writing life

Imposter Syndrome

On Writer Twitter, the topic of Imposter Syndrome comes up frequently. That’s when you feel like whatever success you may have had is merely a fluke, and someone is going to notice it. It’s when you feel like you’re not a “real” writer, for whatever reason — not selling, not selling enough, not being well known, not getting award nominations, not being invited to book festivals. I’ve been surprised by how many people I think of as far ahead of me confessed to feeling this way.

The thing is, I’m not sure anyone really gets over this, unless they’ve got a huge ego (that’s not just a front). I would guess that the people who don’t ever feel like they might be exposed as an imposter are those who are the real imposters. Self-doubt does have its uses. It can keep us from feeling complacent and pushes us to keep doing better. When I start to fear that whatever I’ve achieved is a fluke and feel like a nobody, that’s when I buckle down and write more and am hard on myself to make what I write the best it can be. You don’t want to take it so far, though, that you hold yourself back from opportunities out of fear that you won’t be worthy, and you definitely don’t want to take it so far that you give up and quit because you’re sure you’ll never be a “real” writer.

The trick to dealing with all of this is to think about your own definitions of success. Don’t look at what success means to other people. What does it look like to you? What really matters? What are you trying to get out of this career? Would you trade what you have for what you see other people having?

I had my wake-up call about that when I was at the Nebula Awards conference last year. What often makes me feel like an imposter is the fact that I seem to be a relative unknown in my field, in spite of the years I’ve been publishing, the number of books I’ve had published, the amount of money I’ve made. I was on a panel about dealing with discouragement, and I brought this up as one of my discouragements. I had the audience raise their hands if they’d heard of me, and only a couple of hands went up. But on another panel about finances for freelancers, I was with people I consider far more successful than I am. They’re authors the audience had heard of, people who get award nominations, who have thousands of Twitter followers. And yet they were talking about running through their emergency funds, having to take part-time jobs to supplement their writing income, doing various kinds of crowdfunding. I might be obscure, but I’ve always been fairly financially secure as a full-time writer. I own a home, have no debts other than the mortgage (that I’ll probably pay off soon), and have a big enough financial cushion that I don’t have serious worries as long as I manage my money wisely. That was when I realized that while I’d love to be recognized and acknowledged, I much prefer making decent money. Of course, if I’m already making decent money, then being better known should mean I’d make even more money, but I wouldn’t trade the income for the renown.

Meanwhile, it’s entirely possible that the other people on that panel were feeling like imposters because they weren’t living entirely off their writing income without having any financial woes. Or they may be okay with where they are because they’re getting what they want.

Back in my day job years, I was at a conference for people in my field (university communications/public information officers), and the speaker suggested keeping a “fuzzy file.” In that job, you get a lot of criticism and are often caught in the middle — the administration always wants more and better results, the faculty just wants to be left alone and not bothered with press inquiries, unless they want more attention but don’t have anything likely to get attention, the press want sources for their stories but don’t want to be pitched things they aren’t interested in. You can’t make everyone happy. So it’s important to hang on to any bit of praise. Keep a file of thank-you notes, press clippings, positive feedback, etc., to look at when you’re feeling battered. Writers should keep their own fuzzy files of good reviews, acceptance letters, good royalty statements, award nominations, screen caps of high Amazon rankings, etc. Write a list of your accomplishments. When Imposter Syndrome kicks in, you can look at your fuzzy file and remind yourself that you deserve what you’ve achieved. Then use that nagging sense of dissatisfaction as motivation to go above and beyond.

writing life

Intentional Time

This year, I’m really trying to treat workdays like workdays. One of the dangers/pleasures of working for myself at home is that I’m totally in charge of my own time. If I want to spend the day reading or watching TV, I can. If I want to take the afternoon off and go to a movie or on a hike, I can. I can spend all day on Facebook or message boards. But then I don’t get any writing done. Even on good writing days, just taking a little break to check e-mail can end up with me blinking out of a fog an hour later. The thing is, I seldom do intentionally take a day off. I consider it a work day, then get sidetracked by other things that aren’t really fun but that aren’t work.

