Can’t Keep Up? 7 Brilliant Ways To Finish Your Story

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Pedro Travassos

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Pedro Travassos

Today we have a special treat from Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing. He’s going to give us some ways to tackle one of the biggest problems plaguing writers—the inability to finish what we start.

*gets popcorn*

Take it away, John!

***

Do you live in a world of unfinished stories? Across the year, you’ve jotted scraps here and there, stuck an opening scene beneath a flowerpot, a closing line in a shopping list and a great cameo incident… well, you’ve forgotten where it is now but it was awesome.

Join the Club of Interrupted Scribes

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

You’re not alone.

We all know what happened when Coleridge was interrupted, when finishing Kubla Khan, by ‘a person from Porlock’. All that remains of his epic is an unfinished scrap.

More fragments, abandoned by great authors, have been found – centuries later – in laundry baskets, croquet boxes and golf bags than you’d believe. Or so Prof. K. K. Ruthven tells us in Faking Literature (2001). Maybe Shakespeare’s lost play Cardenio will one day be discovered beneath Donald Trump’s hair?

Improbable, yes. But so is Donald Trump.

Lost bits, found by chance, are the history of literature.

Joyce’s Ulysses consists merely of out-takes from other people’s work that he salvaged from the jakes of Dublin pubs. (Read Ulysses and see if you don’t agree.)

Seriously, have you written a dozen fine stories – almost ready to go – that you haven’t quite finished?

Once, that was my fate too. Bits lay everywhere, forlorn. My name was not Homer so I couldn’t rely on future savants piecing them together to create The Iliad.

Do you share my pain? If so, let me share with you my remedy. In fact, I have seven remedies.

Yeoman’s Seven Tested Ways To Get A Story Finished

ONE—Create your own scene hangers.

Image courtesy of Ed Dunens via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Ed Dunens via Flickr Creative Commons

You know what scene hangers are – and page hangers, chapter hangers and book hangers. (They’re the last scenes in a novel written to cue a sequel.) Hangers are artful lines, scattered here and there, that tease the reader to read on.

But why waste those magic words upon the reader? Write them for yourself.

Take a notepad with several blank pages. Scribble, at the bottom of each page:

‘Little did I know that…’

‘But her wish was not to be granted,’

‘There was a shadow behind the curtain. And it moved.’

‘What would happen now? Tomorrow, he knew, was not going to be an easy day.’

And so on.

Don’t you just want to finish that story? Now it’s easy. Go back and fill in the spaces. Delete those clichéd lines. And, lo, you have a story.

TWO—Devise your own Scrivener program.

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 9.55.59 AM

What’s Scrivener?

If you have to ask, you’re new to story telling. It’s a wondrous program that puts everything you need to complete a story in one convenient place on your computer screen.

Imagine a corkboard on your wall. In one corner, you’ve pinned character descriptions. In another, scene settings. Somewhere else you’ve stuck pictures, plot outlines, dramatic incidents, crumbs of dialogue… Plus links to web resources (research), videos and even music.

Some people do like to play music while they write, I’m told. Maybe Mahler for prose poetry. Rap for crime/suspense. It inspires terse. Jerky. Sentence fragments.

Now imagine that corkboard on your computer. Here’s the link to Scrivener (and, no, I don’t get a commission). Once learnt, it’s wonderful.

Problem is, Scrivener takes time to learn. Its Help manual is too technical for newbies and its built-in word processing program is, compared to Word, primitive.

Solution? Build your own Scrivener using the ‘sticky notes’ utility that may be on your computer right now.

My Windows 8 program lets me put up to 35 sticky notes on my desktop in a choice of six colours. I’ve assigned Green for settings, Pink for characters, Yellow for plot outlines, Blue for web links, and so forth. I can move them around the screen as I wish, to compile a story.

Each of my sticky notes will hold up to 6000 words. Potentially, that’s three whole novels in one place.

Graphics? You can’t put those in sticky notes. (At least, I can’t.) So do a montage of the pictures you need – say, of your key characters and scene settings – and make that montage your screen wallpaper. Every time you turn on the computer, you’ll be hurled into your novel – graphically.

Who needs Scrivener?

THREE—Try the ‘bricolage’ technique.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Linda Eng

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Linda Eng

‘Bricolage’ means a jumble of unrelated things, as in a patchwork quilt. Well, that’s what we’ve got already, haven’t we? Scraps of stories. So how can bricolage help us finish those stories?

Stop scribbling on paper. (Those little bits get lost.) Start writing on file cards.

Why? Cards are durable. You can keep them in your handbag or back pocket, ready to hand for whenever an idea strikes you. As soon as they bulge out of your pocket, toss them on the carpet and play solitaire.

You’ll see a plot take shape before your eyes. All you need do now is write other cards to fill in the gaps.

Just be sure to collate your card pack in the desired order – and hide the pack – before your spouse or other tidy person bustles in to sweep the carpet.

BTW: This idea works. I wrote one of my novels that way. But I had to lock my study door lest my wife fuss in with a broom.

FOUR—Write the END first.

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

 This is a variation on the ‘scene hanger’ gambit.

Your closing and opening scenes should be the most powerful in your story, right? The closure sends your reader away happy, intent on buying your next book. The opener gets them, agreably, into the story itself.

So devise a great closing line. Expand it into a paragraph, then a scene. Then write the first paragraph of the story so that, in some way, it reflects the last one.

Instantly, you have a ‘book end’ effect. The story acquires an inner sense of unity. It’s a perceived ‘whole’, synthetic or not.

Take a look at the short stories you admire most. I wager, most of them will echo – in some way – elements of their closing theme in the first paragraph.

Those elements are ‘book ends’.

