Elements of a great ending

By Joe Moore

We’ve had plenty of posts here at TKZ about story beginnings. As a matter of fact, we invite submissions and devote the month of March to critiquing the first page of your stories. Beginnings are so important because they set the hook and grab the reader.

But what about endings? Are they as important as beginnings? After all, they occur after the big finale, the gripping climax, the roaring finish. In a way, we can think of endings as anticlimactic. And yet, they have an important function to perform in any story.

First, the ending should resolve anything that was not addressed during the climax. Once the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist is put to bed, what’s left must be brought together as a resolution in the ending. There must be closure to anything still hanging in the reader’s mind.

The ending also answers the story question. Since the story question usually deals with character growth or change, the ending must make sure the story question is answered.

Let’s say that the main character had to stand by and watch his family perish in a terrible accident that he inadvertently caused. The story question might be: will he ever forgive himself and have the courage to find love again and perhaps start a new family? The actual plot might deal with something totally different, but along the way he finds a new love interest. Once the climax occurs and the plot is resolved, the reader must discover the answer to the story question. It has to be made clear in the ending. In most stories, the main character takes a journey, whether it’s physical, mental or spiritual. How he completes the journey is the answer to the story question and must be resolved in the ending.

Another function of the ending is to bring some sense of normalcy back to the characters’ lives. It can be the restoring of how things were before the journey began or it can be the establishment of a new normal. Either way, it must be resolved in the ending. Our hero has found a new love and plans to start a new family. It’s his new normal and the reader must understand the changes that he went through to establish the new normal.

If the story contains a theme, message or moral, the ending is where it should be reinforced. Not every story has an underlying theme, but if it does, it must be clarified in the ending. This way the reader can close the book with the feeling that the theme or message was accomplished or confirmed. The main character(s) got it, and so did the reader. Even if the reader doesn’t agree with the message, it has to be confirmed in his or her mind what it was, and if it was completed.

The end resolution of the theme or message must be in sync with the story. For instance, if the theme is to accept a spiritual belief in the existence of a greater power in the universe, the plot and characters must touch upon or address the idea somewhere along the way so the end resolution confirms that they have changed their beliefs to support or at least admit to the theme.

The ending should also cause readers to feel the way the writer intended them to feel. Whatever the emotional response the reader should experience, the ending is where it’s confirmed. After all, the writer is the captain of the ship. He steers the story in a specific direction—a direction he wants the reader to go. The reader is a passenger along for the journey. It’s important that in the end, the ship dock at the right port. Worse case is that it doesn’t dock at all. That’s the result of a weak ending.

The ending is how you leave your reader. It’s the last impression. And it just might be the reason the reader wants to buy your next book. Or not.

Have you been disappointed with an ending to a book or a movie? Did you invest the time only to come away feeling betrayed? And what book or movie do you feel contained all the elements of a great ending and left you wanting more?

The ultimate holiday wish list for writers

The holiday shopping season has barely begun, and already I sense desperation in the air. Last week the anchors at CNBC fretted over whether Black Friday and Cyber Monday would lift the fortunes of a sagging stock market (they did, briefly).

Then there’s the quiet desperation of trying to find a perfect gift. If you’re shopping for a writer, it helps to know what type of writer she is. Organized or overwhelmed? Disciplined or a Lazy Mary? The following list of gift ideas is tailored to some universal writer types:

For the writer starting a book tour:  A special signing pen. This should be something fairly showy and substantial, like a Montblanc.  Get both black and blue inks.

For the writer who hates her bug-ridden, balky PC: An Apple MacBook Pro, pre-loaded with the Scrivener writing program. She’ll think she died and went to writer heaven. (This is top of my list this year, just in case Santa is reading this blog).

For the writer who is researching a setting for his book: An all-expenses paid trip to the most exotic locale in his WIP. This gift has the added bonus of being tax deductible for Santa.

For the writer who is desperately in need of inspiration: A weekend event with motivational guru Tony Robbins. Last year we were at the Marriott in Palm Springs during a Tony Robbins event. We rode the trams with gaggles of freshly-inspired seminar attendees. I can’t imagine a more gung-ho group, except for possibly Seal Team 6.

