Writing Drunk

To start off, no, this is not a post about getting drunk and writing something. Sure, American literature brims with alcoholics who proclaim the value of booze when creating art. Everyone knows this quote, “Write drunk; edit sober.” th02TSA5VZAnd we’ve all heard that when Faulkner wrote he would “always keep… whiskey within reach.” But that isn’t what I plan to discuss in this post. I neither condemn nor condone, and–well–honestly, when it comes right down to it, I’ve never done it before. I can’t say much about it.

So, what am I writing about? Well, I realized the other day, when teaching a lesson about unreliable narration that there isn’t a specific literary device for making a character sound drunk. I was teaching that old Edgar Alan Poe story, The Black Cat when the thought occurred to me. You see, The Black Cat features an alcoholic narrator who tortures, dismembers and kills his favorite cat. Although he’s apparently unconscious of the fact, he does it because he’s a drunk bastard who can’t control his fits of rage. th6I1Z4HYKLater, he reveals that he killed his wife too. However, he blames the cat instead of his alcoholism as the cause for her murder.

Because of the narration in The Black Cat, there was no reason for Poe to make the character act drunk. After all, the narrator, in telling the story, tries to cover up that fact. But it got the gears rolling and caused me to ask this question: when I’ve made drunk characters in fiction, how did I do it? Well–where to begin? Honestly, it’s a weird question for me to approach. Although I’ve written several drunk characters over the years, I can’t remember putting that much thought into making them seem drunk. I just did it. I didn’t have to think about it. I guess I’ve been around enough drunk people to know what it looks like.

But, as a person who’s always interested in improving his writing, just knowing “what it looks like” isn’t enough. So, I’m going to post an excerpt from one of my manuscripts, From A to B, in which I wrote an obnoxiously drunk character. And after I’ll analyze the parts that make him seem drunk.

 

Well, anyway, I think she was still spouting off lies about her love for inner city schools when I walked away. I don’t remember all that clearly. The walls were starting to get fuzzy at this point and I had to piss real bad. I remember that I had a big pinch of dip in my lower lip. In my right hand, I had a beer can that I cut in half for a spittoon.

I walked down a hallway. There was a door on the right. I found the knob. I opened it. Coats. Damn it. “What,” I mumbled. “You don’t keep a toilet in coat closet. What the fuck!” I backed out of the coat closet. I saw my wife. She was standin’ by the door. She looked at me funny, but I made sure to look the other way. To the left, that had to be it, another knob and I could hear the sound of a fan. I grabbed the door knob. Damn it.

There’s nothing quite like that feeling. I was squeezing my dick: I had to piss so damn bad. I was right there. The bathroom was right there. Relief was just a moment away. It was right there. th768KTCFBI let go my dick for a second and turned the knob, but the knob didn’t move. Locked. I was drunk, but not so bad I couldn’t smell. Sure enough, it smelt like colon, eggs, sewer, and garbage.

 

Damn it. I turned around. The walls were fuzzy and spinny now. Past my wife there was a staircase. “Usually bathrooms upstairs,” I mumbled. A moment later and I was half-way up. The bathroom was at the top. It wasn’t hidden like the one on the main level. The door was open. The room was dark but I flipped the switch. The toilet seat was down, but there was no time. This couldn’t wait. I took my hand off my dick. I unzipped. The air hit my tip and before I knew it there was that rushin’ sound of piss hittin’ water. It splashed up. Drops hit my pants and the top of the toilet seat. It was ok though, I reasoned, it’s clear. No one will see.

At the bottom of the stairs my wife was starin’. Her arms were crossed. I made sure to avoid eye contact. Our kid was on the floor next to the door. She probably said something, but there was nothing else that she could do.

