Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The pause before the end

Here's the current problem.  Come to think of it, it's my typical old problem.  I'm near the end of a first draft, and reluctant to write the finish.   Instead of plowing ahead, I decided to explore why, maybe do a better job when I get back to it.

It's not burnout.  I know what that feels like.  This pause feels more like fear that I've missed something.  It feels like staying up late because the day was boring, like checking the house before going on vacation. 

The story may not be ready to end.

Even if it is, there's good reason to pause.  Readers expect something satisfactory to emerge from the situation, conflict, or chaos, so there's a responsibility to deliver it.  Just not as usual, and not as might be expected. 

A good ending comes as something of a surprise to the characters as well as to the readers, yet it illuminates the beginning and middle of the story.  Seeds of the ending are present in the very first page.  If a WINNER emerges in a BIG SCENE, the ending helps us understand what winning means.

Occasionally I read an ending so perfect that I am reluctant to close the book.  I hold it a short while, admiring and getting used to the fact that it's over.  Darn.

The movie "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" ends with a great symbol: the Denzel Washington character bringing home milk, as instructed by his wife earlier in the day.  The ending works because it's so ordinary, a contrast with his extraordinary action throughout the story.  It says, "Life has been restored." 

In a satisfactory ending, someone we care about goes on. 

The End.

Not to be taken lightly.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Finding a true voice

Usually I read blogs for information, but I'm drawn to several by the conversational style of the blogger.  The writers sound like fun people with keen minds.  I think I'd like to read something by them.  But when I read a sample of their fiction, I'm disappointed.  It's not the voice I expected.

I've also read critiques with more snap and personality than the characters in the critiquer's stories.

I'm sure it's not necessary to write fiction in our own voices, whatever that means.  Stories don't have to be about ourselves.  But some writers have a conversational style that's more interesting, fresh, and honest than their fictional creations.  

Why is this?  Possible answers:  self-imposed controls, inexperience, imitating models we like.  Writing instructors talk about the need to set the subconscious free and to turn off the internal editor, in the first draft, anyway. 

What can we do to find our personal style and carry it into a story?  How can we get from here to there?  I think it helps to begin with heartfelt emotion and characters who share some trait or experience we can identify with, including antagonists.  It helps to think about issues, places, personalities and events and distill them to conviction (point of view!).  In any story worth reading, the writer shares lot of herself, not necessarily personality or experiences, but those convictions.

I’ll never forget a paragraph written by a student who avoided F's only because he was always present and attentive and bravely struggled through homework.  The assignment (based on Robert Frost's Mending Wall) was to write about a personal wall.  His wall, he wrote, was his inability to achieve more than a "D," no matter how hard he tried.  His words were heartfelt, his voice true, and his paragraph, a stellar creation.  Everybody else wrote what they thought the teacher wanted.

As writers (and maybe in real life), we must not be afraid to show ourselves as na├»ve, ignorant, or even worse--boring--at least not in the first drafts.  We should not adopt styles we think everyone wants to read.  Sometimes they're not as good as our own.

Bad blog! Bad cookies!

I've not been able to post to my blog for several weeks, nor to comment (except anonymously) on any other blogs, and I've been too busy to discover why.

This morning I learned many people have had the same experience, suspected to be caused by bad cookies.  I followed directions for deleting cookies and clearing the cache several times with no success.  Then I did another thing, suggested by a top blogger help contributor:  I unchecked the "keep me signed in" box before logging on.  It worked!