Once again, I invited blogger and copywriter Alex Limberg to spread his nuggets of wisdom amongst us. Today, he is closing in on closings. He is showing us several “typical closing styles” you can use as templates for your own stories. Yes, just rip them off mercilessly. Alex brings in a few famous authors like Agatha Christie, George Orwell and Bret Easton Ellis, so you can see one brilliant practical example for each closing. Make sure to download Alex’s free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to make your own stories awesome. And here is the beginning of the end…:
The beginning, so they say, is the most important part of your story. And that might very well be true. Or how do you think your reader will get to experience your genius climax, if a sleep-inducing beginning has put her into a coma long ago…?
However, the end is what your readers will take with them from your book. It’s your closing argument and the last thing they read. It’s what they will remember when they think back to your story in a couple of years, if they remember anything at all.
So you better make your ending count.
Story endings also have some special kind of magic to them. That feeling when you finish a great book you really enjoy, isn’t it… epicness? A grand feeling that stays with you for a while?
Here is the good news: A story ending to remember isn’t even that hard to write. You will now see five typical endings that will leave your reader in delight. Authors use these five endings all the time, and that’s because they work really well.
If all else fails, just use these examples as templates for your own story. That’s not very creative, but no harm done.
Also, if you want to thoroughly check your plot structures, including beginnings and endings, characters, dialogues, and much more, you can download my free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to test your story. It will help you make every part of your story tight and awesome.
Here are five archetypical closures that work astonishingly well, with one famous example for each:
1. Get Them by Surprise
Surprise works every single time. That’s because us humans are just curious creatures. You could uncover a surprising fact or give the action a surprising twist. Anyways, your readers will appreciate being astonished; after all, that’s what they are reading stories for.
Your readers will have certain expectations. They depend on the genre, the protagonists, the language, and so on… Be aware of your readers’ expectations. Put yourself in their shoes. Then give them something they don’t expect, but still makes sense for your story.
Maybe the thief turns out to be the narrator’s own husband or even the narrator herself. Maybe the girl doesn’t pick between her two suitors, but instead marries their uncle. Or plumber.
Agatha Christie, the master of plausible surprise, shows us perfectly how it’s done in And Then There Were None. Ten visitors are trapped on a small island and murdered one by one. As nobody else is on the island, it’s clear one of them must be the murderer… but who?
One suspect after another is snuffed, until only one person is left alive. It’s now clear she must be the murderer, until… the highly unexpected closure reveals she is not. The novel ranks amongst the bestselling books of all time.
2. Play Their Sentiments with an Elegiac Fade Out
Milan Kundera takes a very different approach when he wraps up his The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “Up out of the lampshade, startled by the overhead light, flew a large nocturnal butterfly that began circling the room. The strains of the piano and violin rose up weakly from below.”
Kundera’s classic novel fades into the distance like a piece of music. The ending doesn’t want to bring suspense, puzzle or get you to think. It’s all about mood. It’s a slow ending.
Try to make your reader really feel the power of the moment, be it terrified, happy, sad, or sentimental.
Think of little symbols, like the butterfly above; with Kundera, it might stand for lightness, repeating the theme in the novel’s title. You could zoom in on a tapping finger or a dew drop, or zoom out to show wooded hills or a rural mansion. Landscapes and weather make very memorable finishing moments (“…and great shaggy flakes of snow began to fall.”).
Leave the reader with a unique vibe, and she will appreciate it. Sometimes, it’s all your closure needs.
3. Throw Them a Punchline
With this one, you have to be careful. Do you know that situation when Uncle Albert at the holiday lunch table makes a big fuss about his upcoming joke, but the punchline is almost non-existent? You don’t want to be like that. You could tell a joke or describe surprising action, but make it count.
Your punchline doesn’t have to be funny. It could be an action or a simple observation. In any case, it should connect to the stories topic, even if it’s just a symbolic hint. Otherwise it will be up in the air and look arbitrary.
George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is one big parable on how totalitarian systems arise and thrive. It’s told in an animal world. Look at the clever, indirect and also depicting note Orwell ends on:
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
4. Leave Open Questions and Create Suspense
If you want to tickle your reader with suspense, cue an open ending: Ok, the Apaches are defeated, but will they be back again? Got it, the starship has escaped the pudding-like aliens, but will it ever make its way home to planet earth?
These kind of endings will keep your readers on their toes and make them long for more. But be aware that they can also be very unsatisfying. After all, your reader bought your book so he can hear from you what happened. “Just imagine the rest yourself,” can be a little unsatisfactory. But if you have delivered a great deal of action beforehand and if the question is rather vague, it might be worth it.
