Monday, November 28, 2011

Last Tricks to Finish

Let's say you write the way I do. You get a good idea - which is usually a starting concept and might not be the way the book ends. You get going writing Page One, keep going in a consecutive way till you reach The End, then stop. Only something ugly happened. You hit a point where the End doesn't work.


Normally, trying to finish a novel is just pushing through to the end. But you've got this conundrum now that the end you thought it would have won't work. You can't see the end for what it is yet. There might be a plot problem. Maybe you killed a character in an earlier chapter who's needed at the end. What would have happened at Mount Doom if Sam had killed Gollum in self defense on the stairs?

If you went off track, the way to find out where and figure out the fix is to look at the synopsis. For someone who outlined, check the outline to see that everything you need for the end is there in the foregoing. But you didn't use one. You set off without one trusting that if you started a story that long, you'd finish it.

Chances are the ending hangs on something that happened in an earlier chapter and you forgot about it. Which one? Where? And what was that character's name?

I learned the hard way to keep a running synopsis of my novel while writing. I open another file next to it. RoughDraft has an attached "Pad" text file in a little window next to the main window to type in. It's one of four options, the one I use every time. OneNote can be used to create that too. Most word processors have a way to create another little file. Or you can open a text editor as well as your word processor just to jot these things down.

I start with a Cast List in order of appearance. This keeps me from misspelling character names I just made up. John does not turn into Jack halfway through the book because I liked Jack better unless I do search and replace on John. (Of course if I do, then a Jon will slip past the search-replace and my crit buddy will ask "Who's Jon?" eventually. Or a reader will.)

I should have written this post earlier in November, maybe in October. For that, I apologize. These are useful tools for any Organic Linear novelist to know and they do not give the feeling that the book is done just because the outline is written.

Under the Cast List, I write SYNOPSIS and then at the end of Chapter 1, write down a short description of Chapter 1. Who was in it, what happened. I keep that in present tense third person because that's the kind of synopsis a publisher wants with a sample chapter and it saves my changing it anyway.

Here's an example of my Working Synopsis from The Dark Ones.

Chapter 4:
Jason goes to church despite not being Confirmed. The new priest, Father Bertolli, counsels him about what Father McDonald did and about Catholicism in general. Jason spills everything as well as he can and Father Bertolli listens sympathetically, gives him donuts. Then has a conference with his parents.

Okay. I did not mention "pedophile priest Father McDonald did" because I knew that, it's a major plot element. The revelation is there in the previous chapter's synopsis when "Johnny tells Doug that Father McDonald abused him sexually." So it really doesn't need to be mentioned over and over. You get the drift.

This is the chapter the good priest gets introduced and the donuts are relevant because Jason doesn't get any candy or treats at home. Now if I needed to change something, or needed Father Bertolli at the end, I'd read over that and run into him and think yeah, the Donut Priest would make a good witness when one is needed to show Jason's not lying. Or whatever. That's plot points that didn't happen because I didn't have that plotting problem on this novel.

I had something else happen - all the scenes I doubted and cut out were absolutely necessary to the end. They turned out to be essential. They cranked up suspense and set up for the real ending to happen.

Father Bertolli was essential because the family got put under supervision and there were limits to the abuse and neglect after he and Child Services knew how bad things were for Jason at home. He didn't call them in onstage, but he might if I expand the novel to show scenes from viewpoints other than the boys.

A running Synopsis is the easiest way to do this. But if you are stuck and don't know where to go, you can skim back over the chapters you wrote and create one. Just jot down what happened, without questioning it. Don't read closely, just skim and jot. As you do, you might see the earlier scene that hands you what you need to create the scene that's right in front of you.

It's a mechanical, left brained task to summarize your novel. It lets your Inner Editor out of the cage - but not the Inner Critic. Ignore any thoughts of "This is bad." It's not, it's just unfinished. It's vital to work with what's there and believe that what you need is right there in the 45,000 words you have down already.

It is. Your unconscious is a better writer than you are. If you're a pantser, that's what you do - you trust a nonverbal, intuitive, right brained perception of the story and get it down as if you're turning the page on it. Remember that you can insert notes to include things in the rewrite.

You can come up with that character who should have been there at the last minute. His teacher noticed the bruises and she called in the police, who interrupt the murder scene. All you have to do is jot down to put in the scene introducing that teacher and her talking to the cops earlier in the book during the rewrite, if something like that would solve your ending.

Once you do, it's not a Deus Ex Machina but a race against time - show the cop getting the call, doubting the problem, investigating, then getting a tip, then racing toward the scene to arrive when needed. Then getting shot by the villain, giving the hero time to turn the tables. Hey, it doesn't have to turn out in an obvious way, does it?