So my aim this year is to be intentional about how I use my time. I’m setting timers for activities that tend to have me blinking out of a fog an hour later, and I’m trying to spend as much time on work-related tasks as I would if I had a full-time job. That still gives me more free time than if I were working in an office because I don’t have to commute and I don’t have to deal with all the “office” stuff that isn’t work but that eats time. The last couple of years I had a “real” job, I was telecommuting and working part-time, but I realized I actually got more work done because so much time in the office was wasted. I’ll still allow myself the flexibility to take time to do fun things and enjoy the flexibility I have, but I want it to be on purpose, not time lost in a “I was just checking my e-mail, wow, what time is it now?” haze. Plus, if I really treat weekdays as work days, then weekends will be more meaningful.

Yesterday I was pretty good about getting a full day’s work in. I’m putting together some proposals for a potential opportunity, and I had a new idea for one, developed an old idea that’s been looking for a home, and figured out how another old idea might be repurposed to work for this. Then I re-read what I’ve written on a project in progress so I can start moving forward. Meanwhile, I did some promo work.

It helps that it was too cold to be up and around much, so I wasn’t distracted by housework or organizing projects. But I also cut off the TV and Internet early and read, finishing my first book of the year. I’ll be losing my cable service as part of my homeowners association fees early this year, and I’m considering scrapping it entirely, just getting an antenna, so I can cut back on my TV watching. I can get plenty of DVDs from my library, and the library also gives access to a few streaming services for TV shows, movies, documentaries, etc. Then I can watch what I plan to watch rather than mindlessly flipping through channels for background noise.

Now to go play some more with those new ideas and see if I can develop them into anything.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

After taking some time off, I’m ready and eager for the new year. Last year I spent more time writing than I had in previous years, but I aim to increase that even more because there are so many books I want to write and I need to get those stories out of my head.

Of course, I came up with a new one just as I was falling asleep last night. Because I needed another fictional universe swirling around in my head.

I hope to get another Enchanted, Inc. book and another Rebels book written this year. I also hope to find a new publisher for my young adult fantasy, and I’m working on a book that I hope will get editors eager and excited. Meanwhile, there’s something new I’m trying to delve into, and we’ll see how that goes.

I’m going to try to stick with a more regular schedule of posting, so stay tuned for updates about my work and life. For really regular postings, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook. I’m mostly limiting Facebook “friends” to people I’ve actually interacted with and know in some way, but most of my Facebook posts are public, so you can follow me even without being my “friend.”

In non-writing life stuff, we’re in an odd cold spell here in Texas. It hasn’t been above freezing in more than a day, which is unusual. My house isn’t really designed for weather like this, so I’m getting through it by staying huddled under the electric blanket on my bed. That means it’s a pretty good situation for writing. I splurged last month and bought myself a plush throw that feels really nice wrapped around my shoulders. I like cool weather, but I prefer it to stay above freezing. I may bundle up later today to go check the mail and see if the canal near my house has frozen over. I had to say goodbye to my summer flowers because the pots are just too big to bring them all in for such a long period of time. Really, it was odd to keep zinnias blooming after Christmas, and the morning glory was fading out even without being hit by a freeze. Still, it’s hard to say goodbye to my flowers after I enjoyed them so much. But it will soon be spring again and I can plant some more.

I hope everyone had a happy holiday season and is ready to have a wonderful 2018.

Books, TV

Playing with Pride and Prejudice

I’ve finally started digging into the pileup of Christmas movies on my DVR. Last night’s was an old Lifetime one, The 12 Men of Christmas, which is basically a retelling of Pride and Prejudice — a PR exec who lost her job and seems to have been blackballed from other agencies after she caught her boss making out with her fiancé at the office Christmas party takes a desperation job of promoting a small Montana town as a site for corporate retreats. She gets off on the wrong foot with one of the locals, and Pride and Prejudice ensues, with the external plot centering around her idea to raise money for the local search and rescue squad by doing a sexy calendar involving the men on the squad. Of course, “Mr. Darcy” is against it because it’s beneath his dignity, and it doesn’t help that “Mr. Wickham” is gung-ho.