 

So, what makes him seem drunk?  First, it’s important to note that this is first person narration, so describing his appearance or general clumsiness is impossible without the narrators willingness to admit what he looks like and how much he’s stumbling around. This narrator won’t admit anything that puts him in a negative light.  But still there are several indications that’s he’s had a bit too much. Here they are as a numbered list:

  1. He says he’s drunk. That one’s obvious. The important part is that he seems proud of it.
  2. He uses several short sentences. Alone this doesn’t make a character sound drunk. He might be panicked or in a rush. But it certainly contributes to his drunkenness.
  3. He thinks the coat closet is a bathroom. This shows general confusion and disorientation.
  4. He needs to urinate–badly. He’s clearly had a lot of fluids.
  5. His wife looks at him “funny”. As readers we know he’s acting inappropriately even if he doesn’t.
  6. He shares flawed reasoning. Urine splashes on his pants but he doesn’t think anyone will notice because his urine is clear which is another indication that he’s had a lot of fluids.
  7. He has a beer can cut in half. He’s using it as a spittoon. I’ve only seen drunk people do that.

And that’s it. As I look through my list, it’s obvious that I mostly relied on imagery. What I didn’t do, probably because the character is on a monomaniacal quest to find the bathroom and doesn’t talk to anyone, is use slurred or obnoxious speech; many authors rely on language to create drunkenness.

Speaking of other authors, I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve written a drunken character tell me about it in the comments section below. And I’m happy to share your examples of drunk characters, or any other excerpt of your writing right here on my blog. Feel free to contact me at the e-mail posted on the right side of the page. As always, thanks for reading and have a great day.

 

 

 


Sorry for the Shameless Self-Promotion

Normally, I don’t spend time reading book reviews. But earlier tonight I read a review of But the Angels Never Came, one I hadn’t seen before, and had to post it here on the blog. As writers we get all kinds of criticism. Some of its good. Some ain’t so good. Some of its fair. Some of it makes us wonder if the reviewer actually knows how to read.thG0CMNJK9 I’m posting this because the review I read earlier tonight is the most generous critique of my writing thus far. I added pictures to make it even more awesome. Check it out:

I’m not a huge reader of apocalyptic ci-fi, but every once in a while something comes along that catches my fancy. This was one of those books. For one thing, how the near-future comes about had a scary sense of realism to it, as if it were a straightforward, logical extrapolation from news making the headlines today. That, of course, makes the tale just that much more disturbing, as if this could well be something many of us will be living through down the road. It’s a very dark future that I don’t want any part of, so in that vein, these kinds of books serve as a great wake up call to snap us out of our lethargy and make what small efforts we can today to see that this destiny is not carved in stone.

Despite the clear biblical references, this is in no way requires a fan of Christian-based fiction to enjoy the story; its audience is much broader. There is a Book of Eli feel to the novel, for those of you who saw the film, but this is far deeper, and more profound to my thinking. And you don’t have to wait until the end for the profound and prophetic material to click into place; it’s there from page one. As sci-fi based on religious parables go—not that I read a lot of those either—this has become my new favorite.
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The writing style is smooth, polished, and flowing, making this a fairly effortless read at any speed. The pacing with the plotting is thSYV17UMFquite good, just enough to balance character development with action, and leave the right amount of room for the infusion of the philosophical ideas. While this is arguably thinking man’s sci-fi, it’s not so heady as to be off-putting to folks just looking for a fun story.

While we have a lot of staple scenes that are de rigueur for this genre, I like the extra layer of polish the addition of the double timeline gives us, with the old storyteller conveying to the young lad the apocalyptic happenings early on that leads to an even greater and protracted downward spiral.
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Pound for pound, I enjoyed this foray into a dark future world much better than the one that won the Pulitzer Prize for covering much the same subject matter, The Road. Maybe there’s no allowing for taste. Or is there?

CLICK THE LINK : (BUY NOW ON AMAZON FOR 3.99)

 

You heard it folks. The book rocks. Thanks for reading and sorry for the shameless self-promotion.

 

 


Writing with Style 3: Another Point of View

About a week ago I read a post about showing vs. telling. Now, I know what you’re thinking: there are thousands of bloggers who’ve written about the values of descriptive writing. If somehow you haven’t read about showing vs. telling, check out this link to the blog post I read: BLOG POST. He does an awesome job both defining the terms and providing original examples.