So go ahead and throw in anything that'll work to make the ending work. By now your characters and their motives and their previous actions are all coming to a climax. Everything that already happened gave them momentum. They are all moving in the direction of the end. The end is almost inevitable.

It should hang on the personal choice of one of the characters, something painfully difficult that demands the best of him or her. Preferably your main character. They can make a tragic error like Elder going into the tar pit and get the sad consequences of it unmitigated. Most of all, the end should hang on what they do, whatever it is. On everything they did.

When you know what that is, it's sometimes easier to make that final push to the ending. It's also a lot easier to remember Father Bertolli was not Father Berlucci and save yourself a problem in the end with that Cast List.

If you get what you need during the process of making the Synopsis, you can set that rote task aside. Go back to writing. It's something mechanical that doesn't need concentration to do it right - its purpose at this stage if you didn't have it, was just to act as a block breaker. So when the block breaks, head for the end and keep writing. It's still November and your end is still in sight.

You can make it even if you've fallen behind too. It's not over till it's over. Keep writing right up to the end... and if you still haven't got 50,000 words, remember something important.

If you finish on December 2 or 10th or 18th, you won the biggest thing in Nanowrimo. You wrote a novel.

If you got 50,000 words and Validated, but the book's not done, you do need to finish the book. It's a lot easier to keep going to The End with all those people cheering you on. Hang on and finish the book.

If you suddenly feel as if it'll take twenty more chapters to finish the book, check the Synopsis. See if you came to a good End two chapters back and charged right into the sequel. I did that, you can buy both books under the title Raven Dance at Amazon or Just separate the starting chapters of the sequel into its own folder, title it something new and keep going. That's a good thing to have happen.

If you reached the end of the book and do not yet have 50,000 words, go in from the beginning and add concrete details. Expand dialogue with action tags. "John said" can become "John shuffled his feet and looked at the floor." Over the course of a novel, that can add up to thousands of words without changing what happened. Just making it richer. Add descriptions if you see things that you forgot to describe, like the house the climax took place in.

Just keep adding stuff like that till it comes in over 50,000 - give yourself a few hundred extra words to account for differences in your program's word counter and the Nanowrimo Validator.

If you're an Outliner, definitely change the outline to fit what you actually put in. Outlines do not survive contact with characters. So unless you're someone so good at outlining and so disciplined at separating processes that you did write only and exactly what was in the outline, just change the outline too every time you make changes. This can help you avoid getting confused between the version you thought you were going to do and the real book as it stands.

If you don't write in a linear way, go back and look for missing scenes to put in that'll make the rest make sense. Chances are there are some.

Finally, if you're behind and have not established a 1,667 a day writing habit, one of the best ways to squeeze in more time is to go to bed early, then get up way early. Like three or four in the morning, with a good long writing session before you start your day. Doing this will let you prioritize working on your book as the most important thing you do in the day.

Writing doesn't suffer from being done while you're groggy and half asleep. For many people it comes easier if you're barely awake. If you're 10,000 words behind, try to write more than 3,333 before going to work/school/whatever. It always comes out better to push a little harder, get in a little more, it makes up for the morning that it went slow and took you half an hour to get going.

Also, the end rarely comes at exactly 50,000 words. Running over does help with the Validator's difference, which can be several hundred words. It can also help make the book work better - the ending falls pretty much where it will.

If you validated and still have twenty chapters ahead, it might not be that you shot past the end into a sequel. You might just be holding a 100,000 word novel idea, in which case it's good to just keep going through December and finish the book. Ditto if you're at 25,000 and established a writing habit that leaves you at half the pace of Nanowrimo. Continue through December and you will finish the book that was the point of the whole thing. You can try to write faster next year. It's more important to finish and have something good to edit.

It takes three weeks to establish a habit. That's what makes Nanowrimo so useful in itself. By now you've discovered your writing routine and fallen into it. Don't let that drop after the 30th, keep it part of your life.

If you finished your book but you hate it, relax. That's just a mood. It's the break between the "all or nothing" attitude so common out among nonwriters and reality. You broke the kachina. Real books do not come out perfect, word for word, on the first go. Not even for experienced writers.

If you feel as if it did, that's just a mood too - a more pleasant one. Don't surrender to it and send it to CreateSpace without even rereading it. Relax, enjoy the achievement, plan for the rewrite and give yourself a little time away from it to discover that you changed characters' names, the house had three storeys in the chapter with the murder and only two in the lawnmower scene, or an important scene that you know happened did not get written at all and needs to be inserted.

You're on your way. Unless you're done, keep your momentum now and finish the book! If you are, just hang out on the forums and crow - you've done something grand! Edits can come in December, give yourself a break.

No comments:

Post a Comment