And then my bedtime listening was the last part of an audio drama of Pride and Prejudice. Which seems to have led to my waking thought this morning being to wonder if anyone’s ever done a gender-flipped version of this story. I’m not sure it would work in the original setting because so much of the plot involves gender politics — the precarious situation of Lizzie’s family because they were all girls and the estate was entailed, which required them all to make good marriages; the scandal of the elopement, which affected the woman’s family more than the man’s. But it would be interesting to play with the idea of the woman being proud and aloof and the man taking an instant dislike that skews his discernment about anything anyone says about her.

Next thing I know, I’ve got a TV Christmas movie playing out in my head — there’s a family with five sons who run a ski lodge. They’re barely keeping the business afloat and need a huge influx of cash. Then they learn that a wealthy woman (maybe a movie star or rock star?) has rented a chalet in town. Maybe they could get her to invest in their lodge — or, since she seems to hit it off with the oldest son, they might end up with a cash infusion in another way. Unfortunately, her haughty best friend gets off on the wrong foot with the second oldest son, who then hears some nasty rumors about her from one of the guests staying at his lodge — a guest who’s actually a con artist who scams the youngest brother.

Hmm, maybe I’ve got my next Christmas story right there. But for it to be me, I’d have to find a way to add a dash of magic. I was thinking I’d have to write it in third person, or else write it from Mr. Lizzie’s perspective, but then it occurred to me that this story from Ms. Darcy’s perspective might be interesting. To some extent, part of the fun of the original story is not knowing what’s really going on in Darcy’s head, so we only see him the way Lizzie sees him, but it might be fun to flip that around and be in the Darcy character’s head, with all the “what is wrong with these people?” that surely must be going on.

There’s a conference in a ski resort town (though not during ski season) that I’ve been thinking about going to next year. That would be a great opportunity to research this story. I’m not sure it has to be at a ski resort, but that was the setting that occurred to me and where I see it playing out.

My Books

The Story Behind the Holiday Story

Holiday movie season is now in full swing, which means I feel a lot less inappropriate about promoting my holiday novella, though I haven’t actually started watching the holiday movies yet. My DVR is filling up, though, so there will have to be a binge at some point.

So, anyway, I have a holiday novella that’s on sale now. You can get more info and the sales links here.

Twice Upon a Christmas cover

Hallmark gets all the press for these now, and it’s become such a thing for them that they start showing non-stop Christmas movies before Thanksgiving and even show some during the summer, but even before they made themselves the Christmas movie channel, there were others doing it (and doing it better).

The first one I can recall that fit the mold of “romantic comedy set at Christmas” rather than the kinds of movies that are more directly about Christmas — the Santa Claus movies, various versions of A Christmas Carol, etc. — was on the Family Channel (which has gone through a lot of names and owners over the years and is now known as Freeform) during the 90s. It was called The Christmas List and starred Mimi Rogers as a department store perfume counter employee who, on a whim, made a list of silly things she wanted for Christmas, as though she was writing a letter to Santa. One of her co-workers snatched it away from her and put it in the mailbox for letters to Santa — and then all her wishes started coming true in strange ways. One of the wishes coming true made her path cross a widowed doctor with a kid. I really loved this movie. It had all the pretty Christmas setting stuff, and the plot did tie into the holiday, but it had a lot of thought-provoking stuff in it, like how we sometimes don’t do a lot to go after the things we want. That was what was interesting, how getting some of her wishes gave her the courage to start taking steps on her own. Unfortunately, I don’t think this movie has ever been released on DVD, but it sometimes shows up on TV during the holidays (but beware: there’s an inferior Hallmark movie with the same title), and at one point it was on YouTube (I don’t know if it still is).

Then Lifetime got into the game, and they did a bunch of these — fairly low-budget, mostly filmed in Canada (so you recognize all those actors from various science fiction shows). I think the Lifetime ones tend to be more urban, compared to Hallmark’s glorification of small towns. Now Lifetime seems to have backed off somewhat and ceded the territory to Hallmark. Freeform’s barely in the game (though my favorite movies all seem to have been on whatever incarnation of that channel).