Let’s showcase another one of the most successful novels of all time, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. It ends with Scarlett O’Hara longing to be together with Rhett Butler again – but can she? Also pay attention to the nice rhythm that keeps these phrases flowing: “I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”
5. Repeat the Theme of the Opening Scene
Whatever your story is about, it probably circles around one specific topic: Be it the struggles of love, the rewards of honesty, or whatever else. It’s what keeps your readers breathless throughout the story. Now give them one last reminder of what they came for, one condensed moment of your topic, a big final exclamation mark!
You have many options to repeat your main theme in the closure. Think of people, actions, details.
Maybe your story is about the importance of friendship, and you wrap up with one friend putting a patch on the other friend’s abrasion. Or you end on one friend smilingly watching the other friend’s bag while she is away. Or a close up on the yin and yang badge on that very bag. It might be very simple, but it automatically gains meaning because it’s the last part.
Bret Easton Ellis’ nihilistic novel American Psycho starts by describing a graffiti with the text “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”
The novel fittingly ends with a nihilistic paragraph as well. Large parts of the following text read arbitrary in content and form. In the end the very last words of the novel spell it out clearly: NOT AN EXIT.
“[…]this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so, well, yup, uh…” and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry’s is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes’ color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.”
You can end your stories in an infinite number of ways, but these five closings will intrigue your readers, no matter what. They will evoke joy, melancholy, surprise and other powerful feelings in your audience, and your readers will remember how they felt about your story for a long, long time to come.
Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Test your endings, beginnings, plot, characters and much more with his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.
Finished with your endings, Alex?
Kristen here. Now tell me: Have you used one of these five endings before? Which one of them is your favorite? Is there one you specifically like or dislike as a reader? How come even endings have beginnings? And why are sausages the only things with two endings?
Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, 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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Today we launch NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). This challenge is to see if we can write 50,000 words in a month. Though 50,000 words is not quite a novel, it IS a professional pace and for those who are new? This is probably going to feel like running a marathon the day after making a resolution to actually use that gym membership. It will push you.
Whether or not you are doing NaNo, these tips will help you go pro because for the pros? Every month is NaNoWriMo.
Most of us are going to have to work a day job and write. We also have a family and like me, you probably have spoiled them by actually feeding them every day. The world is not going to pause because we are writing a book.
Other writers frequently ask how I somehow manage to get a lot of stuff done, despite my having the attention span of a fruit fly…with a bad crack habit. Here are 10 ways to help you be productive even if OOH! SHINY!
…even if you tend to be
a tad majorly ADD. The following tips are what help ME stay focused. I am NOT a doctor or psychologist or ADD expert. I’m a Jedi master, warp engine inspector, and WRITER so you get what you get.
1. Make lists.
I get distracted easily, so a list reminds me of what I need to get accomplished. I make separate lists—housework, fiction, non-fiction, business stuff, global domination using sea monkeys. Then, once I have the list, I do the hardest thing on my writing and business lists FIRST (housework can WAIT).
Like Covey says…
Never mistake the urgent for the important.
Do that NaNo word count right away. Just get it DONE.
2. Understand that feelings are pathological liars.
Writing is a profession, not a playpen.
Professionals ignore their feelings and do it anyway. Only children, amateurs and spirit mediums listen to their feelings. Feelings are fickle, lazy, and secretly jealous of your work and a tad pissed that you no longer hang out with them as much as you used to. The secret to success is to work your tail off. Be willing get up earlier and stay up later than others. Be willing to do what others won’t.
But I wanna write books. I don’t wanna do social media, toooooo. It’s haaaaard.
Yes. It is. There are many reasons this profession is not for everyone.
3. Use The Force…of Self-Discipline
Who cares HOW you get things done, so long as they get done?
I use the “Swiss Cheese” approach. I have my list and I take bite after bite after bite until the work is finished. Every book can be written in 250, 500, or 1,000 word bites. I CANNOT work linearly, so I don’t try and yes I was always in trouble in school but public schools were designed to train factory workers and corporate mind slaves, not people who get paid to play with imaginary friends.
4. Mix it up.
I am a writer, wife, entrepreneur, teacher, and mom who has yet to make enough money to afford servants (which sucks), and cats make lousy slaves. This means I get to do most of the cooking, cleaning, laundry and housework. Write your 200 words, fold a load of whites, empty the dishwasher, then write another 200 words.
I LOVE audio books. I can always tell writers who don’t read. Want to be a great author? Read as much as humanly possible. I listen to audio books while doing housework. It makes the dishes go faster and hones my skills.
And I don’t want to hear, Oh well when I am writing I don’t like to read because that author’s voice will bleed over into my work.
All I have to say about that is If only you could be that frigging lucky!
Yes, please let Gillian Flynn infiltrate and hijack my work. Like NOW!