It’s a snap to finish a story when you know, at the very start, where it’s heading to and coming from.

FIVE—Dictate your story.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

If you’re like me, you pen your first draft on file cards then type it laboriously into Word. That doubles your workload. Why not dictate your draft, from notes, straight into a voice recognition system? Then tidy it up?

You can lie back in your favourite chair with a glass of elderflower lemonade and bark to your willing slave: “Begin!”

I confess I’ve never mastered voice recognition. But I do know that a member of my story coaching program, Writers’ Village Academy, uses Dragon to create her stories. And very good they are.

I also know that Erle Stanley Gardner put out 66,000 words a week, and kept several secretaries on the go, by using a Dictaphone. And the prolific UK author Barbara Cartland would ‘write’ as many as five novels simultaneously by lying in her bath and dictating to her secretary. A willing slave.

Well, we can always dream…

SIX—Use a software program.

"Assistant" not included.

“Assistant” not included.

You’ll find a wealth of clever software programs on the web, many of them free, that will help you organize your work, brainstorm or mind-map. Making every component of a story visual is one step towards finishing the story.

It’s no longer an idea in your head. It’s an object. You can play games with it.

You’ll find a lot of useful programs for writers here. (But please do come back.)

The Top 55 Apps for Writers in 2016

At a pinch, you could even use Excel. Or, if you like a challenge, the internal hyperlink utility in Word. For example, you can write ‘Jim goes to the farm‘ then hyperlink ‘Jim’ and ‘farm’ to their character and setting descriptions elsewhere in the same file (or, if you really like a challenge, on the web).

The problem is, I’ve found, the more you play with software the more you play. And the darn story never does get done.

Keep it simple.

SEVEN—Don’t finish the story at all.

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 9.14.12 AM

You wrote those scraps for a reason. Each had its own merits. Could any one of them yield you a flash fiction story if you tidied it up, added a start and finish, and wove in a structure?

Some of the best flash fiction stories have grown out of a simple punchline, anecdote or dialogue snippet.

Just remember the Golden Rule: even a flash fiction story needs structure.

You can read The Ultimate Guide to Writing Very Short Stories here. (But please come back.)

So you’re still haunted by bits of stories (or a bit of a story) floating around your head or home? No problem. Here is your Bonus Tip #8:

Don’t even bother to write them down.

One sign of born story tellers, like us, is that we live in our minds. We tell stories for ourselves. It’s not imperative that anybody else overhears our thoughts, or even buys our stories. If we create them for our own fun alone there’s no compulsion to finish them. Is there?

Worth a thought…

Well, I had intended to write a compelling last line for this post, to finish it conclusively, but on reflection there’s no point. I’ve had my fun.

What about you?

How do you finish the work you’ve started? What tips can you share with other writers? Share them here. And have fun!

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 9.34.50 AM

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, is a top-rated Amazon novelist. He judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. You can find a wealth of ideas for writing stories that succeed in his free 14-part course at Writers’ Village.

Other helpful links:

Dragon

Scrivener

The Top 55 Apps for Writers in 2016

The Ultimate Guide to Writing Very Short Stories

Thank you, John for taking the time to help us out! Remember that comments for guests count double in my monthly contest so tell us about your unfinished bits of genius. Did you ever find a way to bring them to fruition? How did you do it? Did you use one of John’s suggested techniques or something else? Did you find an AH-HA moment today?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

Upcoming Classes!

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All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Beyond craft and to the business of our business?

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  1. #1 by ugiridharaprasad on April 15, 2016 - 10:20 am

    Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

    • #2 by Elizabeth Moravia on April 18, 2016 - 4:19 pm

      Writing the end first is one of the most successful techniques for achieving a perfect plot. Quite a few successful writers use them.

      Medical thrillers often ‘seeds’, innuendos, or points of reference along the way, but they can be done easily with this technique.

      You may remember the plot of a serial killer that used the limo as a stage for his killing. When the physician (who had become a writer during her internship was asked how she achieved such a richness of details the explanation was to write the end first, so she could place a fiber of the car seat somewhere and put this puzzle together. Her technique is very successful.

      The question is: some of us don’t know the End and have already started the book, but Dr. Yeoman has a phenomenal teaching about plotting and how to use a grid. It has been one of the most comprehensive instructions I’ve read on plotting, so if you, like me, can’t write the End yet try using what he suggests in his article about plotting (you won’t be disappointed).

      • #3 by Chris on April 19, 2016 - 3:20 am

        Seeding… Yes Elizabeth, that’s what I call it too. Writing on a word processor makes seeding easy, if like me, you don’t know the ending till something your characters do suggests one to you. That’s just how I write. I’ve often said that if I have to keep turning pages (when I’m writing) to find out what’s going to happen, hopefully so will my readers.
        When something major occurs… not just an ending… I’ll go back in the book to lay clues, seed info, even introduce a character so his/her appearance doesn’t come completely out of the blue.
        I’ve even gone back into earlier books in the series (that weren’t out yet) to make minor changes to suit a following novel… Continuity is important.

        One lesson I’ve learned was about the way some readers read books… particularly thrillers, crime novels, etc.
        A test reader of an early draft of my first book said how much she enjoyed it, but that she hadn’t understood the ending.
        Who’d shot the character at the end of the book, and why?… I thought I’d left enough pointers, but she’d missed them.

        Why? – Well, it appears that some readers of these kinds of novels scan through the detailed descriptions of places, situations, even characters, and concentrate on the action.

        Where had I left the clues? You guessed it… In the detail.