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However, I think most explanations fall a bit short of describing exactly how to make writing more descriptive and less explanatory. Instead, most writers seem to focus on the importance of creating balance.

So, to add something new to the conversation, I’d like to mention a few observations I’ve made about narrative point of view, and the impact that narration has on descriptive writing.

Observation 1: some types of narration are naturally descriptive. Think about third person objective narration. If you don’t know what it means don’t sweat it. Its pretty simple. The objective narrator only reveals what he can sense. The thoughts of characters are off limits meaning that he can only describe the world surrounding the characters. Check out this example by Earnest Hemingway. I just flipped to a random page in The Old Man and the Sea, and this is what I found:

The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.

thN83JRY4ISo, what’s going on here? Well, in the excerpt there’s an old man who’s been a fisherman his entire life. That’s it. That’s what its about. But instead of explaining this to us, Hemingway gives a physical description. So, why didn’t he just say, “there was an old fisherman”? Well, if he had said that, we wouldn’t have known the harsh physical side-effects this life style has had on him. And the only way to reveal that with the same emotional impact of the physical description, would be through the thoughts of the old man. But third-person objective narration prevents that. So, the physical description, the showing, the imagery, is the only way for the narrator to represent the impact that fishing has had on the old man.

First person narration can also be naturally descriptive, especially when the narrator is a secondary character instead of a protagonist. Check out his example from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Chief Bromden, the narrator, describes the first time he meet Randle Patrick McMurphy.

This guy is red-headed with long red sideburns and a tangle of curls out from under his cap, been needing cut a long time, and he’s broad as Papa was tall, broad across the jaw and shoulders and chest, a broad white devilish grin, and he’s hard in a different kind of way from Papa, kind of the way a baseball is hard under the scuffed leather.

McMurphy is the protagonist here. Because chief Bromden isn’t the central character, well, at least not in the beginning, most of the narration focuses on what Bromden sees and hears and sometimes smells. He’s no mind-reader. He can’t tell us what McMurphy is thinking. Again, this type of narration naturally shows rather than tells.

Observation 2: Some narrative points of view can go either way. First person, when its from the point of view of the protagonist can either focus on what that protagonist senses or thinks. If he’s doing a lot of thinking, he’s probably doing a lot of telling. If he spends his time describing what he sees, then he’s probably doing more showing.thH17KCC3U

Observation 3: Some narrative points of view do a little too much explaining. Because omniscient points of view describe the thoughts of characters, a lot of explaining and  a lot of telling happens naturally.

 

Now look, I’m not saying that telling is always bad. Its great for creating suspense. Many writers will shift into an omniscient point of view to reveal what a character is thinking for this express purpose. The trick, I think at least, is to do this sparingly.

Well, that’s all I have for now. If you have anything to add, respond in the comment section below.


Letters on Literary Devices 16: The Exclamatory Question?!?

To the conventions of punctuation:

Although I have a great respect for convention, especially when related to punctuation marks, I’ve recently become aware of a certain informal mark known as the “interrobang,” which has completely opened my eyes to the potential pitfalls of relying blindly on writing customs.  For anyone else, who like me, has been living in ignorance of this communicative gem, allow me a short explanation.

Here it goes: The interrobang is a punctuation mark that most people already use. If you’ve ever closed a text message with WTF?! or WTF?!? or WTF!?! or if you were really excited WTF!?!?!?!?!?! then you’ve used an interrobang. Any combination of question marks and exclamation points is an interrobang… well sort of.

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You see, about fifty years ago, one of the great innovators of punctuation, Martin K. Speckter, invented a mark that concisely combined the question mark with the exclamation point. Well, at least that’s what I initially read on Wikipedia. And, like always, after some additional research clicking the links on the bottom of the Wikipedia page, I found out that the public contributors got it right, more or less.

Check this article I found on it: The Interrobang is Back, or if you’re a fellow millennial and would prefer a hilarious youtube video about it, click this link: What the Heck is the interrobang

For those of you who didn’t check out the video, here’s the mark he invented:

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I know. It looks awesome. An exclamation point superimposed on a question mark. Simple but awesome. The problem is that it never caught on. Just look down at your computer keyboard or keyboard on your phone: Why no interrobang?!? WTF!?!