5. Suck it up, Buttercup.
Understand that sometimes we will have to sit for a long time and focus. It’s hard. Whaaaaaaahhhhh, but anyone who thinks being a writer is a fluffy hamster dream has been hanging out with their feelings…and feelings lie, sabotage and will talk you into living on ice cream and cookie sprinkles.
6. Make mean writer friends.
Yes, the Swiss Cheese approach works well for people with ADD, and yes, there are times we need to duct tape our a$$es to the chair. This is why I befriend really mean people who kinda scare me. On the surface my friends are funny and sweet and would do anything for a friend…but that’s the issue. They will do anything for a friend, including ordering a hit on my television.
Come hang out on WANATribe. It is a Ning I created just for writers and guess what? It is all writing all the time and no one spams or trolls or talks about the election because I am a loving but vengeful god and will smite them. So if you need to escape Facebook and find those mean friends? We are there. We have been doing sprints in the Main Room IM for A YEAR.
I kick your @$$ every day free of charge.
*polishes riding crop*
7. Ditch loser friends.
We all have them or have had them. People who like to complain, make excuses, indulge in their feelings all the time.
Ditch writers (and other people) who believe in luck, not work. Laziness, apathy, and whining are contagious. Treat excuses like EBOLA. A friend coughs
blood excuses all over you, and, within two to three days, you start coughing up blood excuses, too…until your dream of being a writer liquifies and bleeds out and I hope you’re happy with yourself.
8. Forget perfection.
Perfection is an urban legend, started by Feelings (because Feelings are a needy boyfriend/girlfriend who don’t understand the world does not revolve around them.)
The world doesn’t reward perfection; it rewards finishers.
This is the big lesson NaNo is really trying to teach you. Often we lose focus on what we are REALLY doing, because we are getting sidetracked with nitpicking. Guess what, no half-finished novel ever became a runaway best-seller…but more than a few crappy-but-finished ones have.
Often ADD can be fueled by being too sedentary. Human bodies were not designed to sit on their @$$e$ all day. Ever have a puppy that chews everything and is into everything and short of strapping itself to a rocket is just being a GIANT PAIN IN THE @$$?
How do you get it to behave? Put on roller blades and run puppy until puppy wants to slip into something more comfortable…like a coma. ADD people are human puppies, so stop piddling on the carpet…I mean, go get a little exercise and your focus will generally improve.
Again, I strongly recommend audio books. I walk every day and I have made my way through a large chunk of the NYTBS list.
10. Drink lots of water.
Human bodies are a hydroelectric system, and water enhances conductivity. Cool writer ideas/thoughts work this way. Muse Pixies of Awesomeness are conducted through your brain to your fingers and they bring the cool story stuff. MPAs like to travel via fairy, or ferry on WATER. They can’t travel if the waterways are too dry and moor them on a cookie sprinkle…and then you can’t focus.
It’s science. Don’t argue.
I hope these tips help, because finishing NaNo is no easy task. In fact, I am about to get to MY word count for the day and yes I am over on WANATribe. Again, if you NEED help and accountability I am there five days a week no matter what so no excuses. Last year everyone who sprinted finished Nano in record time…because they had to keep up with me (I finished in 11 days). If you want to really experience the professional pace, come join me.
Those of you ADD folk out there who’ve paid attention to this point, first of all, CONGRATULATIONS!!!
…now back in your hole.
It writes the words or it gets the hose.
What are your thoughts? Struggles? Tips? Words of wisdom. It’s okay. You have permission to get back in your hole after you comment😀.
It rubs the elbow grease on. IT RUBS THE ELBOW GREASE ON! *pets fluffy white dog*
I love hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, 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. I will announce October’s winner shortly. Just got back from LA and need time to catch up.
Today I have a special treat from a long-time writing friend of mine, Kait Nolan, introducing a cool tool by another good friend Susan Bischoff. This is great information for any writer that will serve us far beyond November because this goes beyond NaNoWriMo.
I have said this before and will say it again and again. If we hope to ever make a living writing novels, we are not going to make our income off ONE book. We must harness the power of compounded sales. Aside from the rare fluke, this is always how writers have become pop culture staples. From Stephen King to Neil Gaiman to Anne Rice to Larry McMurtry, careers are made with more than one book.
But if it takes us five years to write the first novel and another five to edit the mess into a final product? We might want something to speed up the process and Kait is here to help with that. Additionally, NaNoWriMo is no easy feat. Great we finish, but better if we finish with something that can be shaped into something others want to pay to read. Ending up with an unsalvageable mess CAN be avoided.
I do a lot of teaching on this blog and feel free to roam the archives. But I also like taking time to direct you guys to the best resources to get you where you want to go.
Take it away, Kait!
National Novel Writing Month is nearly upon us.