        I went back into the novel and laid some more obvious triggers… details that I hoped readers would then remember when I added a key detail to the killer as he left the scene at the end.
        He was a hired hitman. Another character had engaged him earlier, but my reader hadn’t connected the two events. She hadn’t realised that the ‘two’ people were in fact only one anonymous man.
        (I’ll say no more, as it would be a spoiler because the book – Transactions – is already out in e-book and print.)

        • #4 by John Yeoman on April 19, 2016 - 3:56 am

          I think it was John Dickson Carr who said that a suspense writer cannot be too lavish in distributing clues. The reader will invariably miss them, however gross they are. Carr finessed on this rule by scattering so many clues that the real ones were obscured. Even if they hadn’t been, I doubt if anyone but a crossword addict would have found them, among Carr’s complicated plots.

  2. #5 by Aul on April 15, 2016 - 10:33 am

    I strongly disagree with writing the ending of ANYTHING first. Usually, we tend to make the ending exciting or meaningful…and those are the parts that we actually look forward to writing. If finishing a story requires motivation, why would you write the exciting parts first? Then there’s nothing else to look forward to!
    Just a thought…

    • #6 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 15, 2016 - 10:43 am

      Remember this is a tip for those who can’t finish. If you are super stuck? You might need to change it up. Also, keep in mind that you might not KEEP that particular ending. It’s really just to get you moving again. I did that with my last novel. I got stuck, wrote the ending and it got me moving again. But the ACTUAL ending (though same rough location) was VASTLY different.

      • #7 by Aul on April 15, 2016 - 11:51 am

        Okay, I can see how that might work. I still feel like I’d be hesitant to try it. But at least it makes more sense now…thanks!

    • #8 by John Yeoman on April 15, 2016 - 11:16 am

      It depends on whether you’re writing for fun or finish, Aul. The inspiration for one of my better flash fiction stories started with a punchline: ‘Woman, get thee to a monastery!’ How could I weave a story out of that? It grew into 400 finished words. And I had fun too. You can see it here:

      http://www.writers-village.org/writing-award-blog/how-to-write-a-very-short-story-the-ultimate-guide-

      • #9 by Aul on April 15, 2016 - 11:57 am

        Ahhh, I see. Whether or not you’re writing for fun or finish definitely makes a difference. I didn’t think of that.
        And thanks for the post! It was a good read.

    • #10 by Parlor of Horror on April 15, 2016 - 12:49 pm

      I often write the exciting parts of a story first so I don’t get bogged down in set ups. Surprisingly, after I’ve written the most important scenes, quite often the story needs little else and is a better read because of it. Who says you have to write a story in sequence? Every one finds their own best way to write their stories, so whatever works for each individual is never wrong.

      • #11 by Aul on April 15, 2016 - 12:51 pm

        Sure, I can agree with that! You need to write in whatever way works for you. I guess my response seemed to general; really what I was saying was that writing the exciting parts first DOES NOT work for me.

      • #12 by John Yeoman on April 15, 2016 - 1:01 pm

        Very true. I hear that J. A. Konrath wrote his award-winning story The Big Guys in 20 minutes while parked beside a highway, sheltering from a storm. Whatever works for you, works.

  3. #13 by Susan Kaye on April 15, 2016 - 10:52 am

    I just wrote a rant about Scrivener for a workshop assignment. It has defeated me more than once. I did find a site that shows how to use Headings and the search feature in Word to mimic Scrivener. I use that and have no Scrivener induce anxiety.

    • #14 by John Yeoman on April 15, 2016 - 11:11 am

      Thanks, Susan. I had trouble with Scrivener as well, at first. Its built-in Help manual is no help at all. But the Scrivener User forum (find it under the Scrivener Help tab) is awesome, as is the Scrivener group at Google+. It told me how to insert a cover graphic in an ebook. For some reason, the Help manual doesn’t tell us that!

  4. #15 by foguth on April 15, 2016 - 10:57 am

    I know a lot of writers swear by Scrivener, but I do something similar to your ‘homemade version’. I write the document in word, but I also have a companion document where I keep my notes on characters, and locations, including flora and fauna. At the moment, the rough draft takes place in India, and one scene involves a train ride, so I have a train schedule.

    So, that’s 2 documents (I can paste graphics and photos into them). However, I generally put photos of characters and locations in a file on my desktop – particularly photos that inspire a scene.
    I also use sticky notes, but not for specific novels – I have one sticky note that lists fun cat names. (Did I mention that the hero of my YA series is a tom cat?) Thus, whenever I hear/think of a great cat name or title I add it to that list and when I need a name, I check there. Last week, I decided to use Whiskers Killmouskie because I thought it sounded like a great name for a retired military cat.

    • #16 by John Yeoman on April 15, 2016 - 11:20 am

      You can certainly do a lot with Word, if you experiment. I once planned an entire novel using Word tables. Then I became adventurous and sunk in hyperlinks and the wretched thing became more trouble than it was worth. If anything takes you away from writing, it’s a mistake.

      • #17 by foguth on April 15, 2016 - 11:31 am

        I tried hyperlinks, too… gave the document a spastic twitch, which was quite distracting. I only use them as a final touch when formatting e-books.

  5. #18 by johnscabin on April 15, 2016 - 10:59 am

    Kristen, I’m in Dallas, how can I contact you for novel coaching? Thanks, John Dawson

    Thumbed from John Dawson’s iPhone

    >

    • #19 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 15, 2016 - 11:05 am

      Just e-mail me at kristen at wana intl dot com😀 . Great to meet you!

  6. #20 by wanderlustywriter on April 15, 2016 - 11:10 am

    Agree with all of these. I actually just wrote about this: https://wanderlustywriter.com/2016/03/31/how-many-unfinished-novels-do-you-have/

    Sometimes it does help me to jot down bits of the climax and ending when I’m just starting out, even though I always have to heavily revise later.