For the writer facing a photo shoot: If your writer is stressing over posing for her author’s photo, a little makeover is in order. This gift can include anything from hair and makeup to a wardrobe re-do. You can easily order makeup online but why not go the extra mile and get organic cosmetics online instead? At the extreme end, consider springing for some plastic surgery (but only if she’s been yearning for something specific along those lines. Don’t suggest it first, or you’ll be sitting at the bottom of the stocking with a lump of coal).

For the disorganized, overwhelmed writer: A year’s underwriting for   housekeeping service. Your writer may still be disorganized at the end of the year, but she’ll have fewer excuses.

So, Dear Reader, what would you add to my wish list of gifts for writers? And what is on your own list this year?

Book Group Etiquette

My mother-in-law’s book group has kindly asked me to come visit next year which has prompted me to think about authors and book group etiquette. Thus far, I have been incredibly lucky that the book groups I have visited have loved my books (or at least pretended to!) so I have never faced that awkward moment of realization that someone found my books…er…’lacking’.

As a member of a book group myself I have, however, been known to initiate some pretty ‘lively’ (and negative) debates over the merits of a particular book. So what is the etiquette for author visits to book groups? How do participants and authors handle the fact that not everyone is going to like a book?

When I visit a book group I usually focus on the inspiration for my books and the writing process or writing life itself. Very rarely do I enter into a debate over the merits (or otherwise) of my writing. I wonder, however, have I just been lucky? Is the day of reckoning going to come when I have to face the hard questions? And how, assuming that day does come, should I react?

So here are some questions for authors and readers alike:
  • Have you ever had an author visit to a book group that ended badly?
  • How should book groups handle an author visit when not everyone likes the books (which, lets face it, is 99.9% of the time)?
Now obviously we all expect a modicum of decency and respect…but apart from that what should the etiquette be (for book groups and authors alike)?

My Lunch With Larry

Every writer needs a mentor. Or at least someone to offer encouraging words during those dark, dismal days of doubt (like when you use too much alliteration and wonder if you’ll ever get this writing thing right).
Many writers had an English teacher or creative writing instructor in school who gave them encouragement. I had the good fortune of taking creative writing from Mrs. Marjorie Bruce at good old Taft High. She saw something in me when all I saw was a jock who wanted to play college hoops. She really got me going and believing in myself as a writer, and I kept in touch with her for the rest of her life, until she passed into that great classroom in the sky at the age of 90.
I went to college where they undid some of Mrs. Bruce’s good work. There I was told: Writers are born, not made. You can’t really learn this stuff. You either have it or you don’t. And I certainly didn’t have it. I thought writers just sat down and plots and great characters burst out of their fingertips without any effort whatsoever. And I couldn’t do that.
So life went on, I did other things, got married, went to law school. But one day I woke up and realized I still wanted to write, that the desire had never gone away. So I set out to try to learn what they said couldn’t be learned.
And one of the first people I found who helped me along was Lawrence Block. I read his book, Writing the Novel, and knew at last I had found the encouraging mentor I was looking for. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest and read Larry’s fiction column every month. I still have big binders on my shelf full of old copies of the magazine, with his columns copiously underlined.
He seemed so able to communicate what it feels like to be a writer, and how a writer thinks. I never read any column of his where I didn’t nod my head at least a couple of times, thinking here is a guy who really gets it. And he’s generous enough to give it to others.
But it wasn’t just his instruction, it was his fiction. The first novel of his I read was Eight Million Ways to Die. It blew me away. I consider it one of the classics of the crime genre. It motivated me. I wanted to be able to write a book someday that packed that kind of punch.  
Years later, when I was offered the fiction column at Writer’s Digest, I felt like some junior prophet who was taking over the sacred page from Moses. It was a privilege, and I tried my best every month to give readers what Larry had given me.
So it was great to catch up with Moses a week ago at the annual Men of Mystery gathering. Authors and fans of mystery and suspense fiction were there to have table talks and lunch, with Larry as the keynote speaker. His riffs on how he writes, how he stumbled into series, how he picked up one series after a quarter-of-a-century gap––these once again took us into the mind of a consummate pro.
Lawrence Block has won all the mystery awards, some several times, and has a publishing record that is among the top in the field. And he still takes time to go out and encourage writers and talk to fans.
So who has been your mentor, or encourager? What did that person give to you that you needed to hear?

