Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tip #16: How to Write a Great Ending

Tip #16: How to Write a Great Ending. 

The key to a great ending is this: Give the readers that they want, but not in the way they expect it.
The truth will sock you in the gut.

As we read a novel, we are anticipating the outcome, the climax, the “Who did it?” or “How the heck is this going to end?” It must follow logically from the story. It should be a good twist, or an "Ah Ha!" moment or an "Oh no!" moment, something the reader does not expect, perhaps cannot expect.  

The ending must must tie up all loose ends. Think back to the fine novels you’ve read and fine films you’ve seen. The good ones will tie up each and every plot and subplot, no matter how small. 

The ending must be “right.”  There is no formula. The ending may be happy, sad, tragic or humorous. But it must be “right.” There is no guide for “right.” It comes with our sense of what a good story is.  The reader should be wholly satisfied, not somewhat empty.

The ending should have your characters face their dilemma and act.  No one likes a story where the protagonist wins because his mother-in-law solved the problem. That’s not a protagonist. It’s a passive observer. We want the person to act to solve his or her own problems, have his or her own revelation, take his or her own risks.

The ending must be logical.  The ending must flow naturally from the sequence of events prior to it. 

Then ending must not be by chance.  If you’re writing a crime drama, and the good cop protagonist happens to run into the bad guy at a market and arrests him there to end the story . . . well, the reader will groan.  Not interesting.  Example= Deus Ex Machina:  In ancient Athens a complex play with love, war, and revenge may end by having (really) a stage member lower god onto the stage by pulley, and then god makes everything right.  The whole drama is taken out of the characters’ hands. That's Deus Ex Machina – God by machine.
He says he didn't do it.
Sure.

The way the story ends must NOT be inevitable.  Give the reader what he wants. But, if he expects the way it’s going to end-- not a satisfying story.  In short, the ending should make sense within the world of the story.  Yes, it should be "logical", but not inevitable. 

Your protagonist must grow.  He or she is not the same person as before. More honest. More courageous. More trustworthy.  Something else. We, the readers, want to see a change. If my protagonist is the same person at the end as in the beginning, my story is (excuse the expression) shit. The protagonist must be a different person at the end. We, the readers, want that.

Your reader can “feel” the ending. The ending raises emotions. A “wow” is fine. A “yikes” is fine.  An “Oh, now I see,” is fine. Tears are fine. Anger may be appropriate. 

In most instances, an ending should be a surprise.  Even if the reader expects all to be okay in the end (The Fugitive), the reader should not be able to see how it comes about. (Again, “Give the reader what they want, but not in the way they expect it.”)

Every plot and subplot should point to the end, but not reveal it.  As the reader finishes the story, his or her mind should immediately be able to grasp how the ending “fits.”  The ending should cause the reader’s mind to race backward over the chapters and plots and subplots and see that it “fits.”  

The reader should discover that your ending is the only right one.  How many times have said, “I liked the story but the ending sucks.”  Not good. Our endings should be inevitable, “right,” and a surprise.  Again, “Give the reader what he wants, but not in the way he expects it.”
What happens when the CIA
get inside your mind?
Homework: As we watch films, TV shows and read books, pay attention to our inner emotions as the story concludes. See what “works” and what doesn’t. See if it feels “right.”  Ask yourself: Did the author give the person what they wanted, but not in the way they expected it? 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Tip #15: Our Characters Must Make Hard to Near-Impossible Choices.

Tip #15: Our Characters Must Make Hard to Near-Impossible Choices.

We all know about Richard Kimble from The Fugitive and his search for the one-armed man.  (Yes, it’s a movie and an early TV show, and we write novels, but the principles of “Story” are the same.)

Now, what if a friend of his says: “That Richard Kimble is a good man. He cares about people. He cares about everyone. I admire him.”

Or, what if Richard Kimble is placed in a situation where he is struggling for his freedom, for  his life, as he is trapped in a bus, a train is bearing down on it, and certain to demolish it!

What does he do? Does he run and save himself? No. Does he stop to save the life of a gravely-injured sheriff, one of the same ones who was going to put him away? Yes. And all of that while the train is getting closer and closer.

Two Questions:  
  1.  Which of the above is “telling” us what kind of person Richard Kimble is? 
  2.  Which of the above is “showing” us what kind of person Richard Kimble is?
Pretty clear, yes?