    And agreed that some stories are just not meant to be finished!

    • #21 by John Yeoman on April 15, 2016 - 11:13 am

      ‘Agreed that some stories are just not meant to be finished!’ Ay, there’s not much you can do with dross. But sometimes, you can put fragments of it into the mouths of characters you don’t like😉

  7. #22 by 1authorcygnetbrown on April 15, 2016 - 11:44 am

    I have a whole series that I started back when I was a teenager that I never finished.

    Unlike some of the others here, I do try to know the end before I writer very much of the book because I was always one of those who would read the ending to decide whether I wanted to take the time to finish reading a book or not. Usually when I write, I end up cutting the first three chapters during final edits. A lot back story that doesn’t really add to the story but was useful to me in character development.

    • #23 by John Yeoman on April 15, 2016 - 1:04 pm

      That’s interesting, #19. Apparently, when folk are assessing a book in a bookshop they read the cover first, then the blurb on the back, then a bit in the middle (to sample the style), then they skip to the last page. It ruins a crime suspense story, of course, but I can see their point.

  8. #24 by brnjen12 on April 15, 2016 - 12:46 pm

    Reblogged this on Jeannie Hall Suspense and commented:
    How to get to “The End.”

  9. #25 by L.D. Parker on April 15, 2016 - 1:06 pm

    I didn’t know the end of my novel until I was well into it. The ending came to me one day when I was out hiking in nature, a place where I have routinely found much inspiration. Since I only write in order, I kept replaying the ending in my mind so by the time I got around to writing it, it was a relief to finally get it out of my head. Making notes is useful however to keep from forgetting key aspects of what you see in your head, I find.

    • #26 by John Yeoman on April 16, 2016 - 4:54 am

      Ay, a great story take us over, doesn’t it? Leave it alone and it will work itself out. Problem is, we still have to write it all down!

  10. #27 by Kathryn Jane on April 15, 2016 - 1:45 pm

    Reblogged this on Mystery and Romance and commented:
    Excellent advice! Thanks, Kristen Lamb🙂

  11. #28 by Renee Lannan's blog on April 15, 2016 - 2:20 pm

    yes, this struggle is real. I wrote part of two novels and never finished. But the time I was near 30 I was very frustrated with myself for being a writer who hadn’t yet finished a project. SO I’ve been dogged in the years since–count ’em–9 years since then. I am near the end of my book–I’ve done three drafts and an now just trying to get the word count down before I seek publication! As for how In finished–besides a dogged perseverance–I did do the note card thing. And, I just had to write my way to the ending, though it was long and meandering.

    • #29 by John Yeoman on April 15, 2016 - 3:39 pm

      Nobody got there easily, Renee. I remember seeing an original manuscript by some classic author. Was it Dickens? Almost every line had been slashed through, corrections were everywhere in margins (sometimes upside down). Typesetters in those days were patient souls. Today, with Word, we have it easy. But it was never easy.

  12. #30 by Alex on April 15, 2016 - 3:07 pm

    At times you have to let your ideas organically grow together and mature like fine wine. At other times you have to get them out and actually DO something with them. Force them! Some nice methods to kick your own butt here.

    • #31 by John Yeoman on April 15, 2016 - 3:36 pm

      Absolutely, Alex. I’ve just excavated an old story out of my sock drawer. I didn’t know what to do with it. Five months later, the solution’s obvious. Ten minutes work and it’s ready to go. Sometimes, we’re just too impatient. Let the story develop by itself!

  13. #32 by Jan S. Gephardt on April 15, 2016 - 4:29 pm

    Some of the problems listed here look more like organizational and retrieval problems than story problems to me. I realize that writers–especially us congenital “pantsers”–can be a notional lot, seized by inspiration at highly inconvenient moments.

    But my life has been made vastly easier by owning a smartphone that talks to my computer. Instead of scrambling for a scrap of paper and anything (broken Crayolas, anyone?) possible to make marks with, these days I am rarely far from my smartphone, and I periodically download the notes into a “grist for the mill” file if they don’t fit elsewhere. Bonus: even notes typed out in a moving vehicle with one’s thumbs tend to be more legible than those written on a napkin with a blunt crayon.

    I do like the way these suggestions accommodate many different thinking styles. No matter what your dominant “intelligences” are, you’re likely to find something on Yeoman’s list that suits your cognitive style.

    Thanks, John and Kristin!

    • #33 by John Yeoman on April 15, 2016 - 4:43 pm

      That’s a perceptive comment, Jan. I remember the days, circa 1985, when I drove all over the UK with a Dictaphone at my side. I dictated my thoughts as they came, then had my secretary transcribe them. She threatened to resign. So I married her. (True story.)

      ‘Even notes typed out in a moving vehicle with one’s thumbs tend to be more legible than those written on a napkin with a blunt crayon.’ Ay, I’ve been there, Jan. As my wife will. after 31 years, attest.

    • #34 by Jennifer Jensen (@jenjensen2) on April 16, 2016 - 9:36 am

      I dictate a LOT into the notes part of my iPhone. They magically show up in my email and I can copy/paste them to Word or Scrivener, depending on the project. Sometimes dialogue or setting, sometimes blog posts. I can’t seem to dictate scenes, but short bits? YES!

  14. #35 by nancysegovia on April 15, 2016 - 4:38 pm

    It might sound stupid but I use contest to keep me motivated to finish a story or a novel. I wrote my first novel in six weeks because I wanted to enter it in a contest sponsored by a writing convention. I wanted the professional feedback on it so I had to have it finished in time for the contest and it worked.

