With the intent to lend her stories credibility, award winning author Peg Brantley is a graduate of the Aurora Citizens’ Police Academy, attended the Writers’ Police Academy conference, has interviewed crime scene investigators, FBI agents, human trafficking experts, obtained her Concealed Carry Permit, studied diverse topics from arson dogs to Santeria, and hunted down real life locations that show up in her stories.
It’s often said that how your book opens can determine whether or not a reader will continue. With literally millions of stories to choose from, the importance of your First Chapter has gone to First Page has gone to First Paragraph, and has gone to (in some instances) First Sentence.
I think there’s validity in that opinion.
It’s also often said that how your book ends can determine whether or not a reader will want to continue reading your other titles.
I think that’s also true.
I read a book that I enjoyed until I got to the ending where the author clearly left the story in cliffhanger mode so people would buy her next book. I was done and done and felt like I’d been scammed.
Does a cliffhanger ending work for some readers? Apparently.
The On and On
Like the adage of dropping into a scene for pacing (or having your story actually begin at Chapter Six because well, that’s where it begins), I think it’s equally important to know when your story is finished. Just because you love your characters doesn’t mean every reader is going to care about their new job (unless it relates to the story) or what they posted on Facebook, or anything else about their lives.
Some readers must like this though, because I’ve gotten called on my wrap-ups wrapping up before readers are ready.
The What What Huh
This is the ending that simply isn’t there. The reader creates their own.
Honestly, the only time this has worked for me is with PARANOIA by Joseph Finder. The story was so good that had he handed me an ending—whatever it was—I would’ve been disappointed.
This is what I like and how I write. The major denouement has occurred. Tiny threads have been tied off. Holes have been buttoned and we can easily imagine what comes next.
We know all there is to know.
Time to close the cover and move on.
(Having said that, if I’ve done my job, bits of the story will continue to resonate long after the cover is closed.)
Okay, I just realized that my descriptive titles are totally biased. But this is my post and these are my current opinions. If you quote me, date me. I can be swayed.
How do you take your endings? While they are only a part of the whole, are they important enough to determine whether you’ll read more by an author?
I love it when readers become the wind beneath my wings. When they push me off my very comfortable sofa (that sometimes sits at the top of a cliff) in order to get the next book into their hands.
I’ve discovered there’s nothing wrong with a little death-defying affirmation.
Readers who enjoy my books become my reason to step away from social media and write. To be truthful, some days they’re the only reason to step away from doing laundry and write.
Because sometimes writing is hard.
Currently I’m working on the first draft of a story I like. It’s timely. It intrigues me. It’s the third in a series that readers seem to want more of, the Aspen Falls Thriller series. They want to know what’s going on with those folks they got to know two whole books ago.
All good, right?
Except for when it comes to what Mex Anderson wants. His full name will give you an idea of the possible scope of his ego: Carlos Alberto Basilio Teodoro Duque de Estrada Anderson. Most people call him Mex. Even his sister, Sedona, calls him Teo. The way he explains his last name is this: “A wayward American fell in love with a Mexican beauty and never looked back.”
Mex has depression as a result of the murder of his family in Mexico because he wouldn’t cave to a drug cartel. He generally handles it pretty well except when he doesn’t take his medication like he should. When he’s on his meds, he’s fine. When he’s completely off them, he’s fine too, but only because he withdraws from society and no one has to deal with him.
It’s that middle slide-period where he thinks it should all be about him.
And that’s where he is now.
He’s pushing, but not in a wind-beneath-my-wings kind of way. He wants me to wrap up this foolishness (my current work-in-progress) and get back to another story for him.
Does he not know I have the power to erase him? To remove him from this earth? To push him into a void he can never escape?
But then there’s the stories he’s already lived. The lives he’s already touched.
I hope he reads this post and calms down.
Writers, do you have to deal with this from your characters?
And readers, take pity. We can be stalked in ways no law enforcement can help.
There are a lot of differet ways to establish goals. There are lists and calendars and spreadsheets and color-coded plans and… you get the idea.
One popular way to create goals is based on the word SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely or Time-Bound. Here’s a site that might be helpful if you’re interested in learning more, or getting a refresher: Writing Smart Goals.
Regardless of how you determine your goals, it’s important that you write those things down that you want to have happen. Your possibility of actually achieving them increases dramatically if you write them down. That’s a given. And you might want to schedule periodic reviews on your calendar. Are you on target? Is that goal still relevant?
But what I think a lot of people forget to think about this time of year are their core values.
Before you set goals, clearly identify your core vales. Those things don’t change. What’s a core value? Here’s a list. If you want to try and get a better bead on yours, try this.
Here’s why understanding your personal core values is important before you start setting goals: if a goal is in conflict with a core value, there’s going to be pain involved. If, for example, family and spending quality time with them is a core value of yours, setting a goal that’s going to require you to work a gazillion hours a week in order to accomplish it will be a problem. Even if the goal sounds good. Get the conflict? Keep the goal, just make sure it can be managed so you have the time for your family, or write your family out for the next six months. (And that’s not likely to if you were honest about what’s important in your gut).