And that’s the problem. If we don’t have it on our keyboards, how can we use it?!?

But is it really a problem? The sober people in the audience are probably wondering this: do we really need to use it? (Notice that sober people don’t use exclamation points)

My answer to that question is an unreserved YES! (I DO use exclamation points) Currently, there is no set convention for showing an excited question. Everyone does it differently, and THAT goes against the spirit of punctuation.

Look, as authors and writers we employ a huge set of literary and conventional tools to communicate with our audiences. And punctuation, although underrated, is one of the most important. It’s like the body language of writing. You know, like how body language says more than words. Its the same with punctuation. So no, it doesn’t get the same glory as “what’s said,” but it serves the important communicative role of “how its said.” And anyone who’s gotten in a fight with a girlfriend or mother or boyfriend or teenage boy selling movie tickets, knows that it isn’t the “what’s said” that matters. No, its the “how it’s said” that you’re probably fighting over.

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I’d go so far as to say that punctuation, when used by an author writing fiction, could be considered a literary device. Yea. I said it. I think that fiction writers can do a lot with punctuation alone. And I think it would be foolish and closed-minded to limit ourselves to the punctuation marks handed down by our great-great-grand parents. Why not use something new, especially if that “something new” saves us a key stroke and adds clarity.

Think about it: Someone invented the period. Someone invented the quotation mark. Someone invented the colon (The punctuation mark, that is. The other one can be attributed to evolution or God or whatever or whoever you’d prefer to thank). So, punctuation isn’t inherent. It evolves over time meaning that as a convention, punctuation can change.

Unfortunately, no one can change convention alone. And for this to work, for us writers to bring the interrobang out of the depths of obscure history and into the collective understanding of English readers the world over, we all need to start using it. We all need to use the interrobang. And I know. It won’t be easy. There is no key for the interrobang, but it does exist as a symbol on Microsoft Word, and I heard that its possible to turn that symbol into a “hot key”. I have no idea what that means, but I do know that there’s hope. And one day. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next week. Maybe not next year or in my lifetime. But maybe, just maybe, my children’s children will have keyboards with an interrobang key. And no, it might not be next to the letter J or F or any of the other keys in the middle of the keyboard. But it will be there. Maybe next to the O so they can reach it with their future pinky’s while holding shift.

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I’m talkin’ small steps people. I don’t know about you, but I know the next time I write something and feel a need for an excited question, I won’t simply insert a question mark and exclamation point. No, next time, I’ll use the interrobang. Because–well, why the f@#k not‽

 

Sincerely,

Eric James-Olson

 

If you liked this, help out the interrobang cause by sharing it with everyone you know. Use the button below to Tweet it, Like it, Reblog it, or use whatever other social media you’re into. And if your interested, here’s the link to my books: BOOKS. As always, thanks for reading and have a nice day.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Writing with Style 2: Could we go back to the future…tense?

When I first started writing, I read all sorts of advice regarding verb tense and which ones are suitable for novels. I’ve written about this once before but focused only on the present and past tenses. Basically, most of the advice I read said to either use one or the other, preferably past tense because it’s easier.

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Now, for most new writers this is probably sound advice, but for me it didn’t work. I wrote my first novel, Farmers and Cannibals, primarily in present tense to make it feel more like a movie. That fit the book because the characters were unknowingly participating in the recording of a propaganda film. It was nice using present tense because I could switch over to past tense to create seamless flashbacks, and I was able to draw a distinction between the filmed actions of the characters and the filming of those actions using verb tense alone. And for me at least, despite the advice I’d read, it worked.

(For more on how to use both the present and past tense together in fiction with examples from famous novelists, check out this blog post: Letters on Literary Devices: Back to the Present )

So, what’s my point here? It’s this: the type of advice that says to ALWAYS do this, or NEVER do that in writing is inherently flawed. Writing evolves not because someone didn’t do something; it evolves because writers DO challenge conventions and AREN’T afraid to experiment with new forms of expression. Think about it, if writers didn’t challenge convention, we’d still be writing in olde English. And that stuff is awful.