Now We’re Cooking

I cook the Thanksgiving Dinner at casa de Hartlaub each year. It involves some basic planning, such as buying a frozen turkey on Sunday. It sits in the refrigerator and thaws and by Thursday it’s ready for the oven. The real planning comes Thursday. I start at 7:00 AM with the pies. The lasagna goes in the over at 9:00 AM and at 9:35 I begin preparing the turkey and its stuffing. The whole kit and caboodle goes in the oven at 10:00 and then I stuff the potatoes, sit back and mfive hours later and it’s time to bake the rolls and prepare the mixed vegetable dish. By 4:00 PM dinner is served.

It occurred to me this year — probably because I had a blog entry to write — that preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a lot like the act of writing. The first and foremost step is that I have to get up and start. Getting up whenever I happen to wake up and having a cup of coffee and taking 20 to 30 minutes to transition between into it is not going to do it done. Before I know it I’ve lost half of the day. I have to get up and start.

The second element is making a schedule and doing everything I can to stick to it. Sometimes things, like life, get away from me, like that fire in the kitchen. We still had dinner that Thanksgiving, however, even though the dog got part of one of the pies. Since there were all males in the house, however, we ate the rest of it without worrying about germs. So too, when I’m writing: sometimes the idea will get away from me and I’ll find myself far afield, being just as clever as can be but not with anything that helps the story. I drag myself back and get on target and on schedule. And the sooner that I do that the better off I am.

The third element is the possession of the proper tools to get the job done. I discovered at the last minute that I didn’t purchase one of those turkey broiling pans that I use every year (one dollar at uh, The Dollar Store) and had to go out and get it. I had everything else all lined up and ready to go. Writing, I use Word and Google docs, but when my computer crapped a sandcastle while I was in New Orleans in September I used Evernote on my T-Mobile MyTouch to take notes and write whole chapters. My fingers will never be the same, but I got it done.

The fourth step is sticking with an outline. My outline for dinner is laid out above in my first paragraph. I have a more difficult time outlining a novel, but I’m finding that things work out a lot better when I do; otherwise I dislocate my arm patting myself on the back for a great beginning and a strong ending. It’s hard to fill that vast expanse of white space in between the beginning and end when your arm is dislocated. I’ve started using Scrivener, and that helps. It’s almost as good as…well, as a reliable oven.

That aside: I hope that you had a great Thanksgiving. I’m thankful to have lived much longer than I really should have and to have the love I don’t really deserve from so many wonderful people. That would include, first and foremost, the family I prepare dinner for every Thanksgiving, and who are my most loyal readers. And it would include you for stopping by here regularly. Thank you, and God Bless.

Thanksgiving Supper Rules for Social Networking

by Michelle Gagnon

Clare’s excellent post on Monday discussed what not to blog about. I thought I’d add an addendum to that, based on something I read recently about employers Googling prospective employees and checking their Twitter and Facebook feeds. It got me thinking about crafting an online persona, and how the list of “do’s” and “don’ts” is basically the same as our family’s Thanksgiving dinner table commandments.

I don’t know about you, but we have a wide and varied mix of relatives huddled around the turkey every year. There are aunts and uncles who define themselves as Tea Partiers, liberal cousins who spent a significant chunk of the past few months hunkering down at various Occupy demonstrations, and everything in between. To maintain the peace and insure that stuffing doesn’t start flying across the table, we established these groundrules:

