Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Not-So-Minor-Changes, Part Two

(Part Two in a series of tips about how to make major changes to your novel while editing. You can read Part One here.)

Two: “My beginning/ending is a letdown, and I don’t know what’s wrong.”

For some reason, the first and last thing we write tends not to be our best work. (Maybe you’re one of those people who write brilliant opening lines and climaxes in the very first draft. Congratulations. Also, I hate you.)

Honestly, with this one, there’s only one solution: try things. Open with a flashback from the narrator’s childhood. Open right in the middle of a scene when the readers don’t know what’s going on. Open with dialogue between the two main characters. Open with the perspective of the murderer. Open with anything but an alarm clock going off or a dream sequence (both clichés that have to be done really well to be original).
You know what I love about this picture? The fact that "Keep Calm" posters have become just as cliche as the story device listed on this one.

Try an ending that explains what happens to every single character, as well as one that leaves several subplots dangling. Try an ending right after the climax, and one that rambles gently through a scene of reconciliation and repair afterward. Try letting the narrator address the reader directly, try a final exchange between the main character and someone important in his or her life, try a graveside goodbye, a letter, an introspective assessment of what happened, a bystander’s observation on the whole affair. Try anything and everything, and go with what you like best.

(Note: this is not the same thing as "go with what your friend likes best"or "go with what feels safest" or even "go with what's marketable." It is also, however, not the same as, "go with what you like best even if several editors said it didn't work for them.")

Most of all, try an ending with hope. That doesn’t mean your last few pages have to be happy. Actually, if you like, nearly everyone on your cast list can be dead, but the reader has to feel that they died with purpose, or that tomorrow will be better, or that we learned something very important about people and life and love. As Anne Lamott advised writers in Bird by Bird: “In general…there’s no point in writing hopeless novels. We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.”

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