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Speaking of challenging convention, I’d like to talk about another verb tense that gets a bad rap in story telling. I’d like to talk about the future tense, and the ways in which it can be purposefully used to foreshadow events and create suspense.

Now, first of all, when I first read about tenses, most writers said to avoid the future tense entirely. While I agree that I wouldn’t want to read an entire novel written in the future tense, I don’t agree with the idea that it can’t be used at all. And actually, many writers probably use it without even thinking about it. The easiest way to use future tense is through character dialogue. Check out this example I just made up:

Elton sat alone at the breakfast table with a bowl of cheerios and a sour smirk. His mouth was still cut open, and his right eye was swollen. It was just black, no blue.  He looked up from the cereal and pictured his mother standing there with her arms folded across her chest. She wasn’t actually there. He just pictured her there telling him that he didn’t have a choice. He could see her mouth forming the words, “You will be going to school today. I don’t care how scared you are. You will be going to school.”

He heard her footsteps coming down the stairs. Her arms weren’t folded across her chest but her eyes were hard. “Don’t you say a word,” she said. She was really saying it now. This was real. “You will be going to school today.”

In this I used past tense for the narration and a combination of present tense and future continuous tense for the dialogue. The future continuous is in BOLD. Primarily, the future tense verbs are used to foreshadow events to come by highlighting an inescapable future conflict for the protagonist. This type of paragraph could work anywhere within a chapter or story. Because the tense changes are in the dialogue, it’s unlikely that a reader would get confused. Well, unless he or she suffers from severe stupidity or some other intellectual handicap.

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Ok, so that was easy. Now, lets take the same story but get rid of the dialogue. Some writers might think this impossible but here it is:

Elton sat alone at the breakfast table with a bowl of cheerios and a sour smirk. His mouth was still cut open, and his right eye was swollen. It was just black, no blue.  He looked up from the cereal and pictured his mother standing there with her arms folded across her chest. She wasn’t actually there. He just pictured her there telling him that he didn’t have a choice, that he would still have to go to school. I won’t go, he thought. She can’t make me go.

He heard her footsteps coming down the stairs. Her arms weren’t folded across her chest but her eyes were hard. She didn’t say a word. She didn’t need to.

He will be going to school.

As you probably noticed, this example isn’t nearly as seamless as the first. It would be a challenge to transition back to the past tense. But it still works to foreshadow the same inescapable conflict as the first. This would work at the end of a chapter as a cliffhanger leading into the next. It could also be used to open a chapter, especially if an additional space is given before the next paragraph. The point is that it’s more suspenseful. Compare the line “He will be going to school,” to the past tense equivalent, “He went to school.” In past tense, the line doesn’t stand out like it does in future. It doesn’t cause the reader to pause and think in the same way.

So, that’s it for today. If you know of any other ways that authors can use the future tense, feel free to post those in the comments section. If you liked this, share the love by hitting that like button, sharing on twitter or facebook or whatever social media you’re into.

If you’d like to check out my fiction just click this link: BOOKS. Each book has an Amazon Link and Farmers and Cannibals, my first novel, is on sale this week. Click the picture of the book below for the Amazon link with the special promotional price.

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As always, thanks for reading and have a nice day.

 

 

 


How ’bout an excerpt

Hey folks,

It’s been a while since I posted an excerpt from one of my books, and seeing that I’m in the process of editing one, I figured I’d post a paragraph or two. I just read over these lines that I must have written about six months ago. It caught my eye because I’m teaching anaphora this week to my high school students, and I used one in the first paragraph. I also liked the use of sentence fragments. Check it out and let me know what you think:

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Gene drove home. He looked out to the right. The scarred, rocky face of the mountain stood straight up. It had been cut almost two-hundred years ago. It had been cut for the railroad. It had been cut by a man with vision. It had been cut with purpose. It had not been cut so that a single train could get from A to B. No, it was never that simple. The veins of industry. That’s what one man saw. The veins of all industry.