  1. No discussion of politics. This includes snide and offhand references, thinly veiled metaphors, and oblique asides. I realize that at times, this can be a tough rule to follow. After all, we are in the middle of a run up to a major election, and the national discourse has become increasingly polarized. But based on past experience, finding a middle ground for a free exchange of ideas is challenging when everyone has had a couple tumblers full of Aunt Millicent’s Magic Punch. Not everyone might agree with me on this, but I feel the same way about posting on social networks–staking out a soapbox can lose readers, which as an author is not a good thing. Even if you aren’t a writer, do you really want a future boss to reconsider hiring you based on the fact that your political views diverge? If you just can’t resist reposting that link to the latest outrageous act by Congress/police/protestors, do what I do and set up a separate, private Facebook account that is limited to people you actually know and trust (of course, those constantly changing privacy settings still make this a potential minefield, so proceed with caution).
  2. Ditto for religion. I respect the right of everyone sharing my cranberry sauce to worship whom or whatever they want. But things tend to get sticky (no pun intended) when you try to explain to Grandpa that he’s been wrong all these years, and the true savior is Lord Zod. Again, this is the sort of thing you can put on a private page, if you feel so inclined. But this is another hot button issue that could alienate more followers than you end up gaining.
  3. Swearing. Don’t do it. I have a friend (in real life, and on Facebook and Twitter) who has been known to put sailors and truckers to shame under the right circumstances. This same friend will instant unfollow anyone who uses offensive language in a post. There’s an impact to words in print that shouldn’t be underrated. And really, it’s generally unnecessary. You can always resort to $%#^&.
  4. Embarrassing Stories. The worst part of social networking is that these can be accompanied by actual photographic evidence of said embarrassing moments, which is always the kiss of death. So if you wouldn’t tell your five year old nephew about spending the weekend passed out on the floor of a train station, why would you broadcast it to the world?
  5. Cats. Okay, this one isn’t necessarily on our Thanksgiving tablets, but I’ve learned the hard way that any negative comment about felines will result in an instant loss of roughly 5% of your followers. It’s true–try it if you don’t believe me. So I call this the “Rita Mae Brown” rule. Be nice to the kitties online. You don’t need to go so far as posting adorable photos/videos of them, but it’s also a bad idea to share one of a cat falling out a window.

In a world where we live increasing portions of our private lives online, the line between what gets shared and what doesn’t has become blurred. It’s remarkable that some people tell utter strangers tidbits about their inner thoughts and prejudices that they probably wouldn’t share with close friends. Many people mistakenly believe in the illusion of anonymity, assuming that a post about the awful mistake you made last night will soon be forgotten. The truth is, years from now that same nugget could be unearthed, with embarrassing consequences.

Just for fun, here’s Stephen Colbert’s take on it. Happy Thanksgiving.

The Post-Book Blues

Everyone knows about post-partum depression, but how about the post-book blues? A writer works for months on a project. Momentum builds to the grand finale. And then poof, it’s all over. You’re done. Finished. Past the creative hurdle. What happens next?

What’s next is that you face reality, just like new parents who come home from the hospital with a squalling baby. Now it’s time to exert your parenting skills. For a writer, a manuscript is her baby. You polish your masterpiece, submit it, and then risk rejection, but you learn a lot along the way. Meanwhile, you begin to gather the research materials for the next story. It’s sort of like learning how to change a diaper and warm formula while already thinking about baby number two.

During this gap between writing projects, you can pay attention to bills, family members, and household issues that you’ve skirted while absorbed in your story. Dental cleaning? Check. Doctor visits? Check. Sort through files in home office? Check. Call for repair estimates? Check. If you have a day job, you can throw yourself into your work with renewed frenzy.

Is any of this fun? Nope. But you also have time to meet friends for lunch, to stroll in the park, to go shopping, or to do sports. Your mind is free to follow other pursuits. And yet as you go about your business, a yawning emptiness erupts. Where are those voices in your head? The characters who keep you company? The plot threads that invade your dreams?

When you can’t stand the silence any longer, the time has come to plant the seed for the next story or the next child, if you will. The joy of creation becomes impossible to deny.

So when you finish a book, how does it make you feel? Are you elated, relieved, or depressed?

SHARING GOOD NEWS: A Twit speaks on Tweets

By Kathleen Pickering  http://www.kathleenpickering.com

I’m calling myself a Twit because it took me so long to understand the REAL value of Tweeting. If there is a glimmer of a chance that I’m not alone in this, I’d like to share the value I’ve discovered, as well as offer tips I have found to enhance the Twitter experience.

Two very cool events have happened that I want to share. When I “tweeted” the first one, the proverbial light bulb finally illuminated in my marketing head on the enormous benefits of Twitter.