Annie's Story
Another question: Which one was more vivid and satisfying to you as a viewer? Which one could you really “feel.”

Point: Our characters must make choices. Tough choices. Near-impossible choices, in some instances.

We, ourselves make important choices too. Will we finish Chapter 2 of the novel we're writing or take crying Sammy to the zoo? Will we watch the final minute of the game or go upstairs to where Sally is waiting  in the bedroom?

Point: Our choices tell us who we are. They tell us what we value. They tell us about resolve and courage and our moral compass. Or lack of it. Our choices show the world who we are. 

Point: The choices our characters make show the reader who they are.

Which two fiction characters never really make important choices? Superman and James Bond. They don’t have to make choices.  We already know who they are. We know they’ll win. Our fun is simply in watching them fight evil and destroy the bad guys.

But our own characters cannot be so one-sided as Superman or James Bond.  They must have personal difficulties- such as family, work, sex, love, weight-gain, addictions, phobias, or something else that helps the reader see and feel the character, helps the reader relate to the character from the inside.  
We must put our characters in situations so that in making their choices they have to confront their biggest weakness. 

Example: What is Indiana Jones’ biggest fear?  Snakes.  And in the final scene, what must he overcome—that precise fear, snakes.

Point: The harder the choices our characters make, the more that character becomes known to our reader.

What was the hardest choice that any character had to make? ---To choose which one of her two little children will die in an Auschwitz gas chamber, and which one will live. After agonizing over the decision, the soldiers arrive and force the decision. She has to choose one child. Just one. And she does. Ugh. Talk about tough.

Does she explain her choice? Yes she does. (No spoiler here.) And her justification says everything about her.

Homework:
  1. Number the choices our characters make in our story. 1,2,3,4.  Then go back and see if these are difficult enough choices that the reader can feel the crux of the  dilemma while revealing that person’s inner character.
  2. Watch a TV or movie drama from beginning to end. Look for the choices in each scene. Are they difficult enough? How do they affect you as the viewer. Take notes.

And happy writing.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tip #14: A Lesson From a Dead While Male - PLOT

Tip #14: A Lesson From a Dead While Male - PLOT

To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man.  --Aristotle 

On Writing
My guess is that you don’t need another workshop. Or another proofreader to fix the commas and semicolons. Or another book on how to write according to the latest fiction trend: Vampires. Dystopian world. A female FBI agent.  

All of those are good, but not enough.
He says he didn't do it.
Sure.

So, let’s go back first. Back, like 2500 years.

There weren’t novels back then. But there were plays. And plays are stories, of course. Some worked. Some didn’t. It’s the same when we see a TV show or a movie or read a book—some work, some don’t. Why? What the big question.

What I’m suggesting is that we go back to what is universal. What is timeless. What always works. That we go back to Aristotle. He’s free. No costs for a writing seminar. Nothing to sign up for. No emails promising you how to sell or write better.

Who was he?
We know Aristotle as the brilliant philosopher and scientist.  But he also understood “STORY.”  In his time, he went from play to play trying to understand why some were good and some weren’t. And he found that some were bad, very bad. Some were good. Very good.

No, it wasn’t the actors. It wasn’t their diction. It wasn’t their costumes. It wasn’t the “love” or the “violence” that made a story really good or bad. It was other things. It was universal things.

These universals of story can be found in The Godfather, X Files, A Time to Kill, and 50 Shades of Grey. Of course it’s also in Hamlet and Grapes of Wrath.

What are they?  Plot. Character. Theme. Language. Rhythm & Spectacle. 

Here we're just going to look at plot.

Plot is the plausible cause and effect events of the story. This happens, and because of that this happens, and because of this, OH NO, THIS HAPPENS, and what are we going to do? and then the resolving of the tension, and finally saying good bye to the readers by winding up the story in a satisfactory way.


So, it looks like this. Here’s the cause and effect of The Godfather:

Plot: Step 1.  Introducing the characters and setting.

In The Godfather, it’s that first scene at the wedding and when Vito receives visitors who each ask him for a favor. In a very short period of time, we understand who he is, what he does, and the importance of him to his family, and vice versa.

     Do we have a story yet?  No.  Just people and places.

