Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Make Your Ending Stick

If you're a writer and not listening to the Writing Excuses podcast, you probably should be. For a quick, 15 minute podcast (because we're in a hurry and they're not that smart) it packs a wonderful amount of useful advice in there.  It works well for me, because I am not a binge learner.  That is to say, I pick things up by doing them, slowly, over time.  I was never the type to cram before an exam, or procrastinate the term paper.  I'm a slow and steady kind of guy.  It's what works for me.

Episode 6.20 focuses on endings and is the latest one I've listened to (I believe 6.21 is out now, but I've not downloaded it to my phone yet).  Here's the description from their website:
Lou Anders joins Dan, Howard, and Mary for a discussion of endings. We begin by talking about how important it is to “stick your landing” at the end of the book, and then recap the Hollywood Formula to point out how endings work there. We get examples from Mary’s upcoming novel Glamour in Glass, Dan’s upcoming novel Partials, Howard’s work-in-progress short story, and Lou Anders’ award-worthy, dot-matrix printer.
Now, I'm a firm believer that, in writing, there are no hard and fast rules... only guidelines.  Still, as they say, you have to really know the rules before you can break them effectively.  I'm not huge on formulaic writing either, but there's some validity there.  Formulas are developed for a reason.

In the case of the Hollywood Formula, the point is to not only tell a good story, but to maximize the emotional impact of the ending.  The condensed, one sentence version of the theory is that the writer would do well to pack all of their resolutions as close together as possible in the ending.  The more you string it out, the softer the emotional blow.  (Side note: sometimes, softening the blow might be a good thing).

That makes a certain amount of sense to me.  As a reader, emotions definitely tend to snowball for me.  If it's a tearjerker, there have to be several emotional payoffs in a row before I start the waterworks.  If it's supposed to give me the warm fuzzies, the same thing is true there.  If it's a giant battle, having a swift turn and quick resolution can make me exclaim: "awesome" aloud (and then get strange looks from passerby).

The episode was especially timely for me, as I'm currently working on the ending of my WIP.  Now, the first goal is always to simply get the story down.  I can always go back later to tweak things.  But the advice has definitely caused me to keep an eye on when I'm planning to resolve a few things.  With some very minor forethought, I can shift them slightly closer together... and I think they'll have a stronger impact on the reader.  We'll see when my alphas get a hold of it, I guess.

*Crosses Fingers*


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