When I decided to write my own holiday movie, I think it was before I got Hallmark on my cable system, so I was going more on the Lifetime/Family model, which is a little urban and maybe a bit edgier while still counting as “sweet.” I’m not sure Hallmark would have wanted this story, but it would have been a perfect fit for Lifetime or Family back in the day. I tried to stick with the formula of what I saw. The plot was loosely based on a familiar story or movie — in this case, the Sliding Doors story of seeing the different paths life could take based on a seemingly minor difference. I mixed it up by having the heroine aware of both lives and able to use what she learned in one life in the other, with her alternating days. There was a lesson to be learned. I chose music for the less secure potential life because I noticed that they frequently cast former teen actresses whose careers didn’t quite take off when they transitioned to adulthood in these things, and a lot of these actresses come from the Disney sitcom factory, where they’re required to also do some kind of singing. I figured the role would be appealing to an actress with singing talent. Plus, that was around the time the first Pitch Perfect movie was really big, so there was more awareness of a capella singing, and I thought that would resonate. There was even a chance of doing a spin-off single to be released for radio airplay if the lead actress had any background there. There’s a group around here that specializes in Christmas caroling in Victorian attire and is booked solid during this time of year. I’ve heard some of their stories about having to get to events in hoopskirts, and I thought that would give the seasonal tie while also providing some fun visuals. Meanwhile, I noticed that there was always a role for an “elder statesman” type actor, usually someone who was really big in a sitcom during the 80s and whose career has leveled off since then, so I wrote that kind of role (basically, you can imagine that Tilly in my story is played by Shelley Long).

Unfortunately, right around the time I finished writing my screenplay, Hallmark really took off with these movies and the other networks mostly gave up, producing only one or two new ones a year. I wasn’t sure mine was a good fit for Hallmark — they haven’t used music as much as the other networks have, it’s in an urban setting, and it’s implied that the hero and heroine do more than kiss before the end. I also wasn’t sure I wanted to try writing more of those, and there wouldn’t be much point of trying to go through the effort of finding a screenwriting agent and dealing with Hollywood for one TV movie script. And so, when I re-read it last year and found that I still really liked it, I decided to turn it into a novella. I’m always looking for something like that to read around the holiday season, and I figured others might like that, as well. Short pieces are good when you’re so busy. It’s something you can sit down and read in one sitting.

While I do enjoy these movies, I have to admit that most of the parodies I’ve seen are pretty accurate. There’s this early draft of a Hallmark movie script. And someone I know created a randomized holiday movie plot generator.

It was fun to write this. I haven’t seen how well it’s selling, so I don’t know if it would be worthwhile to write another one, but it might be something fun to do as a “break” while my house is still decorated for the holidays.

Books

Updating Classics

I’ve developed a habit of listening to audio dramas before I go to sleep at night. I find that they’re a good way of bridging the awake and asleep modes — a little time with the lights out but the brain still somewhat on, and then I fall asleep much more quickly after that night’s episode is over. The BBC web site is full of these, and a lot are classic literature, so I get to refresh my knowledge of some of these stories, or else experience them for the first time.

Recently, I listened to a version of Jane Eyre, and after that there was Jane Austen’s Emma, and then Pride and Prejudice. That got me started thinking — there have been modern versions, updatings of Emma (Clueless) and Pride and Prejudice (Bridget Jones’s Diary, among many others), but has there been one of Jane Eyre? I know there have been other books inspired by elements of it (I even used the governess and employer with a secret in Rebel Mechanics), but they usually take place in a Victorian-like setting, not in modern times. It’s not just that comedies work better than more serious dramas for updating, since there have been a lot of modern versions of Romeo and Juliet, for instance (West Side Story, Twilight).

You really couldn’t just stick the plot of Jane Eyre into modern times because it would fall apart. Divorce is more common and socially acceptable, and there are treatments for mental illness, so the mad wife in the attic as an impediment to remarriage wouldn’t be an issue. I did manage to strain my brain to come up with a way to kind of get the same effect in a modern setting, but then I started wondering if it’s a story that should be updated. It’s very much a story of its time and place.