Plot: Step 2. Conflict:

Our stories are about conflict. No conflict? Then no story. No one cares. With conflict, now we are interested. Now we are hooked. Now we want to know how it turns out.
In the X Files, it’s when the saucers land and start killing people.  In Law and Order it’s when the bad guy does what he does, whatever that is, and now the officers have to figure it out, resolve it.

It can be in a comedy too. Remember You’ve Got Mail?  Here, the two characters don’t even know there is a conflict. But the viewer does.  Joe and Kathleen hate each other, but then each finds the other anonymously online, and their internet relationships grow into an online romance. But what will happen when the find out who the other is?  Feel the tension?

One more?


In Presumed Innocent Rusty’s life as a prosecutor is going well, very well. No conflict in his life. No problems. Then a body is found. And his semen is found in the woman.  Ooops. Have your attention? But he didn’t do it!  Or maybe he did. 

Plot: Step 3. Increased Action

Just having conflict isn't good enough. Events have to build up. In the vernacular: More shit happens. The good guy has a goal; he has to somehow solve the problem. Think The Fugitive. Richard has to find the one-armed man.  But every attempt of his meets obstacles. He’s arrested. He’s put on trial. The prison van turns over. The train is coming.  Gerard is after him.

This is classic “increased action.” It compelling and it’s fun. Just like in each of our chapters, each scene in The Fugitive has its own dilemma to be solved. Good story, no?

This is the middle of our stories. It’s the most difficult to write. Why? Because after the first conflict, our stories must build, and build and build. That’s hard. That’s what we have to do. That's the test of a good writer.

Plot: Step 4.  Climax
The truth is worse than the lie. 

Obviously this is the peak of the story. It’s the easiest to identify. It’s what we’ve been waiting for. It’s when Joe and Kathleen (You’ve Got Mail) finally meet. It’s when James Bond finally dukes it out with the bad guy. 

It’s when Walter White (first episode of Breaking Bad) escapes arrest. It’s when Joe Turner (3 Days of the Condor) breaks into the head bad guy’s home and confronts him and the assassin.

Note: The “Conflict” and the “Climax” are the easiest for us to write.  Building the story is where our skills really come in.

Plot: Step 5: Resolution

Here we find out what happens when the conflict is over. Does James Bond die? (Hint. No.) Does Richard Kimble (The Fugitive) confront the pharmaceutical villain and solve everything? (Yes.) Does Rusty (Presumed Innocent) die in the electric chair? Or does he find a way to explain his semen in the dead woman. (No spoiler here.)

Plot: Step 6: Denouement

Whew. The story is over. But the characters live on. Here we hint to the reader what the characters are going to do now. It’s happy. Even if it’s not happy, it can be satisfying if it’s done in the right way.
----

This is the plot structure that Aristotle set up for us. It works. It’s why we feel satisfied at the end of a book or movie or TV show. If we’re not satisfied, then something here was missing.

Why does it work? Because it’s the same as our own lives, even every day in our own lives.  It’s in our souls. It’s us. That’s why it works.

Homework:
Watch an episode of Law and Order. It's the easiest way to see each of the above universal elements in action. And of course monitor our own interest as we watch. 


Friday, January 15, 2016

Tip #13 For Fiction Writers: Thrusting Your Story Forward

Tip #13: How to thrust your story forward

By Peter Gilboy

Often we think our story is in its words. It’s not. 

Yes, the words must be clear, precise and provide us with a visual of its characters and what is happening.  That’s hard enough.

But it’s not the real thrust of our story.
He says he didn't do it.Sure. 


The real thrust story is what the protagonist expects and hopes will happen when he or she does something, and what actually happens. Often it's the reverse of what he or she expects and hopes.

For example, in one scene in the fine film The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford, of course) goes back to the hospital to find out who ordered a prosthetic limp like the one-armed man had.

Good, we think. And so does he. He’s going to get to the bottom of this. We’re getting there, close the end. 

We’re with Richard Kimble. We are Richard Kimble. We’re living his predicament vicariously. We want for him the same thing he wants for him—to find the one-armed man. We want Richard to succeed, and finding out who owns the particular prosthetic limb will finally do it.  The answer is at the hospital.

Not so fast.

At this point there’s, a gap between what Richard Kimble (and us) expects and hopes will happen and what really happens at the hospital. That’s the thrust of the scene. That’s the story thrusting forward.  If he finds everything he wants and resolves everything easily, where’s the story?