    This year shortly after my husband’s death one of my daughters gave me a link to a writing contest for a short story 8 – 12000 words to be included in an anthology. So I gave it my best and I finished it and it is now at my editors getting polished up. So I have found things like contest to be the motivation I need to finish a story or a novel. I guess it’s the chance of publication or the chance of winning a prize other than just getting published that keeps me motivated.

    • #36 by John Yeoman on April 15, 2016 - 4:48 pm

      Contests can be great motivators, Nancy. I know because my own Writers’ Village contest was once of the largest in the world, in terms of volume of entries. Few entrants expected to win. They just wanted feedback. And they were given a deadline, Any deadline is important to a newbie writer. It gets us off our butts!

  15. #37 by Deborah Makarios on April 15, 2016 - 7:07 pm

    Any solution that involves stationery is a good one to me🙂
    I find even when I’m juggling pieces of plot in rewrites, it still comes together better if I note key words on pieces of paper and juggle them round by hand. Somehow I need to see it all and handle it all, and a computer screen just doesn’t cut it for me.

  16. #38 by aurorajeanalexander on April 15, 2016 - 7:27 pm

    Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    One my favorite authors, teachers and bloggers, Kristen Lamb, has published an informative blog post about 7 brilliant ways to finish your story. The ideas are fantastic and I thought it would be great for as many writers as possible to read it.

  17. #39 by kakymc on April 15, 2016 - 7:29 pm

    “The problem is, I’ve found, the more you play with software the more you play. And the darn story never does get done.” So true. After spending days “playing” with Scrivener (hours I couldn’t afford to waste), I lost all my work when my backup failed. I humbly confess: Scrivener is over my head. I’m sticking with Word’s heading and search feature. I also have a separate document for my notes. With Outlook I can access my story on several devices including my smart phone so I can write on the go.

    I do have trouble finishing stories; I can always think of a more exciting idea to pursue than the one I’m currently working on. But these are great suggestions. Also, I’m setting specific goals and writing them down. My goal for this week? Brainstorm two possible endings for a short story idea.

    • #40 by John Yeoman on April 16, 2016 - 4:56 am

      I agree. Scrivener’s back-up facility leaves a lot to be desired. It allegedly backs up our work every few seconds so nothing can be lost. But then we have to find the latest backup. Where? It’s safer to do a manual backup now and again to a designated folder. At least, we know where that is!

  18. #41 by Serena Dracis, Author on April 15, 2016 - 7:47 pm

    I’ve heard Scrivener’s praises sung and toyed with getting it, but I just haven’t been sufficiently motivated. I never knew what it could do. I love the sticky notes idea! I’m so using that!

  19. #44 by Robyn Haynes on April 15, 2016 - 11:51 pm

    Very useful points. How did you know I needed them right now?

  20. #46 by Mysticalwriter on April 16, 2016 - 12:54 am

  21. #47 by Mick Canning on April 16, 2016 - 4:14 am

    As it happens, I have just downloaded Scrivener (mainly to format my book for Kindle), but I haven’t yet got around to playing with it – I know, I know, but the edit was very time-consuming! I did know the ending for this novel as I began to write it, and I think it made it much easier for me. I do tend to write a beginning, then an ending, and then see what happens inbetween.

    • #48 by John Yeoman on April 16, 2016 - 10:55 am

      That’s the true value of Scrivener, I think, Mick. It’s a very so-so word processor and, to be honest, we don’t really need all its features. But it produces a mobi file for Amazon at the click of a button. Or it can convert our story into any format we wish. As I have a very ancient Word program, with no conversion utilities, I even use Scrivener to produce pdf files.

      • #49 by Mick Canning on April 16, 2016 - 11:01 am

        Hopefully, it will be worth it just for that, then, John. I’ll still try the tutorial, to see what I think of the other features. You never know, it might work for me!

      • #50 by Chris on April 16, 2016 - 11:21 am

        The easiest way to produce pdf files is by pressing ‘print’. The print menu gives pdf as an option. Click it rather than printing the document.

  22. #51 by claudia on April 16, 2016 - 4:21 am

    Yes, of course, I will write the end first, starting now! We get so blind with details that we don’t see the greater possibilities! I am/was stuck, paralyzed by some details in my plot that needed fixing that I started to suffocate myself with my end stuck inside me, sucking all my air, like a big fish bone in my throat. The same way I would die if I didn’t remove that fish bone, my book will start to die if I don’t get that end out of me now! I never thought about just writing the end, getting rid of that growing disturbance inside me, to finally be free me to fix some problematic details in the middle of my plot. Yes, there isn’t one right way to set things on paper… Great tips. That’s Kristen, million thanks John.

    Btw, I don’t write in English… I write in my mother language!

  23. #52 by Chris on April 16, 2016 - 5:10 am

    Thank you, John. I’ve often wondered what ‘Scrivener’ was. Now I know, and it seems that I’ve created my own version on my old Mac’s ‘dock’ and ‘desktop’.

    One point… “ ‘Bricolage’ means a jumble of unrelated things, as in a patchwork quilt.”

    Maybe, but I prefer the French definition – it is a French word after all – it’s what we here in the UK call D-I-Y… Do it yourself… which I guess describes my home made Scrivener.

    As for the rest?… You’re spot on, though nowadays those scraps of paper and card can be files on your computer, all stored in that folder called ‘Work in progress’ or ‘Themes and ideas’… or any other name you give it… ‘Bits bin’ maybe?