When you look at the stories that get retold and put into current settings, it tends to be the ones that have an element of universality to them. There will probably always be people who think they know it all while they’re actually oblivious to the damage they’re doing by trying to “help” others, so you can take the plot of Emma and put it into almost any time and place (hmmm, now I want to do the space opera version). Ditto with Pride and Prejudice — bad first impressions are always going to happen. Not all of Austen’s novels get updated. A lot of the plot of Sense and Sensibility falls apart when there’s no real social stigma to a man breaking an engagement, though I think the emotion vs. reason, and there being positives and negatives about both, theme is universal enough that you could probably do something with it, even if the plot had to be changed somewhat to find some other reason Elinor and Edward can’t just get together. Mansfield Park is very much of its time and place and would be hard to put into a new setting because its themes aren’t that universal.

If you look at themes in Jane Eyre, while the mad wife in the attic is very specific to that story, I think the theme of Jane’s resilience and her awareness of her own standards is something that could hold up in any situation. As desperate and vulnerable as her situation is, she holds true to her values, refusing to live as man and wife with Rochester when she’d know it wasn’t true and that he had another wife, and then refusing to marry St. John Rivers just as a cover for them to do missionary work together while living like a brother and sister, because that marriage wouldn’t be true, either. Maybe that story could be moved into the workplace, where someone who desperately needs a job won’t compromise with employers who want her to cross ethical lines, and her stand on that makes one of her employers realize he needs to change his ways.

And now I think I may have a possible plot for a future Christmas story — kind of A Christmas Carol (one that gets updated a lot) meets Jane Eyre.

TV

Catching Up on Star Wars Rebels

One thing I’ve been doing a lot of lately is knitting, since I have a gift I need to get finished. And something I’ve found that makes good background noise for knitting is the Star Wars Rebels series that Disney has put on demand, going all the way back to the first season. I watched the pilot when they aired it on ABC and wasn’t impressed. I didn’t like the “teen with attitude” main character, and I really hated the animation/character design.

But I kept hearing good things about it, and then apparently they worked in stuff from the movies (and vice versa), so since I needed something to watch one day, and since most of the episodes are about 22 minutes, so they fit into small chunks of time, I decided to give it another shot.

I’m still not crazy about the character design and animation. It’s weird that the scenes, the ships, and the droids are all beautifully rendered and gorgeous, but the characters themselves look like the kind of animation that was in video games about 25 years ago. The way the faces are rendered reminds me of the kind of book covers that showed up on small-press romance novels back in the 90s, when there was apparently some kind of software that generated pictures of people, except they looked weirdly (and creepily) lifeless, more like people wearing masks, and with cold, blank, dead eyes. This is why this is a good background noise show. I can’t just sit and watch it, but I can listen and look up occasionally.

The plots in early season one struck me as very Disney sitcom-like. It was sad how many of the stories involved the characters getting into trouble because they did something childish and stupid. I think they thought that since this was on the Disney XD channel, their target audience was tweens. Then somewhere along the way the writing really got a boost and it started to feel more like Star Wars and less like a tween sitcom in the Star Wars universe.

There are two other things that make this a good show to listen to: the music and the voice acting. They use the original John Williams themes and weave them together to make a good score that fits — when we see walkers, we hear the walker music from the Hoth battle; when someone uses the Force, we hear the Force theme, etc. They also have an excellent voice cast (that even includes at least one Oscar nominee among the regulars). I was really impressed by how right Darth Vader sounded, and then I looked it up, and they actually got James Earl Jones. When Lando shows up, they have Billy Dee Williams. It’s just a pity that they don’t back up this excellent voice cast with better character animation and design.

What I’m enjoying is getting a broader look at that universe from other perspectives. Plus, since I have four seasons to catch up on, it’s amazing to be able to have new Star Wars content every day. I remember waiting years for the next movie and having nothing new in between movies. Now, whenever I turn on the TV, I can have new-to-me Star Wars stuff. And I haven’t even started delving into Forces of Destiny. I tried one episode of Clone Wars and had the same cheap animation problem, with a side of wrong voices, but maybe I should check that out of the library and give it another shot.

Books

This Year’s Spooky Classic: Dracula

During all my travels, I had a chance to do some reading. Last year, I decided I should read a spooky classic in October, and I decided to continue that as a tradition. This year’s book was the original Dracula, by Bram Stoker. No, I hadn’t read it before. I’ve never been a big fan of horror or of vampires.

