Finding The Ending

I’ve often said — and I’ll probably say this many more times — that the hardest thing about writing is figuring out how you do it. The process other writers use to get from an idea to a finish novel can, at best, help you see possibilities of working, but no writer can take another writer’s process and simply use it.

For me, I’ve slowly come to see I’m very much a cycle writer. What this means, in general, is that I cycle through the story, adding and cutting and pushing the story forward with each pass. I’m not much of a “mini-cycler” the way, say, Dean Wesley Smith is. If you follow his on-going blog, you know that he continually makes small cycles, going back a couple hundred words, doing larger cycles rarely. I’m more of a “macro-cycler” the way, say, Harlan Coben is. About every 50 pages, maybe more, maybe less — it depends — I start at the beginning and read the story all the way through. Sometimes I do this because I really don’t know where I’m going, and other times I do this because I want to add and/or cut depending on the story is progressing. But mostly, I want to make sure there’s continuity.

Today, when I sat down to write, I realized I don’t have the faintest idea as to how to end this novel, THE SEER AND THE MADMAN. I’m right there on the cusp. Everything is lined up — except, I don’t know how it’s going to play out … and I don’t know even what direction to face. If I had one or the other, I think I could write. If I knew the ending, I would know how to get there. And if I knew which direction to face — even if I didn’t know the ending — I could at least put words on paper and see where it would lead. But I’m really lost at the moment.

Well, maybe not that lost.

One thing that often surprises me about writing — and perhaps it’s writing’s biggest joy — is when you surprise yourself. That is to say, when you don’t plan on something, but it’s there nevertheless. A “Muse Bomb,” as Holly Lisle would call it. When you find one and are able to use it, it’s a real thrill.

So while I don’t know how this sucker is going to end, I’m confident that my ending is already in the story — somewhere. A freshly printed manuscript sits next to me, to my left, and as soon as I get done here, I’m sitting down with it, a pencil, and a fresh cup of coffee, and I’m going to start reading.

All with a view to finding the story’s ending.

Next Tabard Cain Novel

I’ve been busy working on the next Tabard Cain novel. Its working title is THE SEER AND THE MADMAN, and while that’s not set in stone, I suspect that will be the final title. It fits the story in general, Tabard’s story in particular, and I’ve yet to come up with a better title. At this late in the game — I’m about 80% finished — I don’t foresee a new title emerging on the scene.

This book is proving to be very different from THE KINGLESS WARRIOR. That’s good. Who wants to read the same book, only retold? I don’t. And I don’t really want to write the same book. Once is enough. The struggle is to keep it interesting. I find I do that best when I let the story evolve as I write it. I start with some basic ideas, and have a general outline in my head. By general, I mean I can tell you in a very broad way how I think the story will pan out. But the details? No, I haven’t a clue. Letting these details develop as the story unfolds keeps things exciting. Just today, for example, I had a big insight into how the ending will play out, which knocked me for a loop. That’s the great fun of writing — when the story takes a life of its own. Its the only sure-fire way a writer can know that his story is wroth telling, I think.

After THE SEER AND THE MADMAN?

I have two more Tabard Cain novels I want to write — THE CITY OF SPIDERS and then THE HIDDEN TEMPLE — before switching gears. Both titles might change, so don’t hold me to them.

These four novels, then, will form the first great movement of the Tabard Cain saga. Once compete, I plan to move on to other projects (a post-apocolyptic fantasy series, a space opera series, and a series of horror novels all set in the same town, to name a few) while my creative subconscious works on the second, four-part Tabard Cain movement. How many movements do think there will be? I don’t know. I do know how the saga will end, though, and that’s something.

Now Available: THE KINGLESS WARRIOR

KinglessWarrior-eBook Cover

In a world of thievery and dark magic, one man seeks to learn the truth—of himself.

In Silvida, the most powerful city on the Ackpur Ocean, Tabard Cain seeks the truth of his past and a road to his future. But he finds himself caught between the intrigues of a shadowy thieving guild, the evil powers of a dark magician, and men who seek to overthrow the royal family and send the city into chaos. Forced to choose sides, Tabard must sneak into the royal palace and steal the legendary Mirror of Melyara—all with the hopes of saving the city … while unveiling the mysteries of his life, and finding a path to redemption.

Ebook at Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

The Best Writing Advice In The World Is …

John D MacDonald

I’ve been listening to a writing book on style. It’s good, and it’s given me some things to think about. But it has a problem. A big problem. The author pontificates about how long it should take to write a novel (about a year). The author says you can’t write a good novel without detailed character sheets and a solid outline. The author says a novel needs to go through a lot of revisions and numerous edits. The author, of course, backs up these claims by sighting famous writers who worked in this way. This is the only way to produce “memorable fiction,” the style-book author says.

Listening to these pronouncments, I felt that growing tension I often feel when an “authority” says, “This is how you do it.” Why? Because that’s not how I work. How do I know this? Because whenever I tried to work that way, I ended up quitting.

Here’s the problem: for every famous writer the style-author used to back up his way of working, I could think of another famous writer who worked in different ways. Nora Roberts immediately comes to mind; she writes far more than one novel a year. So does Dean Koontz. So does R.A. Salvatore. So did Louis L’Amour and John D. MacDonald.

This is not to say I necessarily want to write like these writers. My point is this: when writing teachers — even writing teachers who are successful fiction writers — speak about writing as if they’ve just come down from Mt. Sinai, we who have gathered at their feet need to remember that they often turn into “commandments” the process that works for them. And if their process is not your process, guess what? Your work is going to suffer.

I’m reminded of something I read in a Lawrence Block writing book. It went like this. A writer instructor told Block that while he could always recognize talent, he never told students they lacked talent. “Why is this?” Block asked. “Because I don’t know if these students don’t have talent for writing, or if there is something else holding them back.” Perhaps what holds some potential writers back are grand pronouncements that say This Is The Only Way To Work, when, in fact, this “only way to work” is not their way.

So, what’s the best writing advice in the world? It’s the advice that empowers you to write. So listen to all, for there are nuggets to be found everywhere, but use only that which helps you write — and finish.

Editing Days

Well, I’m now spending my days working on the final pass-through of The Kingless Warrior. I’m doing this by having Mr. MacBook read aloud the book to me. I’m catching all sorts of errors these ways, from using “chose” instead of “choose” to sentence problems.

With this final pass, I’ve decided I’m never going to work this way again. That is, starting drafting a new story while one is need of editing. I find there are two problems I’m dealing with. One is the fact that I don’t want to go back to old work when there is new work to be done, and the second is, the longer the old work sits around, the less and less I like it.

Another thing I noticed is that the way I write — cycling through a draft several times as new plot developments come up, fixing things as I go along — produces a relatively clean story. That is to say, a story without gaping plot holes. So with my next novel, The Seer and the Madman, I’m going to do something like this: complete the first draft, do a continuity read on the kindle, then do a edit-draft with Mr. MacBook reading out loud to me.