    I also have ‘Reference material for plots’, where various technical stuff gets stored from firearms and explosives, to honour killing and forced marriage (themes in my latest WIP) as well as ‘Character info’ where all my characters are logged, and ‘Locations info’, because I write series crime novels, so continuity and not duplicating a name is important… unless, in the second case, it suits the plot. Places can be revisited, of course – I use real locations – and I’ve even made use of the confusion over there being a ‘Maranello’ (Where Ferraris come from) and a ‘Marinello’ (in Sicily) as a plot device, along with ‘Barcelona’ and ‘Barcellona’ (Sicily again)… all in the same story.

    • #53 by John Yeoman on April 16, 2016 - 10:52 am

      Welcome, Chris. Yes, a story is a collection of bits. The good news is that, if you keep all the bits you cut out, and you become as famous as Stephen King, you can publish your bits at an unspeakable profit. Is that called Residual Rights?

  24. #54 by Don Massenzio on April 16, 2016 - 6:10 am

    Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Here are some great tips on ways to finish up your story.

  25. #55 by John Wells on April 16, 2016 - 6:31 am

    Those scraps are not a story, just a scene or episode that may be part of a story and need to be worked in. A story consists of the change that happens to the protagonist as he pursues his quest. I agree that Scrivener is a great aid to writing a story, because it maintains an orderly flow of the scenes. Plot point one and two etc. need to be defined (a “cliff hanger” as you call it) where the flow of the story changes direction. I’m eighty four and in my day (before the wondrous Scrivener) I used outlines and file cards to which I had to refer lest my protagonist or antagonist eyes changed color or suddenly grew a mustache he’d had for twenty years. Love your blog. Lotsa luck.

    • #56 by John Yeoman on April 16, 2016 - 10:49 am

      Don’t forget to put all your Outtakes in a separate file, John. One day you’ll bless the day you did, when you need an apt phrase or quirky snip of dialogue. It didn’t work in the previous story but it might in the next one.

      • #57 by Chris on April 16, 2016 - 11:14 am

        I agree about the out takes… My publisher requested that a bedroom scene was cut down because the girl was under age (her age was important to the plot, so I couldn’t make her a year older.The fact that she was sleeping with an older man was necessary to give a sense of jeopardy for his character.)
        It was felt that Amazon might not accept underaged sex (though they sell Nabakov’s ‘Lolita’). It was a shame as it was described by a lady proof reader as ‘beautiful’, ‘sexy’ and ‘sensitive’… but it had to go.

        Interestingly, the book worked better with the dialogue cut and the action merely hinted at. It left more to the imagination.

        I edited the whole removed scene to suit the characters in a later book, ‘Deadweight’, and it worked beautifully. Nothing was wasted other than a couple of names and physical features.

  26. #58 by stuartaken on April 16, 2016 - 6:32 am

    Another great post, John.
    I’ve recently started using Scrivener and I know what you mean about the guide and the fairly primitive word processor. But I am enjoying it’s ‘organisational’ aspects.
    As for finishing, I suspect many beginning writers never finish merely because they are searching for perfection and make the mistake of constantly editing their work as they create it. I always get the story down first and then go on to edit. We use different parts of our brain (assuming we have one,, of course!) to create and to edit, so it’s best to separate these activities.
    My problem then isn’t so much ‘finishing’ as I enjoy editing, too. No, it’s just that I have so many ideas, I have several short stories lying around awaiting the editing process. Doesn’t happen with novels, as too much effort has gone into their creation to allow me to ignore them, but the shorter pieces then get shuffled to the back of the queue and even sometimes are forgotten! Fortunately, everything is in a file somewhere, so I can at least retrieve them, when I find the time.
    Thanks for a great post, John.
    And thanks, Kristen, for hosting it.

    • #59 by John Yeoman on April 16, 2016 - 10:47 am

      Nice to see you here, Stuart. I’ve always found editing to be the fun part. Hacking out those first words is work, tidying them up is where the real creativity begins. How many different ways can we express ‘He frowned’? (Watch out for my next blog post…)

  27. #60 by stuartaken on April 16, 2016 - 6:33 am

    Reblogged this on Stuart Aken.

  28. #61 by JustMe on April 16, 2016 - 8:49 am

    So many things in this post ring true for me! After hearing “Why aren’t you using Scrivener?” a million times, I tried it. Three times. I just can’t.

    Naturally, I tried the wonderful corkboard method. I loved it, but so did my cat. Did you know they make great scratching posts?

    I have been using the notebook / scrap-paper method for years. My purse is a bottomless pit of jottings. It’s like a grab-bag full of surprises. Hey, it works for me.

    And, ultimately, that’s what’s important. Don’t discount a method that works for you just because someone tells you there’s a better way. It may not be better for you. Stick to what does work for you, but continue to explore advice from others.

    The sticky note idea in this post? I’m stealing it. Brilliant.

    Thank you for sharing!

  29. #62 by Jennifer Jensen (@jenjensen2) on April 16, 2016 - 9:28 am

    Love the list! My problem is that I know the end, have written the end, have written the beginning and most of the middle, and it makes filling in the gaps feel like slogging through mud. Sigh. I’ll finish, out of sheer determination to have a second book to go along with the first, but the fun has gone out of it.

    I also love the flash fiction idea – what a great way to get ideas into a form to be finished, and feel like I’ve written something complete! And do a few of them and, voila! A collection!

    • #63 by John Yeoman on April 16, 2016 - 10:45 am

      Exactly, Jennifer. Short stories are fun to write and relatively easy to finish. Why slog your way through an entire novel? Write each chapter as a self-contained short story, with a continuing plot. Each will then have a close at the end – which can be turned into a transitional scene to link to the next story. Voila. Write 35 short stories and you’ve got a novel plus 35 potential entries for short story contests.