I must say that the book was nothing like what I expected. Has there ever been a movie version that was all that faithful to the book? Because the book is nothing like most of the popular culture depictions I’ve seen of that story.

For one thing, it plays out to some extent more like a detective story or mystery, with the various letters and journal entries giving us pieces of the puzzle as all the characters see parts of what’s going on. We, the readers, have to read between the lines to figure out what’s happening. Then when they put their heads together and sort out all those pieces, it’s about finding and tracking down the villain and figuring out what to do about it. Almost all the “horror” is totally offstage, and Dracula himself affects everyone but is seldom actually present. So I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. I love books that aren’t written in straight narrative but that are put together from letters and other sources. In this case, compiling all this information into a coherent narrative is actually part of the plot, because it’s only when the information is put together in the proper order that they figure it out. The book itself is essentially the compilation the characters put together. It’s an interesting structure for a novel.

But the main thing I love is the character of Mina. She’s a wonderful example to look to for people who want to write strong female characters in a historical setting. She’s totally appropriate to her time (given that the novel was contemporary when it was written) and doesn’t feel like a 21st century character plunked into that setting, but at the same time she’s dynamic and active in a way that modern audiences can relate to. She’s not out physically kicking ass and taking down much larger men, but she’s the one who has a lot to do with bringing down Dracula, using her knowledge of stenography, typewriting and organizing, and she keeps a clear enough head to use the psychic connection Dracula forces on her to track his movements. The men recognize her abilities, even as they act like men of their time — and that even figures into the plot when keeping her safe by keeping her out of the action turns out to work against them because that leaves her vulnerable.

I may even end up reading this one again to analyze the structure and characterization, now that I know how the story comes out.

writing life

Home Again!

Whew, I’m finally at home for at least a little while. Three trips in a month, five conferences/conventions in about six weeks, was a lot. I’d thought about taking a vacation trip this fall, but at the moment, I don’t really want to leave home, and my post-Thanksgiving calendar is already filling up.

So, here’s where I’ve been:
There was FenCon locally in late September — my “home” convention that I also help put on. At least for that one, I got to stay at home and sleep in my own bed, but I got sick near the end of the convention and was out of commission for about a week afterward.

Then I flew to St. Louis for a quick trip to speak at the Missouri Library Association, where I felt like a really big deal.

Then the following weekend was Writers in the Field, a new event that’s sort of a hands-on subject matter workshop for writers. Instead of reading about things like swords and archery, you get to actually try it and talk to experts. They’ll be repeating it next year, so mark your calendars if that sounds interesting to you.

Then I went to Florida for Necronomicon, where I was a Guest of Honor — my first time doing that. I got to feel like a celebrity and met a bunch of great people.

After a weekend off, I went to San Antonio for the World Fantasy Convention, where I was a lot more obscure. I’m still working on that invisibility within my field thing, but I did sell a lot of books, so maybe it’s improving. I was very good and didn’t hide out in my room too much. I hung out with people in the lobby or in the hospitality suite and even made a couple of potentially valuable professional connections (in fact, I have a conference call later this week based on one of those contacts). I also took advantage of being in downtown San Antonio, with the Riverwalk making a lovely setting for my morning walks. I particularly love the main downtown area of the Riverwalk early in the morning, when the only people out are the maintenance staff and other walkers/joggers. It’s so peaceful, and it’s like getting a secret behind-the-scenes look without the crowds of tourists. Every time I’ve been to San Antonio, it’s been for some kind of business, meeting, or conference, and I keep saying I need to go sometime when it’s just for fun. Maybe that’s how I’ll use that airline voucher. I found a few things I’d have liked to do if I’d had the time.

Now that I’m home and more or less recovered, I need to get back in the swing of writing. I’ve got a book to finish, a book to revise, and a potential new thing to develop.

writing

Endings

I’m done with a lot of travel and can get back to writing posts — but then I just looked at the calendar and saw how quickly the holidays are approaching, so I think this may be the last “official” writing post this year. I’ll take a bit of a hiatus and come back in January with a lot of new ideas (I hope!). But I do hope to be better about blogging about other things. I’m just trying to avoid having scheduled obligations.