I tweeted this:

Just learned my 1st Super Romance WHERE IT BEGAN earned 4.5 Stars from RT: http://www.amazon.com/Where-Harlequin-Superromance-Kathleen-Pickering/dp/0373717547/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1317497566&sr=8-4

Of course, Twitter shortened the link automatically for me. For my mystery writing/reading friends, RT = Romantic Times Magazine.

Well guess what happened? Within an hour, incredible author notables (and I dare say friends or acquaintances) such as, F. Paul Wilson, Christina Dodd, Beth Ciotta, Allison Chase, Cynthia Thomason, and Mary Stella re-tweeted my announcement to their friends.

Let me say this: HOLY QUACAMOLE! Paul has almost 3000 followers, Christina Dodd enjoys the company of over 7000 friends. Talk about spreading the good news!

That means my message was received by an exponentially larger audience than my own. (Which sits at under 1000 friends and will hopefully grow as I become more active.)

So, for those of us who could use a suggestion . . . or seven . . . on how to enhance the Twitter experience, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Short but Important: the first words you choose to post are critical to catching friends’ attention. I humbly submit, however, that as authors trained to “hook” a reader, that should be a comfortable task.

2. Less is More: If you saturate your channel with uninteresting material, folks will start passing over your Tweets rather than clicking to read more. Be INTERESTING with fewer tweets with links than over-posting babble. The more clicks per tweet you receive, the longer your Tweets stay alive.

3. Timing Counts: That being said, visibility goes a long way to receive attention for your messages. “Packaged” Tweets (bundled together at one time) are not as attractive as well-spaced notices. Folks are saying posting every 30 minutes to every hour, or once every 2-3 hours is optimal for business activity.

4. Keep Your Post Alive: An interesting Tweet with a clickable link to more information that is news worthy can stay alive for over three weeks if done correctly. What is correct you ask? First, it helps if you have a good friend base established (or begin one with an amazing first Tweet); Second, Tweets with links to websites, blogs, freebies and contests do very well.

Now, here are some FREE tools I discovered to enhance your Twitter experience:

A. Tweet Scheduling: There is a free application that helps you set up your Tweeting schedule of–don’t forget– compelling Tweets. Click here: It’s called, TIMELY.

B. Sharing Photos: Check out POSTEROUS as a free and easy means of uploading photos to your Tweets while keeping within the 140 character requirement.

C. Get More Followers: I find this link incredibly clever for earning more followers. Offer something for free (an e-book, a contest on your website, gift certificate, and interview, etc.) by getting Tweeters to repost your Tweet to their friends or on Facebook, etc. It’s a great way to amass an e-mail list as well as gaining Twitter friends. Check out CLOUD:FLOOD for more information.

So, this Twit has finally caught on the the Twitter experience. I’m hooked, now. Better late than never and really looking forward to more Twitter fun. I hope these tips help anyone out there who may have felt as awkward as I over not understanding Twitter.

Does anyone have any other Twitter tips they can share?

Oh, and, as for the second event I’d like to announce? You’ll have to wait for my next blog!

Hope your Tweeting week is grand!


What not to Blog About

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I came across a blog post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner on ‘what not to blog about‘ and it prompted me thinking about social media in the new age of publishing and what is and is not ‘off limits’.

Rachelle’s list of what authors should not blog about includes:
  • contract provisions (including advances, royalty rates etc.);
  • status of your manuscript being shopped;
  • unhappiness with your publisher, agent or publicist;
  • extreme social or political opinions; or
  • basically venting or ranting ad infinitum on pretty much anything:)
I think what should or should not be included in your blog depends on your aim and focus for blogging in the first place. At TKZ we pretty much focus on the craft of writing, the writing life, and the publishing industry. As such we tend to steer clear of political/religious or social discussions outside that (admittedly pretty wide) remit. I think one thing we all strive for is to appear professional about our writing and this is where I think Rachelle’s blog post provides a timely reminder to be careful about crossing the line when it comes to social media.

What do I mean by crossing the line? – Saying anything that might negatively impact your writing career. In this era of digital publishing the rules may be changing but the need to appear professional remains the same.