So, the story is not in the words on the page or the picture on the screen, it’s in the gap between what he anticipates and hopes for, and what really happens to him.
  • At the hospital, he’s found out.
  • He’s chased.
  • He’s shot at.
  • He escapes.  Whew!  

The whole The Fugitive story is itself a good example a thrusting story because in almost every instance what the character wants and expects doesn’t happen. Something else happens. And that something thrusts the story forward.  
Coming in February

  • He comes home one night. Does he find what he expects?
  • He goes on trial. Surely they’ll see the truth?  Do they?
  • After the bus crashes, he has a chance to escape. But what about the train bearing down on him?
  • When he’s chased, he can escape through the tunnels. Really?
  • He finds the crumby apartment where he’ll be safe?  Is he?
  • He goes to the hospital to get the solution to his dilemma and make everything okay. Is it?
We’re with him every moment. We anticipate for him. We hope for him. (Remember he is us.) 


In the thrusting scenes, what he wants and what we want . . . doesn’t happen. That’s how the story thrusts forward. That’s how every story thrusts forward. For Richard Kimble, It goes on and on like that, holding our attention, making us want along with the character.

Of course The Fugitive is a film. I use it only as an example of what a story is; how it works. Most of us have seen the same movie more than read the same book. The principal of a story is the same whether it’s on the screen or on the page.      

To repeat, that principles is this: Our character has needs.  Our character tries to fulfill those needs expecting something to happen.  It doesn’t.  Something else happens.  Something unexpected to the character and to us. 

That’s how a story thrusts ahead. And it makes a real good story.

What Happens with the CIA gets inside your mind.
Homework:

Take your favorite TV drama. Watch it closely to see what is expected versus what happens.  See how it pulls you in.

Then, go back to your own story. See where this principle of thrusting—expectation versus what really happens, is successful. Where can it be used in other scenes?  Where can it improve an already good scene?

And happy writing!


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tip #12 For Fiction Writers: Writing with the Unconscious; How to Cook our story.

Want to Know the Truth?

Tip #12:  Writing with the Unconscious; How to cook our story. 

Peter Gilboy   www.PeterGilboy.com

 We can’t write without using the subconscious. Our very idea for the story came from somewhere. Where? And even if we do plan the story, are the actual words we type planned ahead of time?  Or do they somehow arrive as we sit there?  Where did they come from?

 Think of it this way.  You have an idea. It comes suddenly, Where did it come from? Did you say to yourself, “Now I’m going to have a great idea?”  Or did it just, somehow, come on its own?

 The subconscious is well known to psychologists and depth psychology. They know we can’t force the subconscious because . . well . . . because it’s not conscious; we're not even aware of it during our day.

But psychologists also know that things can bubble up in us. From my own experience, I know that if something isn’t bubbling up for me, then maybe what I’m writing is just another 
version of Law and Order, or some sitcom, or something else wholly ordinary.

The unconscious is not ordinary.

Many author recommend against over-planning our story.  Get a direction yes, but if we plan it all out, not only is there no surprise for us but mostly likely no surprise for our reader either. They can see the climax coming.  Our readers are always trying to anticipate the next development in our story, see ahead of us, all the way to the conclusion. Their minds are racing forward to find the possible endings before we show the ending to them. 

He said he didn't do it.
 Sure.
In other words, our readers are calculating. If all we do is calculate too, there’s no surprise for either of us. It’s ordinary. It’s unsatisfying to the reader.

Again: The unconscious is not ordinary.

POINT:  Resist over-planning.  Resist rushing forward. Wait. Let the story dwell in us. Let’s cook each chapter, let it simmer there. Chances are if we push ahead, our scenes and dialogues will be right off some TV show. That’s not good enough. 

So wait. Stew. Go for a run. Take a bath. Take a nap. But always take a pad and pencil or a tape recorder with you. Some of the best ideas arrive at odd times. We can’t control when.

Listen to what bubbles up. Trust it. For now, at least. 

Consider this: That our story is already there, somewhere, and we don’t have to make it up. We have to discover it. We have to discover what’s waiting there for us.  And let the unconscious find it.

Homework: So when we’re stuck, or trying to decide on the next scene, don’t fight it. Don’t force it. Let's remember that we’re not totally in control of our story. If we were in total control, it would be just another TV drama. We want our story to be different.