Sometimes a review of previous goals that weren’t met can help pinpoint conflict, especially if they met every other aspect of a SMART goal.
Kim Darnell is a very accomplished sister of my very accomplished BFF, Kel Darnell. When I asked for some suggestions for a blog post last month, Kim suggested I write about effective storytelling.
Self-doubt immediately flew into my head. Who me? Followed by, Wait. I’ve got this. Followed by, Who are you to say?
So, like any logical person who is more comfortable deflecting than stepping into the spotlight, I give you these concepts (with maybe a smidge or two of my own ideas):
In yesterday’s Mysteristas post, another friend and author, Lisa Brackman, was asked this question: What do you think makes a good story, and how do you incorporate that into your books? Compelling characters, conflict, real stakes (not artificially inflated ones), interesting, vivid settings. For me, though I do think a lot about story and larger thematic elements, writing still exists on a sentence-by-sentence level. I really care about the quality of my prose, and I aim to make every sentence tight and effective. On the Big Picture side, I also spend a lot of time just thinking about what I am writing, or want to write, and what that all means, and how I might bring more depth to it.
From arguably my favorite book on writing, WRITE AWAY by Elizabeth George. When I read this book I saw how similar our process was and felt validated. I could finally breathe and think maybe I actually was a writer: “When you write with an awareness of bridges and transitions, you create an experience for the reader that is seductive and mysterious.”
From BIRD BY BIRD by the fabulous Anne Lamott (if you haven’t read OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS, get your hands on a copy. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry and you can thank me later): “Drama is the way of holding the reader’s attention. The basic formula for drama is setup, buildup, payoff—just like a joke….There must be movement.” (Note: In my opinion, Lamott’s best books are her non-fiction titles. Having said that, she wrote one of the most haunting scenes in a novel I’ve ever read. It has stuck with me for years and shows no sign of leaving.)
In WIRED FOR STORY, Lisa Cron provides a ton of information. But to pick a couple of things: “Stories allow us to simulate intense experiences without actually having to live through them…. When a story meets our brain’s criteria, we relax and slip into the protagonist’s skin, eager to experience what his or her struggle feels like, without having to leave the comfort of home…. Simply put, we are looking for a reason to care….there has to be a ball already in play. Not the preamble to the ball. Not all the stuff you have to know to really understand the ball. The ball itself.”
Stephen King writes in ON WRITING: “Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot….It’s far from easy: As I’ve said, we’ve all heard someone say, ‘Man, it was so great (or so horrible/strange/funny) . . . I just can’t describe it!’ If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.”
So because this is my post, I get to add my voice:
To me, a key factor is finding a way to drop the reader into the story. Whether it’s a plot ripped from the headlines, a situation they can relate to, or characters they can see themselves in. There has to be a connection.
Will you connect with every reader? Don’t even try. You will dilute your story. Stay true to the story and you’ll find an audience.
A tagline I’ve used in the past is “Evocative Characters. Intriguing Crime. Compelling Stories.”
And here’s a bit from my website: “While I often have pieces of the plot with underlying elements that mean something to me (usually a relevant social issue), it’s the characters that drive the story, who make it worth reading. It’s emotion and connection that has always kept me turning the page, and it’s emotion and connection that keeps me writing.”
Those are the things that seem to work for me.
Writers, what do you have to add? And readers, is there something that when it’s missing, will absolutely make you walk away?
A friend suggested I write about effective storytelling for this post. I’ve decided to put that on my list of ideas (which I keep in a bullet journal, btw), and talk about something that many of us learned about on October 16th:
Midnight Ink will be closing its doors after the 2019 Spring/Summer catalog.
From what I can tell, it came as quite a surprise to the well-known and respected staff, not to mention the quality authors they’ve promoted and stood with in the past. Our own Becky Clark is one of those talented writers who is now exercising those muscles that allow her to get back up after taking a blow. I’m not speaking for Becky here in any way. Maybe she’ll share some of how she’s processed this news.
But this is what today’s event put me in mind of:
For years, I worked in an industry that was either scrambling to keep up with demand, or laying people off to deal with a slow market. The mortgage business is at the mercy of the local real estate economy and interest rates set by the Feds. Going into it, I had no idea it would be as volatile as it was.
I remember as a loan officer, whose income was commission-based, looking at interest rates that required our company to get a Colorado Uniform Commercial Credit Code license! Today, that means that any annual percentage rate 12% and over would require the lender to have a UCCC license. We were often looking at APR rates at 18% or even higher (somehow 24% sticks in my memory). How in the world would anyone be able to qualify for a mortgage loan at those rates? That’s when creative financing took off, but my industry still laid off thousands.
Later, as a manager, I’ll never forget earning every nickel of my salary the day I had to call people into my office and give them the news they’d been dreading… “Here’s your severance check.”
