel can be tagged on later. This is a great idea but, of course, would only apply if a sequel was forthcoming, otherwise it becomes a cop out. 

One assumes that the story has a conflict within it and this should always be resolved at the end, even if a sequel is on the cards. 

Matters of opinion

Some writer’s clinics suggest that the author should know the ending before you even start writing. I disagree with this. In my last book even I didn’t know who did it until I wrote the final few chapters, and in that way lay surprise for myself as well as the reader. How could they possibly suspect, if I didn’t even know?

There is also the what/if ending where what actually happens is open to interpretation by the reader but this tends to be more for books that are trying to put over a message rather than purely to entertain. Assuming they are reading their preferred genre, the reader will be left thinking about the book for a few days to come, running a variety of scenarios through their mind until they are comfortable with one of them. 

One of the more common endings is to return back to where the book started. I have used this a number of times by creating a prologue of a couple of pages at the beginning before starting the actual story, so I have somewhere to go back to. Again this is often used in films and TV.

Resolution

A surprise ending is usually more palatable than a predictable one, but this comes with its warnings, that somewhere in the story, perhaps in a few places, the reader has been passed a subtle hint. In my case I had to backtrack and add these in the edit.  

I think most importantly, as well as getting closure, the protagonist should have somehow benefited from the final act, whether growing from its experience or at least learning from it.

Logic

Finally, I believe the ending should make sense and this is where the difficulty lies, not just with myself but with many authors. In a scenario where sub-plots collide at the end, as they often do, there must be a decent element of logic so the reader can understand why what happened, happened. Otherwise they will feel short changed and I for one would certainly like to sell them another of my books.

© Andy Frazier – May 2022

Rebirth Coming Soon (April 2021)

Can we pick-up where we left off? Well, there is the small matter of meeting in Colinsburgh Library–we can’t. It seems unlikely things need ever be the same again. Maybe this is an opportunity. Yippee! Rebirth, bring it on.

Rebirth: Ambitious intent or fact?

Does a title involving ‘Rebirth‘ presage a second coming? Or, dodging religious nuances, does it simply suggest a renewal? Next, the word ‘Soon‘ creeps in. Is something going to happen? How long is a piece of string? Do we mean in April? Some time this year? Perhaps in a decade or so?

Can we pick up …

…where we left off? Well, of course, there is the small matter of meetings in Colinsburgh Library–we can’t. It seems unlikely things need ever be the same again. Is this an opportunity? Yippee!

What have we done?

Good question. The first step is getting a Zoom account sorted out and that is in hand. Jenny and I agreed we’d buy one using our savings.

Our core members are ready to go and things will be different. For now, we can add an image and links for video content, as below. Here’s one made earlier with Pooter, remember him?

Now what?

Let’s catch up and decide how we’ll operate in our new virtual meeting format. What options are open for coming together, having fun and wanting more? Soon we’ll be able to meet outside. Imagine crazed writers chasing elusive, flapping papers down Elie beach on windy days.

Watch this space as we go forward–soon.

Here is a video link to Andrew Stanton talking about The clues to a great story–just in case you fancy a bit more. Click here.

Use our contact form to find out more.

August Meeting Report

Let’s Get Started

We did a great thing! We supported each other! It all began with a question about editing and how some of us struggle with getting past this stage in our writing. We gave each other lots of advice, including:

  • get the gist down and go from there
  • just get it all down in one go                                                                   
  • get a feel for it – Is it working?
  • go back and edit/polish at the end
  • simplify things
  • read and self-edit as you go

We all had our own ideas but the one which resonated the most was:

“Don’t eat the elephant all at one time!” In other words, one step at a time but do what suits you best.

April Meeting 2019

For this meeting, one of our existing members happened to be in France, so instead of missing the meeting all together we decided to link up using Skype

Welcome!

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Kilconquhar Loch – a quiet garden for contemplation and inspiration.

Good to see old friends and this time a new face! Always welcome to add new experiences and interests.

French Connection

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For this meeting, one of our existing members happened to be in France, so instead of missing the meeting all together we decided to link up using Skype. Would it work technically or meet our needs? It did! Not only could we interact throughout the general discussion, it even worked when we split up into groups. Whilst we do not plan to use it all the time, it is worthwhile knowing that this can be achieved.

Writing Software

Our new member had been interested in the discussion, in last month’s blog, about the different types of writing software available.

We continue to explore this topic but feel we would have to gather more information and perhaps look at functions, applications, pros and cons. We will return to this but meanwhile, if anyone has experience in this area and can offer advice, please get in touch. Happy to collate information and share.

Loglines

As a group, we had agreed to come prepared with our own example of a Logline.

What is a logline? – a very brief and enthusing synopsis of a script, screenplay or book, which includes a hook to stimulate interest. Usually one sentence but can be two.