There had been rain earlier that day. Water seeped through the gaps and spaces in the mountain and flowed through the cracks in the rock. Gene felt poetic. “She’s crying,” he muttered looking up at the rock standing straight up beside him. “She’s crying.”

That’s silly though. Rocks don’t feel. When the railroader came and cut through the rock for the sake of progress, it didn’t feel. It’s lifeless, without purpose. And so is Gene.

 

That’s it. Let me know what you thought by leaving a comment, hitting that like button, or sending me an e-mail! And if you get a chance, check out these other books I’ve written:

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Letters on Literary Devices 14: Writing Sarcasm

To my Number One Groupie:

I’m writing this one for you. But before I start, lets give a little context to anyone else who might be reading this.

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Last week I received an e-mail from my biggest fan. One thing led to another, a few e-mails went back and forth which concluded in her sending me this:

Let me be clear. I beg you to never high five yourself again. I was so pleased to see that you kicked that hAbbit. I was going to high five you about it but that would just send you spiraling back into your addiction. You can make it. Just slap youself on the ass and put it on youtube whenever you want to high five yourself, but make sure nobody can trace it to you and cut off your head (she meant conceal my head, not cut it off. That was explained later) in the video. You will do a kick ass job. Adios.

If you couldn’t tell, she was joking about my tendency to “LIKE” my own blog posts. That’s what she meant when she said “I beg you to never high five yourself again.” She was just joking.  Well, that’s not completely true. She meant what she said, but she wasn’t being mean or cruel or hateful.

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This was how I responded:

Now THAT was funny. You certainly have hyperbole down. I haven’t tried the youtube video yet, but next time I get the urge to high-five, I’ll just get the camera rolling, put on a mask, and go for it.

And this sparked an idea which took the form of two questions: How did I know she was pulling my leg? How was I able to interpret her e-mail as clever sarcasm not vindictive malice?

Well, the answer to that one’s simple: I’m an English Teacher who’s written a few books and I know all about verbal irony. But most people don’t; most people don’t need to know how to write verbal irony or to recognize it in other people’s writing. For most people, it’s enough to recognize sarcasm in speech. And that’s usually easy because in speech we’re exposed to more than just a person’s words; we’re exposed to their tone as well.

So, you’re probably wondering: how can verbal irony or sarcasm be written? How can a writer sound sarcastic using words alone?

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Well, it’s easier than you’d think.

Here are two easy ways to do it:

HYPERBOLE: That’s what my number one groupie used in her e-mail. This is the use of exaggeration or overstatement. So how did she do it? Simple. She did it through her choice of verbs and adverbs. Check out this sentence that she wrote: ” I beg you to never high five yourself again.” This sounds sarcastic because of the verb she chose: “beg”, and the adverb, “again.”  If she had written it like this: “I don’t think you should high five yourself,” she wouldn’t have sounded sarcastic. And that was just one sentence. Look at the other verbs and adverbs, “send … spiraling … slap … on the ass … cut off.” Each exaggerates the type of action I should take if I ever feel the urge to “LIKE” my own blog posts.

UNDERSTATEMENT: This is the opposite of Hyperbole but has a similar effect. Instead of using verbs and adverbs to exaggerate, it uses these to sarcastically minimize whatever is being said. Think about my response back to her. I said “You certainly have hyperbole down.” That doesn’t sound very sarcastic. But if I changed it to this: “You seem to have hyperbole down,” it would. All I did was change the adverb. “Certainly,” was changed to “seem to” which understates her ability to use hyperbole. I mean shit, she more than just “seems to” have hyperbole down.

 

Well, that’s two ways to do it. To my number one groupie who sparked the idea, I hope I was clear and I hope I did a kick ass job.

Adios!

 

 

P.S. If you liked this PLEASE hit the “like” button. I’d do it myself but I’m no longer giving myself high-fives. Make sure to check out the youtube video: VIDEO … just kidding that was just a link to my books page. Fooled ya!