In addition to Rachelle’s list, I would also hesitate to disclose too much about your current WIP (apart from generalities), status of your discussions/contracts with an agent, or anything that your publisher may regard as confidential. In addition, I think authors need to be cautious about what material they self-publish when under contract (witness the controversy when Kiana Davenport lost her traditional deal after refusing to pull a self-published work). While it is fine to blog about the challenges of writing, it is also important not to appear negative or unprofessional or to disclose too much about particular people or publishers involved (after all, you never know who may be reading what you post…)

Now perhaps some of you think I am too cautious, but I worry that there are so many mechanisms for authors and readers to reach a ‘personal connection’ – from blogging to Facebook and Twitter – that sometimes the line between personal and professional gets blurred. Rachelle’s blog post was a great reminder of this for me.

So what do you think? What things do you think authors should not blog about? Have you ever blogged, tweeted or posted on Facebook anything you later regretted?

How to Eat the Publishing Elephant

James Scott Bell

The elephant is our most versatile bestial metaphor. 
We sometimes refer to the big issue everyone knows is there (but no one is talking about) as “the elephant in the room.” Back in November of 2008, in conference rooms at publishing houses throughout New York, the elephant in the room was the Amazon Kindle. Was this device going to change publishing as we know it? Maybe no one wanted to talk about it back then, until the elephant broke out of the room and started stampeding all over midtown Manhattan.
Then there’s the story of the three blind men coming up to an elephant. One touches the tail, another the leg, the other the trunk. Each man assumes the elephant is something other than it is, because he has only one bit of data. This we can liken to those who think they know everything there is about publishing (or anything else, for that matter) when they only have experience with one part of it.
But the metaphor I want to work with today is the question, How do you eat an elephant? The answer, of course, is “one bite at a time.”
This applies to the world of successful self-publishing. Note the key word successful.It’s easy to self-publish (too easy, some would say). But to be successful at it is an entirely different matter.
A lot of people are expecting to eat the whole elephant in one bite. That’s because some of the early adopters did that. Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Blake Crouch – these are some of the names that jumped in early and did some heavy munching. Barry Eisler famously walked away from a traditional print deal and went E to feast on elephant. Bob Mayer, king of the backlist, consumed several elephants earlier this year when releasing all those titles close to one another. 
But these are the notable exceptions to what is now the undeniable rule: the vast majority of writers will not get anywhere near rapid success. And if they expect to, they will be sorely disappointed and may even chuck the whole publishing thing.
Which is fine. We need less content, not more, because most of the two million self-published offerings out there are, well. . . let’s just say the bulk of it pretty much affirms Sturgeon’s Law.
But if you want to be successful as an indie author, you can be – if you eat the elephant one bite at a time and chew thoroughly.
By “success” I mean making a profit. You can make a profit from your self-publishing if you do certain things and do them right (like knowing how to write. That really helps). How large a profit it is impossible to say up front. It may just be Starbuck’s money. Everyone’s mileage is going to vary. But here’s the rub: If you keep taking more and more bites, and do so carefully and with purpose, you have a chance to make more profit. That’s called “business.” If you want to be a professional writer, you are essentially running a small enterprise. Your job: provide value.
My business includes a traditional arm where I partner with publishers like Kensington and Writer’s Digest Books. It also now includes an indie division. I have taken a few bites at the indie elephant, wanting to learn as I go and see what works. I’ve studied the field, too. And while there are many things one needs to do well, the unalterable foundation is quality + volume. Thus, the elephant wisdom that has become evident over this last crazy year of indie publishing is: if you want to be successful at ityou need to be in it for the long haul, and by that I mean the rest of your life.
Let me repeat: the rest of your life.
If you are truly a writer, that won’t be difficult for you. But if you are just in this to try to make some easy lettuce, it will be. And should be.
A real writer writes, wants to write, would do it even if the prospect of making killer money was nil. Storytellers tell stories, which is why I plan to be found dead at my computer, my stone cold fingers over the keyboard. I only hope I have just typed “The End.” Or better yet, clicked “Upload.”

I will keep on biting the elephant. And when I’m old and toothless, I’ll gum the elephant. Because a real writer never stops.
Happy eating, friends.