Before starting a chapter, why not go for a run, or undertake some other solitary diversion? Keep the story in the back of the mind, somewhere right there on the border of consciousness. Let it cook there. See what happens. Get deeper in the story. Live it. We’re one of the characters. What is he or she thinking? What is he or she going to do NOW.

That’s the same place the great works of art came from.  The great novels. The great novels weren’t wholly planned beforehand, chapter by chapter, spelled out character by character. They rose up from inside the artist.  

That’s why we should also be reading top-notch novels. Watching top-notch films. View top-notch art. Avoiding TV. Avoiding typical romance and detective stories. We want something different. We want something better.  

Ordinary doesn’t cut it.  Choose to be different.

Happy Writing

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  
His website is www.PeterGilboy.com    You can contact him at Hello@PeterGilboy.com

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tip #11 For Fiction Writers: The dirtiest words of all.

Tip  #11  The dirtiest words of all.

By Peter Gilboy    www.PeterGilboy.com


  I consider the dirtiest words to be clutter words. Often they end in LY. Mostly they are adverbs. Sometimes LY words are adjectives too.
Want to know the truth?

Why are LY words dirty?  Because they say little. They’re weak. They’re just there because  . . . well, because they’re there. Sort of like when someone cusses just for the hell of it, sprinkling a sentence with unnecessary expletives.  

Yes, sometimes swear words are appropriate for our characters. They help define him or her, or help emphasize a moment.  “God damn!”  “Oh, shit.”  Here they might work. But if they’re unnecessary, then it looks like your character doesn’t have a vocabulary. You can be sure, then, that your reader will find the dialogue tedious.

-LY words are easy. They're cheap. They’re like a grinning used car salesman, or one of those 50% OFF EVERYTHING!! ads. They’re like a hooker who just lays there pretending to moan. It's a good show, but it doesn't mean anything."

Beautifully

Lovely

Carefully

Speedily

Rapidly

Accidentally

Gently

Fearfully

Defiantly

Joyfully

Stealthily

…and so on.

What’s wrong with these? They’re extra. They slow down the scene. Whatever they represent might be better understood through a more carefully-placed word or a better crafting of the scene.
He said he didn't do it.
Sure. 

“He ran quickly.”

Or?

“He raced.”  Better, yes?

How about this line: “She was dressed beautifully.” 

Can you see her? Have an image of her in your mind? 

No. The word “beautifully” brings no specific image of her. It’s extra. It’s cheap. Why not share the colors and textures of what she’s wearing? Why not share that her gown is low-cut or rides low on her shoulders, or how it falls around thighs. Maybe include how the heels make her taller and erect, or that fabric presses hard against his breasts.

In Jodi Picoult's book Plain Truth, an attorney says this to the defendant's relative:

"I'm going to have psychiatrist come out and talk to her."
Leda blinked. "A psychiatrist?"

Note that Leda didn't say it "hurriedly," "quickly," with astonishment or anything else.  She blinked.

Can you see the image? Of course. 


“The river moved slowly through the hills.”

Why not?: “The river wandered through the hills."


"She kissed him softly." Why not put it in a fuller context?

Why not? She leaned toward him and put her lips to his.

KEY POINT: 19 out of 20 times an LY word is not needed. They hurt our writing.

You can prove it to yourself: Pick up a Steinbeck story or a Hemmingway, or one of the fine current writers like Scott Turow, Jodi Picoult, Dean Koontz or John Connolly. Look for LYs. They’re not there. Or, some may be there, but only sprinkled in when absolutely needed
What happens when the CIA gets inside your mind?

Steven King adds this:
Adverbs...seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. …With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.  On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft

Homework:  We can go to Amazon and choose a book we’re especially fond of. Then click on the “Look Inside” feature. Read the first pages or the whole chapter. Search for –LY words.  Are they there? 

Then choose 3 or 4 books at random, doing the same thing. Compare Indie novels to traditional published. Look to see if the writing provides an image without using LY, or whether LY is used when another and better word could be substituted.

And of course, we can go through our own chapters and use the Word search function to find out own LYs.  See it they are necessary. Could the scene better, clearer, with a more carefully place word?

And happy writing.


Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  
His website is www.PeterGilboy.com    You can contact him at Hello@PeterGilboy.com