Writing with Style 1: How to Write an Ending

Tonight I take a break from my mock-epistolary style with a different type of blog post. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I get a lot of questions from fellow writers who’ve read my books and have asked something like, “How’d you keep the pace moving so fast,” or “Where’d you come up with the idea to use … as a symbol for …” or “how do you keep the writing so clean or so tight?” Originally, I thought it was enough to address these types of questions with my bi-weekly, Letters on Literary Devices. But it appears that most folks prefer serious answers over sarcasm, and I figure, eh, what the hell, I’ll give sincerity a shot.

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For those of you who follow along with each post, you probably remember last’s week’s Letter on Literary Devices where I discussed a bizarre new way to conceptualize the development of a book ending. If you didn’t read it, check it out: The Predictability Spectrum. In that, I shamelessly compared foreshadowing the ending of a book to different variations of fecal excretions (Shit, that sounded like hyperbole). In this, I’d like to expand on the ideas expressed in that post with a slightly more serious approach and hopefully some decent tips for all you folks working on an ending for a book.

Here it goes:

One of the greatest challenges a writer faces in closing a book deals with the following questions: How explicit should I be? How much should I explain? How much should I leave open for interpretation?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a single answer here. Fortunately, I do have some important considerations that could help lead you to a decision.

Consideration 1: Are you writing Genre fiction? Readers expect certain types of endings for certain types of genres. So if you’re writing a mystery, a thriller, or a romance; you’re going to want some twists and turns in your ending. You won’t want to give to much away by means of foreshadowing, but you will want an ending that wraps up neatly. No room for interpretation needed.

Other genres bring other expectations. It’s important to know the expectation, so that you can either choose to follow it or choose to cleverly break the rules.

Consideration 2: Is your book literary? If it is, good. You have a lot of freedom. Although you can’t ignore convention entirely, you have a lot of options. The one thing to avoid is laziness. Whatever you do, don’t just end it because you don’t know how to end it. Don’t just make everything work out fine or kill everyone off for no reason (Unless you’re writing a farce). There should be reason behind an ending. (Unless you’re trying to make some homage to modernism. In that case, good luck to you).

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Consideration 3: Should the ending be suspenseful? That’s easy. The answer is yes. However, there’s more than one way to create suspense. You don’t have to end the book with a shootout to keep the readers attention. If you’ve done a good job developing your protagonist, your readers will want to know what’s going to happen to him or her. By simply building suspense up to the moment where the conflict resolves, you set yourself up for a decent ending. This can be done in a number of ways. Personally, I try to make the main conflict multi-dimensional. I like it to affect more than one character; I like it to involve some type of decision; I like to foreshadow its resolution symbolically; I like to use a lot of repetition of images or actions; I like there to be a moment of recognition (Aristotle called it anagnorisis) where the protagonist or antagonist realizes and even verbalizes his inescapable fate.  And these are just the things I can think of as I’m sitting here. There’s tons of ways to build suspense towards an ending. Get creative and don’t be afraid to ask readers whether or not the ending held their attention.

Consideration 4: Did you develop any major symbols or recurring motifs throughout your novel? If you didn’t, it might not be a bad idea to go back and add a few. That’s one of the things I always do during the first round of revision. Often, an ending can be hinted at through a symbolic event or passage earlier in the novel. In the book I just finished writing, the major symbol was the image of a hawk struck by a speeding truck. There was also a set of dancing eyeballs and a puddle of stagnant river water and this song that kept playing on the radio: Always the same, / Don’t you never change…”. There was more but I don’t want to give away the potential title. The point is this: to end the novel I allowed these symbols and images and motifs to converge towards an inevitable, believable conclusion. There weren’t twists and turns per se, but that’s ok. The symbols contradicted each other suggesting more than one possible ending. And that’s what creates suspense. It’s not about foreshadowing a single ending. Its about foreshadowing several possible endings. That’s why adding symbolism can be so powerful. Inherently, symbols allow for interpretation.