  30. #64 by Rachel Thompson on April 16, 2016 - 11:31 am

    I don’t seem to have this issue because I outline and have an idea where I want the story to go, how to get there, and what it’s about before I start. Once I have a concept, I work out characters or I have characters first that inspire building a concept to challenge them. Like in Larry Brooks’ model, once I have the major points and related cause and effects worked out, the rest is filling in the blanks. Plotting for each “cog” makes the story flow where it must go. This is not to say the creative process is predestine. I load the left brain,ignore it, and write with the right brain and fix the left brain stuff latter. Having an outline port of call allows me to swim out into the open story without getting tangled in nets or seaweed.

    • #65 by John Yeoman on April 16, 2016 - 12:00 pm

      I’m a plotter too, Rachel. I outline every scene, write the last scene first and then the first one. Some people say this stifles creativity. I think it spurs creativity. You may know in advance that you have to get Joe from a biker bar into a jailhouse, then out again, in 1500 words. But you still have to write that scene😉

  31. #66 by Rebecca Vance on April 16, 2016 - 12:12 pm

    I re-blogged this on my blog. I realize that outlining is optimal, but I have trouble outlining. Do you (or other commenters) have any tips you can share on outlining? Thanks so much!🙂

    • #67 by John Yeoman on April 16, 2016 - 2:29 pm

      You might find this post at my blog offers you some ideas for outlining, Rebecca:

      http://www.writers-village.org/writing-award-blog/a-3-step-way-to-plot-a-successful-story-%E2%80%93-by-michelangelo

      • #68 by Rebecca Vance on April 16, 2016 - 2:59 pm

        Thanks so much, John. I knew you would have a link for me. I love your blog and the help you provide.🙂

    • #69 by Chris on April 16, 2016 - 2:50 pm

      Hi Rebecca… I can’t outline either, so I don’t do it. I just decide of a couple of themes I want to include… maybe three… then write scenes around them, involving my characters (in my case some are regular ones as I write series crime novels). I let my characters lead me, and just write.
      I then put those scenes in an order, sometimes breaking them up as they happen at the same times chronologically, so that events happen in parallel.

      As the themes develop into threads, I then get an idea what kind of ending I want, then I write that… usually it isn’t the actual ending because I always try to put a surprise twist at the very end, on the last page.

      Once I’ve got an ending (I’ve often written at least half the book – say 50k words – before I write one) I then steer the threads I’ve written towards that ending, trying to twist some tension into them as I go. Once the threads meet at the end, the tension gets released to bring the story to a climax… then I write that last page twist.

      This technique has served me for five full length novels (so far… I’m on number 6 at the moment) as well as a short story and a novella as prequels.
      The two prequels and the first novel are out as e-books, with the novel in paperback too, while the rest are now with my publisher. The next will be published fairly soon as e-book and paperback, with the others to follow.

      I hope this helps. There’s nothing worse than trying to use a technique that you don’t do easily. If you can’t plan, or outline… don’t bother. Find another way.

      • #70 by Rebecca Vance on April 16, 2016 - 2:57 pm

        Thanks so much, Chris! That sounds like a great system. I have no idea about the ending yet, but I do want to start writing.

  32. #71 by kiwijennyny Harp on April 16, 2016 - 1:25 pm

    I especially like the idea of writing the ending first. Actually in my case it was mid way , yep there was a battle going on, because that gave me direction to steer towards. I finished my novel, but it’s bad. I am now rewriting and polishing and editing and it’s going to loom out of that fog like a ship bearing down on dinghy me.

    • #72 by John Yeoman on April 17, 2016 - 3:50 am

      That’s the only way to go, Jenny. Backwards 😉 Some folk say it kills creativity but I think it stimulates it. And it’s easier to retrace your steps than forge blindly into the gloom…

  33. #73 by robinofrockridge on April 17, 2016 - 2:13 pm

    I look forward to trying out John’s “finishing” gems. I have too many unfinished, unpolished works stashed in the PC.

  34. #74 by essaywritingbootcamp on April 18, 2016 - 1:38 am

    I’ve tried writing the endings to stories, but it’s usually rewriting the beginning that makes the difference. Or, as you once suggested, adding a prologue and then tightening the beginning. That makes a great deal of difference.

    • #75 by John Yeoman on April 18, 2016 - 7:25 am

      Welcome, Anthony. (It is you, isn’t?) You’re using an odd moniker😉 One simple way to write a story is to write the blurb first, the abstract of everything that happens, by way of a prologue. Then expand it. One virtue of this is that you then have the basis of a synopsis ready to go for an agency submission.

    • #76 by Chris on April 18, 2016 - 7:41 am

      That’s a bit spooky. I’ve only just added a page to the beginning of my current WIP… well, to the beginning of the first chapter, anyway.

      It’s a nice piece of pacy dialogue, involving a sub machine gun, a wheelchair, an open arsed hospital gown, and a chocolate bar… What else would you open a crime novel with?

      There’s already a prelude, the first part of which is directly lifted from the previous novel in the series.

      For those whose minds are boggling at the image created in my second paragraph above, here it is, (just to put your minds at rest) :

      The AFO cradled his Heckler and Koch in the crook of his arm as he held the door open. The hospital porter eased the wheelchair through, taking care not to catch the drip, hanging from its support on the back.

      The three men made their way back to the private side ward that Sergeant Anderson had been forced to consider as his home for the last few weeks. As colleagues whose paths had crossed several times in the past, the two officers engaged in the usual police banter, though Authorised Firearms Officer Jock MacIntyre kept alert, scanning around him, just in case there was a need for the weapon he held almost casually, but always ready for use. The porter, Mohammed, had got used to its presence and now barely noticed it.