You need:

  • Character
  • Want
  • Obstacle

It must be:

  • Clear
  • Concise
  • Creative

Here are some of our example loglines

  • Sam Duncan, must stay alive, find the people who want him dead and stop them killing his little sister…who they’ve mislaid.
  • It’s a hot summer in Braeness, where visitors and locals mingle during the annual festival. Gossip abounds, old scores are settled, and many lives changed, not necessarily for the better.
  • The past cannot be changed but can the truth? No matter how far down you bury a lie, somehow the truth will dig it back up again.
  • The shepherd travelled far and wide and learned his treasure was already within him.
  • Sir Edward Feathers QC, an aged and mysterious barrister, reflects on his eventful life in London and Hong Kong, giving a glimpse of the British Empire, through his mordantly funny wit.   

What did we learn? That it is much harder than it looks! The question came up, “What is the difference between a logline and a mission statement? Good question, which we will return to, once we have mastered the former! 

Character Development exercise

Over refreshments, we split into two groups and each group set the other a challenge to create a character in fifteen minutes. These were:

  • an angry, destructive teacher
  • a co-dependent, addictive woman

To help us, Mac prepared a help sheet with ten points and questions, to use as prompts. These included the character’s:

  • goals, motivation, purpose which will become important
  • fears, flaws, insecurities and how these might affect their success
  • story-helping history and what is happening to them now
  • personality traits or quirks that will prove to be significant
  • name and how this will shape their emerging role

This proved to be an interesting experience, not least because we were working with others; writing can be a solitary business and working alone, we tend to get our own way! A valuable checklist, which we will no doubt use again.

Our Writing

To finish off the evening we shared our individual writing on the theme “jealousy”, in 200 words maximum, which we had agreed upon at the end of last month’s meeting. This was really enjoyable and what struck us was the variety of angles and styles that everyone took. Happily, the general consensus was that everyone had hit the brief successfully. Some of our examples are available here. See what you think!

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LOGLINE

On the basis of our follow-up discussion we decided to do a further example for the next meeting but this time on a standardised storyline. The advantage of this is that everyone knows the story and we can compare outcomes.

A logline tells the essence of a story. We chose Cinderella.

Neologisms: Author’s prerogative or editor’s bugbear?

neologism[nee-ol-uh-jiz-uh m]noun
1. a new word, meaning, usage, or phrase.
2. the introduction or use of new words or new senses of existing words. Dictionary.com

Gale Winskill
Gale Winskill, Editor

I asked my editor and friend (apart from when we’re having a dust-up about my writing) for an editor-sort-of-blog for us. Mac.Gale joins us on 13 May.

Creative invention, author-style

Fiction is clearly the realm of creative invention, so when authors dream up and posit neologisms in their narratives isn’t that just what they do? Without them, the world would definitely be a poorer place. Consider a few which now form part of our daily lexicon: Dr Seuss’s ‘Grinch’, Joseph’s Heller’s ‘Catch 22’, or Sheridan’s ‘malapropism’. All are now used without conscious thought for their origins, and embody laudable contributions to the continuing evolution of the English language.

Enhance and expand

But it’s not just authors who enhance our ever-widening vocabulary. The young are nothing if not inventive utilizers of words. Think, ‘lit’, ‘sick’ … The words may have been re-appropriated, yet modern coinage doesn’t dispense with past meanings; it merely expands, enriches, provides a fresh, innovative spin – vocabulary is revitalized and reinvented through usage.

What’s a ‘muggle’ got to do with this?

In the same way, new words and meanings only exist and come into common parlance via fiction if they resonate with the reader. Without JK Rowling’s phenomenal worldwide success, ‘muggle’ would probably not have endured, and yet it is now defined by the OED as: in her novels, ‘a person who possesses no magical powers’; and by extension, in the real world, ‘a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way’. But without that initial common understanding among like-minded readers, with the same narrative frame of reference, that particular seed might not have germinated.
So, when working on an author’s text, what is the editor’s role in this regard? Is there a point at which editors should perhaps dissuade authors from certain linguistic creations? Are some inventions just too ridiculous to consider? Or does anything go?

Editor’s role

A fiction editor’s most important function is to stand in for the ultimate reader. If there is a word, albeit extant or unique, that grates or feels out of place in the context of the novel, surely the editor is obligated to highlight and substantiate this concern to the writer.

An editor can only advise, guide and identify how other readers might perceive the author’s diction. It is then up to the author to either defend that usage, or agree that perhaps their editor might just have a point.
After all, on the face of it, A.A. Milne’s ‘Heffalump’ may not suit as the moniker of an East End gangster. Then again, as Pooh knows, ‘Heffalumps hardly ever get caught’, this protagonist is particularly evasive, and the novel a black comedy. But in an otherwise hard-hitting thriller, if a reserved and measured character ‘cackle-laughs’ and ‘angry-chews’ his way repeatedly through the narrative, an editor might suggest that perhaps such hyphenated inventions detract from the characterization, feel out of context and jar on the textual fluidity.