So, to conclude the series on parts of the story, let’s talk about endings. I’ve heard it said that the beginning is what sells this book and the ending is what sells the next book. The ending has to take care of a lot of things. That’s where the climax of the story goes — the peak action, where all seems lost until the hero prevails (or fails entirely). It’s also the culmination of the hero’s character arc, when he has to make some kind of change in order to prevail or perhaps because he prevailed. It’s when the loose ends are tied up, relationships secured (or ended), and we see just enough of the new normal in the aftermath to know how things are going to look for the hero going forward. If there’s a sequel, the seeds for the sequel may be planted to tease readers into coming back for more.

At the end of the middle, our characters have recovered from whatever their big midpoint ordeal/midterm exam was. Now they need to gear up to deal with things once and for all. They may have to return to the point of their failure to try again, they may have to race against the villains to get somewhere first in order to take care of business, or they may have to go where they will confront the villains. However it goes, it needs to be (at least figuratively) do or die. If this attempt fails, all is lost. There may not be another chance. This is also a moment of truth for our hero, who’s been resisting the kind of internal change she/he needs to make. If she doesn’t make this change, she probably won’t be able to succeed, but making that change is scary and leaves her feeling vulnerable. There may also be a moral choice — do things the right way and there’s a chance you won’t win, do things the wrong way and you might win, but there will be a huge personal cost. Making the right choice is a leap of faith. This is when the hero will be tested again on whatever he might have failed in the middle of the book — if he failed because he was too impulsive before, now he has to be able to wait for the right moment. If he failed before because he wanted to go it alone, now he has to trust in his team. It works best if whatever the hero needs to learn is closely tied to what he has to do to win.

Even though in genre fiction we’re pretty sure the hero is going to win, you have to trick the reader into wondering if maybe this time is going to be the exception and the hero will lose. The odds have to look bad, and there needs to be a good chance for failure. Victory should come at some cost. Secondary characters who are important to the hero may die. How far you go with this depends on the tone of the book you’re writing.

And then, victory! It’s best to end the book as soon as possible after that climax so there’s not a huge letdown, but you do need some winding down because readers want to savor that victory and see how it affects the characters. There may be celebration or mourning. We need to see at least a glimpse of what our hero is going to be like now that she’s been transformed. How will that affect her relationships with other characters? What do other characters think of her now? How have these actions and events changed the world of the story? You probably don’t want more than a chapter or so of aftermath, but you need enough to reassure readers that everything’s okay and all is right with the world (at least, until the sequel, and then you need to leave just a little bit that’s not entirely right). How you wrap things up depends on the effect you want to have — do you want to leave readers sobbing or sighing?

One common way of showing how things have changed is to reflect the beginning. In a quest, the character may have returned home, and we see the contrast between the hero and his surroundings. How is he different from the person who left? How has his view of his home changed? Will he be happy there? Or you can reflect an incident from the beginning and show the changes. In my Enchanted, Inc., the book opens with the heroine seeing strange things on the subway that no one else seems to notice, and it bothers her. At the end, she’s on the subway seeing strange things again, but now she understands them and is part of their world. You could do something similar with an encounter between two characters that goes differently or by showing the character facing a similar challenge in a different way. Or the character may have embarked on an entirely new life, so we need a glimpse of how she fits into that new life and new world and how it’s different from her old life.

Some genres have specific expectations of what happens in the end. A mystery requires the hero to find and unmask the killer, who’s brought to justice, and there often isn’t much aftermath wrap-up, unless there are relationship subplots to be addressed. A romance requires some kind of emotional commitment between the characters, so that you know they’ll be in a relationship going forward.

One of the best ways to learn to write a good ending is to look at the books whose endings have stuck with you and see if you can analyze why you like those endings. How many pages are left after the climax and main plot resolution? What events happen? What emotional tone is struck? That will help you figure out what you need to do.

In general, it’s a good idea to leave readers wanting a little more — give enough to be satisfying, but not enough to start to get boring. It’s better for readers to wish for just one more page than to have them flipping ahead.

And with that ending, I’ll close out the writing posts for the year.