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Consideration 5: Should the ending be explained, hinted at, or left totally open? Personally, I like ambiguity in endings. But that doesn’t work for every book. I have four published novels now. The first ended in a tell-all. Here’s what readers said about it: “the ending is fitting” , “Throughout the story there are twists and turns, which keep you guessing right up to the very plausible and fitting end.” And that’s the type of feedback this type of ending is likely to receive. My third book was left open-ended. Check out what folks said about that one: … Yep, that’s right. No one commented on the ending. After that I decided to do a tell all with my fourth book. Check out what one reader had to say: Probably the most brilliant way to tie up loose ends in a series ever” The point here should be clear: readers remember the tell all ending. But that doesn’t necessarily make it better. It just makes it more memorable.

 

Well, that’s it for now. Hope this was helpful. If it was, and you liked this post, help me out by hitting that like button below. If you’d like to read more posts by me, feel free to click the follow button on the side of this screen. Want to check out my books. Just click this link: BOOKS. As always, thanks for reading and have a good day.

 

 

 

 


Letters on Literary Devices 13: The Predictability Spectrum

To haters of predictable endings:

As I’m sure you’ve already predicted, I’m writing this letter to expound on a new literary term I just invented. Here’s the name: THE PREDICTABILIY SPECTRUM.

Why did I invent this term, you ask? Well, these days, spectrums are all the rage. Think about it. You got the visible light spectrum – you know – like rainbows and shit. Autism has a spectrum. There’s the ol’ electromagnetic spectrum. There’s economic spectrums, political spectrums, broad spectrum antibiotics. Even poop has a spectrum. Haven’t seen it? Check it out:

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So I figured that if poop gets a spectrum, us literary folks should start thinking about getting some of our own spectrums too. Thus, I’ve created the very first literary spectrum (That I happen to know of).

On the far left side of the spectrum, we have foreshadowing. Everyone knows foreshadowing. That’s when an author builds suspense by hinting at future events. It can be done with a recurring motif, a snippet of dialogue, a direct address to the reader, dramatic irony – you get the idea, the list goes on.

On the far right side of the spectrum, we have Deus ex machina. That’s just an old Greek term for an unbelievable ending. In Greek drama, Deus ex machina was used when the plot was unsolvable. In those cases, the Gods would intervene, save the day, and everyone would go home happy. To be called Deus ex machina, the resolution of the conflict must seem random which means a total absence of foreshadowing.

To better the understand spectrum, take a moment to study this professionally drawn illustration:

Predictability Spectrum

Similar to good pooping, good writing relies on balance. While a good dump finishes somewhere between constipation and diarrhea, a good ending to a novel can be found somewhere between completely predictable and totally random.

It’s important to keep in mind that no two poops are alike and no two novels are alike either. For some genres and styles, a more predictable, softer ending is expected. Others require hard twists and turns in the plot before reaching an explosive conclusion. And that’s why I like the Predictability Spectrum. It allows for differences unique to the author and poop – I mean book.

 

Well, that’s all I have to say. I doubt that you predicted any of that. Deuces.


An Update: It Seems Like I Might’ve Written Another Book

For those of you who’ve asked, I haven’t posted in a couple weeks because I’ve been focusing my attention on finishing another book. I know, I know – lame excuse. But the first draft is finished now and I  can put it aside for awhile and get back to writing about writing. As far as the book goes, I have a title but don’t want to commit to it until after the first round of revisions and until I have a better idea about how I’d like to have it published.

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So what’s the book about? Well, I’m keeping that to myself for now.  But I can say that its dramatically different from the genre fiction that my fans know me for. The picture below serves as either a hint or a false lead.

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Now, for those of you who could care less about my fiction, don’t fret, I’ll be posting the next Letter on Literary Devices this week. I’ll probably post weekly through December because I’m taking a break from writing fiction until January. You might notice a few changes to my blog in the next few weeks too. It seems like most of you are interested in the posts regarding writing and how to incorporate a variety of literary, rhetorical, poetical, syntactical, and grammatical devices into fiction. So, that’s what I’ll focus on. In addition to Letters on Literary Devices, I’ll start writing shorter posts focused on creating unique narrative style.

 

For now, that’s all. If you’re interested in my books click this link: BOOKS. Take a second to click the link on the side to subscribe to my blog. If you’d like to comment, do it. As always, thanks for reading.

 

 


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