Something old … something new

Authors create; editors make them think. But authors always make the final decision. The result might be a ‘serendipitous’ (Horace Walpole) addition to the English language or the possible loss of a ‘quark’ (James Joyce). As authorial privilege or editorial irritant, successful neologisms form a fundamental aspect of the lexicographers’ ‘whodunnit’ (Donald Gordon), ‘bedazzling’ (Shakespeare) and exasperating us in equal measure with their ‘hard-boiled’ (Mark Twain) persistence.

© Gale Winskill, Winskill Editorial

Storyboard Ideas

What I do is take a single simple idea and built a framework around it. In scriptwriting, this is called a storyboard …

February meeting raises Storyboard

After an hour of general discussion about our individual on-going projects the group asked me to share mine with them. This led to my sharing the use of the Storyboard.

What I do is take a single simple idea and built a framework around it. In scriptwriting, this is called a storyboard and is the basis for a variety of writing styles, particularly fact-based fiction, my preferred genre, where the story needs to follow a set path.

E.G. – developing a movie idea

In this case, my task was to take a song lyric, deconstruct it into its characters and then imaginatively shape a life around each one of them.

My chosen song, ‘The Piano Man’, by Billy Joel, is about people visiting a late night bar to drown their sorrows and contains the formidable line, ‘they are sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone!’

the Cork-Board

Basically a storyboard is just a scratch pad or, to use Scrivener’s process, a cork-board where you pin up post-it notes and can shuffle them into some sort of order. So on each ‘post-it’ I head it with each character’s name and pin them all in one section.

cork-board

I am fortunate in my recent writing life to have researched a massive history book which involved me interviewing nearly 100 interesting people, some of whom were in the final years of life. In almost every case the questions were tailored around what little information I had about them.

questions of characters

Likewise, in this situation, we apply a little intelligence to the questions we ask each player. Of course, there are the obvious ones: how old are you, colour, sex, creed etc? But then we go deeper. Why are you lonely in a bar? What has life done to you to get you here?

real-estate novelist

In one line we are fed: ‘Paul is a real-estate novelist, who never had time for a wife.’ What on earth is a real-estate novelist? So Paul, tell me about your life as an estate agent, wasn’t much fun, eh? Sold a few houses, market crashed, and you wrote what? Maybe you saw how the sub-prime market worked and discovered the smokescreen and corruption that lay behind the banking system that eventually brought the global economy to its knees? That would put me in a late night bar, for sure!

practising politician

Then there’s the waitress, who is ‘practising politics’? We’ve all met her. Doing a night job to pay her way through college? Where better than in a downtown bar? Bound to be a few washed up senators lurking around here?

… and the rest

Each one gets given a history based around what little info we have on them and then, for me, in this exercise, the fun really starts, with the shifting of the pieces. Out of these eight or so sad people, who knows who? Which one has had their life touched by another? Where have all their paths crossed?

select a protagonist

As with all good stories, we need a protagonist, and I chose the old man who is asking the piano-man to play a tune he used to know ‘when he wore younger man’s clothes!’

This guy has been around, right? Bound to have bumped into some of the other players in his 3 score years and ten? So I stick him in the middle, and weave the others around him.

it’s a learning exercise …

As this is only an exercise, I want to keep it tight, maybe a script for a 15-minute movie, or a short story. So I make only three to four scenes involving each player, each on its own post-it. I am a great believer that scenes and characters are only borrowed and there is rarely anything original left to invent, in the same way that there are only so many notes in a music scale. So, in the majority our scenes we use everyday situations that readers can relate to.

pull it together

The timing works out that the old man could have been a veteran from the Vietnam war, so there is his first scene, in the jungle in 1969. But we don’t want a chronological history of each person; that’s no fun, far too conventional! So let’s mix them up. Paul sold houses – maybe he sold one to the old fella just before the market fell?

That waitress seems like a nice girl; perhaps she helped the old man across the road or woke him up when the train reached his stop? Venn diagram centre! So finally, when we walk into that bar at 9 o’clock on a Saturday, a quick look around and we have everyone pegged down.

neat line, neat idea

Eventually, after some enjoyable head-scratching, this exercise will end up with maybe 15-20 scenes, all in a neat line, so the author, and subsequent director, can colour them in as he or she perceives them. As with musical notes, it is the combinations and order in which they are played that make a tune.

That, to me, is what a storyboard is, a simple melody.

© Andy Frazier

22 Rules of Storytelling

… a story is a story. Does one size fit all? Experience suggests that, in the end, we discover our own rules, as we crumple up our trash and throw stuff away with a snarl … OR as we give ourselves a big warm hug for a piece well written.

Is that it?

Yes, 22 rules, at least from Emma Coats, a former Pixar Storyboard artist. There are lots of rules for every waspaect of writing. The particualr focus of her list is what she learned from being a storyboard illustrator.

Still, a story is a story. Does one size fit all? Experience suggests that, in the end, we discover our own rules, every time we crumple up our trash and throw stuff away with a snarl … OR every time we give ourselves a big warm hug, for a piece well written.

Join us …

Here is Emma’s list:

rules for storytelling