Writers everywhere are making their vows to buckle down and crank out 50,000 words during the month of November. It’s one of the headiest times to be a writer all year, with hundreds of thousands embarking on the same mission. Never will you find more opportunities for sprint partners or writer camaraderie. There’s a fever that goes along with November that’s absolutely unparalleled. We are mighty! We are invincible! We are writers!
There are differing levels of preparation that go into NaNo.
A deep clean of the house (because you know you’re not cleaning a thing until December 1st). Maybe an epic weekend prepping freezer meals so that your family has something other than fast food to eat. A sharpening of the blade you’ll use to threaten whoever dares interrupt your precious writing time. And, of course, pre-planning of the NaNo novel itself.
Some people start with the vaguest of ideas and figure they’ll pants their way through it, fueled by Red Bull and raw enthusiasm. Most of those will fall by the wayside as the month rolls on, drowning under real world concerns or floundering in the land of asdfjkl; because they can’t think of what comes next. If they finish NaNo at all, they look something like this.
Others may develop deep and detailed character dossiers or do massive worldbuilding, complete with annotated map. Still others may wander down that road of outlining so that they know exactly where they’re headed. Or think they do.
These folks are likely to get further in the process because they have, to some extent, eliminated the guesswork that is such a timewaster. Even some kind of plan will keep you plodding forward in your plot and get you across that finish line. And that’s AWESOME. Because hundreds of thousands of people never do that.
Finishing is HUGE.
But wouldn’t it be better if, when you crossed that finish line, you actually had a book that resembled…you know, a book? As in a story that bears strong resemblance to a salable tale? Because as fantastic as writing “The End” is, if you didn’t do the right kind of planning, chances are the crash from that NaNo high is going to be brutal when you realize you have to write the whole thing over from the beginning.
I want to tell you how to avoid that. I want to share with you the deep secret I’ve been using for years to crank out novels that are, other than limited revisions, done right the first time. That system is The Story Toolkit by Susan Bischoff of The Forge Book Finishing.
Susan has been my editor for more than a decade, and the Toolkit arose, in part, because she kept seeing clients making many of the same mistakes, over and over. She wanted to create a tool that would, effectively, take somebody by the hand and lead them from idea to a solid, ready-to-write outline. And I’m proof that it works. This is the system that has allowed me to put out multiple books a year, despite the fact that I’m working one full-time and another part-time job, on TOP of writing. It’s all about efficiency and working smarter. Through a series of worksheets, The Story Toolkit asks the RIGHT questions to help you hone your glimmer of an idea into a viable premise and clear concept. Y’all, it’s like having a developmental editor sitting on your shoulder, helping point out the weak spots so you can shore them up before you even start! I don’t write my books without it.
So if you’re planning to NaNo (or if you’re just looking to improve your writing game), I encourage you to grab your copy of The Story Tookit today so that you can plan your novel the smart way and increase your odds of doing a victory dance come midnight November 30th! The ebook version is on sale for an introductory NaNoWriMo price of $2.99 until the end of October. Or you can nab the paperback for handy-dandy reference.
Thanks so much Kait! I am also offering a class this Saturday (Plotting for Dummies) and two hours of this class can literally save your Nano novel. Yes, this will even work for the Pantsers! All recordings come with purchase price even if you can’t make the actual class. And sure, the class is $35 but that beats the $3500 it would take to get a developmental editor to repair a mess. Also, feel free to peruse my archives for all kinds of free instruction. We really do want you to succeed!
What are your thoughts? Are you tired of starting stories that seem great to begin with then fizzle? Have you finished NaNo and what tools did you enjoy using? Have you ordered the razor wire to put around your desk next month?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, 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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Check out the NEW Plotting for Dummies class below!
All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.
NEW CLASS! FRIDAY October 21st Plotting for Dummies
Are you tired of starting book after book only to lose steam and be unable to finish? Do you finish, but then keep getting rejected? Do you finish, but it takes an ungodly amount of time? Sure, great you land an agent for your book, but you don’t have FIVE YEARS to write the next one?
This class is here to help. The writers who are making an excellent income are not doing it off ONE book, rather they are harnessing the power of compounded sales. This class is designed to help you learn to plot leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner (even for PANTSERS!)
Learn the basic elements of plot, various plotting techniques, how to test your seed idea to see if it is even strong enough to be a novel and MORE!
SATURDAY, October 22nd Blogging for Authors
Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.
The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.
The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.
This class is going to cover:
- How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
- What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
- How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)
- What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
- How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
- How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
- How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
- How can a blog help you sell more books?
- How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre.
Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.
Kait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. This Mississippi native has something for everyone, from short and sweet to Southern contemporary romance to action-packed paranormal—all featuring heroes you’d want to sweep you off your feet and rescue you from work-day drudgery. When not working or writing, this reformed Pantser is hanging out in her kitchen cooking and wishing life were a Broadway musical.