And then it happened to me. To be fair, I was offered another position within the company, but my ego just couldn’t accept it. I’m pretty sure I surprised the president when I turned him down. I know he thought of us as “family.”
I remember struggling to find my identity as a person and not a job title. It took a while.
But then look what happened!!!
Okay, it wasn’t overnight. I ran another mortgage company, started my own mortgage company, went to work for one of the biggest mortgage companies, got major burn-out and worked for a year as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, sold Mary Kay (still do), and finally, finally, finally, became an author.
The fabulous staff at Midnight Ink aren’t finished, they’ll just reinvent themselves and find purpose with another publisher, maybe even start their own publishing company! They and their brilliant authors will hold a reunion or two because friendships don’t stop just because the business does.
Change is hard. It feels like loss, but it’s only change. And almost always, mark my words, change ultimately brings something better.
Have you faced change in your life? Did it eventually put you in a stronger place even though it sucked at the time?
I bet you’ve never read a science fiction novel about time travel on a train. Unless it’s one where time stops.
LoML and I recently celebrated our anniversary with a train trip from Denver to California and then up to Vancouver. We love a bit of misadventure on our trips because they always lead to something unexpected. We had it in Russia and we had it in Wyoming.
This trip allowed us to add California and Washington to the list.
Getting off our train in Sacramento, I learned from another passenger that our train to Seattle had been cancelled. The Redding Fire had engulfed the train tracks and Amtrak felt it prudent not to attempt to race their passenger train through the flames.
Our train from Sacramento to Seattle had been scheduled to leave at 11 p.m. When LoML planned our trip, he was aware that trains often travel to their own drumbeat and that “on time” was a rarity. So we had a few hours in Sacramento. That stretched to several hours when we learned that buses, driving a detoured route to Klamath Falls, would leave at 1 a.m.
After exploring Old Sacramento we went to a movie (Crazy, Rich Asians is very cute), then checked into a Holiday Inn for a normal shower (we had one in our sleeper… sorta) and a nap. I set the alarm for 11:45 so we could be back to the nearby train station shortly after midnight.
When we got to the station three buses were filled and there was no room at the inn for LoML and me. (Some of these travelers had been bused from Dallas!)
There were two women on one of the buses who had oversized luggage (the kind you check) and had placed them on seats. When asked by Amtrak officials to allow the driver to put their luggage with the other suitcases they refused, even after admonishment that they had not paid for those seats. I wonder, were those cases filled with drugs? Or cash? Or body parts?
Later, LoML and thanked those women (in our hearts) because we got to ride in the comparative luxury of a van with the two of us and young medical student and her two well-behaved kids rather than a sardine-packed bus.
Dawn brought a visual to the smell of wildfire we’d had all night. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the fire-fighter camp we passed, but I was sluggish and barely got a glimpse of it as we drove by.
Finally, we were in Klamath Falls and, after waiting an extended period of time for a crew to arrive, we were on our way to Seattle.
Our train was stopped in Everett (I think). The conductor told us we’d be there for an indeterminate amount of time because of police activity at King Street Station in Seattle.
Naturally, I wanted to know more. I googled. Got nothing.
Our train finally moved, but then stopped again in this rather eerie part of Seattle, waiting for the all clear. I was hoping we were in a secret and safe location. We had no idea what was happening.
The only point of this photo is to show you it was dark. We were tired. And then there was that strange blue light that almost acted like a black light in our sleeper. What was that all about?
We learned later the cause for the delay was someone shooting at incoming trains. I’m told by Barbara Nickless, who knows these things via her books beginning with the award-winning Blood on The Tracks, that more than likely both Amtrak and Seattle PDs were involved. (Read her books. You won’t be disappointed.)
Finally, we arrive in Seattle. Check into a beautiful suite at the Fairmont Olympic (Yes! Go there!) and had a wonderful day at the Pike Place Market where we picked up victuals to take back to the hotel and watch the Bronco/Seahawk game while we gnawed on smoked salmon and crab legs.
An alarm. Followed by, “There has been a declared emergency. Make your way calmly and quickly to the fire exits.” Then something about physically disabled guests.
We find our shoes, walk down nine flights. At the final exit, I push on the door as I was the leader of our little band calmly and quickly leaving the hotel. The door wouldn’t budge. LoML was my hero. He kicked the damn thing wide open!
We’re finally outside. While others milled around near the hotel (are you kidding me?), LoML and I went across the street behind some construction barriers. Sirens. Two firetrucks. Pretty lights.
Walking down nine flights you think that everything is probably okay, but then you wonder if some of those people walking down the fire exits on 9/11 were thinking the same thing.
Turns out a smoke alarm had gone off on the 10th floor. My guess is some jerk lit a cigarette. Still… it was exciting.
The rest of our trip went pretty much as planned (except for a train delay between Seattle and Vancouver… a silly Union Pacific freight train (who owns the tracks, btw) had stopped for some reason. The length of the train was blocking a bridge we needed to use.
I’m sort of thinking if you’re looking for material, you should take a train ride.