      There was a vending machine in the corridor. The man in the wheelchair twisted round to speak to the porter pushing him,

      “Hang on a moment, Mo… Can we stop here a minute…” He turned to the man guarding him, “Jock?… Got any change, mate?… I really fancy some chocolate.”

      Jock MacIntyre shook his head in mock exasperation, “I dunno… Typical bloody CID… always on the scrounge… It’s a shame they don’t have pockets in those gowns.”

      Anderson laughed, “Pockets?… It hasn’t even got a back. My arse would be out in the breeze if I wasn’t sittin’ down.”

      Jock put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. He held them out to his wheelchair bound colleague,

      “Any good to you, Steve?”

      Steve Anderson looked at the machine, then turned to the orderly,

      “Does it give change, Mo?”

      The old Somali porter nodded, “It’s supposed to, Sergeant… but you’re better off using the right money, ’cos it’s often out of change even when the little red light isn’t lit… They make more money that way.”

      Steve laughed, “Yeah, Mo… We’ve got one at the station like that… an’ you can call me Steve, y’know… I’ve said it before, there’s no need for formality is there?… Anyway… How much is it?… Number three.” He leant over for a better view, “You’re going to have to push me closer… unless one of you can put the money in for me.”

      Jock chuckled, “Drop your keks, an’ I’ll have a shit for you… you lazy sod.”

      Mohammed smiled at the Scotsman’s comment, then took a pound coin from MacIntyre’s open hand and dropped it into the slot,

      “Number three, Sergeant… er, sorry… Steve?”

      Anderson nodded, “Yeah… Fruit an’ nut… Cheers.”

      When the porter pressed the button, the chocolate bar rolled forward on a kind of spiral, then dropped into the hopper with a clunk. He reached down for it, then handed it to the man in the chair.

      “There you go, Steve… I hope you enjoy it.”

      They turned into the ward, past the chair outside the room, that Jock MacIntyre was supposed to spend his shift sitting on as he guarded Anderson. It had been agreed that he could sit inside instead during the day, to keep the invalid officer company. Steve’s boss, DI Wilson, had deemed the threat to the detective to be lower than at first feared.

      The porter locked the brake on, “D’you want to stay in the chair, Steve?… or back in the bed?”

      “If you could help me into the bed, please Mo… I might try for a bit of a kip in a while.”

      Mohammed took his arm and helped him climb onto the solitary bed in the room. Steve was still weak from his gunshot wound. It had been touch and go at one point whether he’d survive.

      Jock sat on the chair beside the bed, “Is your Mel coming tonight, Steve?”

      Steve shook his head, “In the morning, Jock… She can’t get here tonight…” He broke off a piece of the chocolate, then offered the bar to Jock, “Want a piece?”

      “Not for me… but thanks anyway. You enjoy it, mate… You’re the invalid.”

      * * *

  35. #77 by lauriegienapp on April 18, 2016 - 6:08 am

    those who complaint that Scrivener’s word processing is primitive, reminds me of those who try to use Excel like Word with blocks.. and then get frustrated when they can’t get it to work right.. Scrivener is not intended to be a word processing program… and I’ve long suspected that they major issue with those who ‘don’t get it’, is that they attempt it with the wrong attitude. Yes, when I was in grade school, we were given assignments that required us to use index cards to write papers. We didn’t leave it on the index cards, we ultimately put it together, and then polished the paper. And for those who ‘don’t get’ Scrivener, if they would be more flexible and think of it as a high-tech form of index cards (with some added features), I suspect they’d be quite pleased.
    I don’t care if people use Scrivener or not… I have no dog in that race… but it’s annoying when people say things like it’s a primitive word processor. If that’s how you feel, you’re missing the point.

    • #78 by John Yeoman on April 18, 2016 - 6:25 am

      Good point, Laurie. I think the issue arises when people do try to use Scrivener as a word processor, then stumble against its lack of features. (For example, if you try to insert a Table into a non-fiction book in Scrivener that table has only a very basic functionality.) My workaround is to compose in Word then import the Word file into Scrivener. I then have access to Scrivener’s powerful chapter management and publication utilities.

  36. #79 by Justess on April 20, 2016 - 11:00 am

    This is so incredibly helpful! I’ve got a deadline coming up (which is a first for me) and I will be referring to this article while I complete (Do I mean that? “Complete?” Yes!) the first draft of my play.

  37. #81 by Teleprechaun on April 24, 2016 - 7:36 pm

    As a beginner, I have found Walter Moseley’s simple advice to be the most valuable: work on your novel every day, without exception. It might be “duh!” advice to most, but it has turned my scrap-paper writing habit into a consistent visit to the same world and characters.
    I still write on folded bits of paper, but now I copy them later onto loose-leaf sheets and file them into my WIP binder where they fit best. The task of copying my scraps is always good warmup to get my head back in the story.
    Thanks for adding to my options; there’s a lot of great advice here!

    • #82 by John Yeoman on April 25, 2016 - 3:12 am

      Thanks, that’s not duh advice. It’s eminently practical. I once talked with a lady who was an Olympic gold medalist. “It was very easy,” she said. “I just had to practice on the track for three hours. For twenty years. Every day of my life.” A sobering thought!

  38. #83 by Lisa Ciarfella on May 26, 2016 - 12:23 pm

    This is a great post. I especially liked the tips on using cards. Another author recommended using them to write chapter summaries, however much could fit on one side only. that way, it’s succint and organized in a manageable way. I tried it for my my first eight chapters, and it’s a good idea.
    And I can always take out and re-shuffle them if I need to.

  39. #84 by Lisa Ciarfella on May 26, 2016 - 12:24 pm

    Am going to share part of this out now on my blog…

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