Friday, October 28, 2011

Endings (and Beginnings)

Recently, at the CapClave convention in Gaithersburg, I was a panelist on the ironically named ENDINGS panel, which happened to be the final panel at the Con. The four writers on the panel talked about the types of endings they used and the struggles they all faced in creating the"right" one.

While everyone agreed that every writer has some idea of the goal of a story. it was more true than not that the definition of that goal changed as the writer introduces one fact, one incident, and one plot twist after another into the exposition.  What started out as an idea of a perfect ending for the situation turns out to be less than satisfactory by the time they reach the end and will probably fail to provide the release from tension created.  Worse yet, the reader may not accept the original goal and feel cheated as a result.  The non sequitur is never a good idea.

The best ending, we all agreed, should both reflect the opening scene or premise and be the logical conclusion of the story's major arc.  Just like a good joke, the punch line comes quickly after the epiphany and the quicker the better!

Too often I discover that the true beginning of my stories are not where I started, but one or more scenes or chapters further along. I sometimes, but not always, discover that, by moving that scene or snippet to the front and incorporating what was formerly there as an aside or even reflected as back story during the exposition, This not only increases the dramatic tension in a short story, but it also clarifies the story's movement toward the epiphany and tells me how the ending needs to be framed.  Simply providing a logical solution or resolution to the story's situation does not always satisfy the reader.  There should always be a denouement that reflects psychologically to the beginning.  

So in talking about the endings we end up talking about the beginning as well, which only proves that the beginning and end are the Ying and Yang of a story. Apart they are nothing and together they constitute a logical whole.

Friday, October 21, 2011


This is not about writing but something that has irritated me for too many years.

I live near the grounds of the annual Maryland Renaissance Festival which, for more than a month, attracts thousands of people to chew turkey legs, watch plays, but crafty stuff, sword fight, and do all the things that represent old English customs from about 1200 - 1700, more or less. Fun stuff but costly (especially the turkey legs and I'm not talking about the damn tights that ride up your crotch and.... not that I'd ever wear anything like that, no sir, not me, never.  Besides, they itch.

There is no train station, metro liner, bus service at the Faire (note how I am getting into the spirit of things) so everyone has to come by automobile to produce acres and acres of parked cars, some so distant from the entrance that some take a lunch so they can snack along the way.  Hillsides of automobile, cascades of steel and plastic stretching as far as the eye can see.  Acres and acres of parked cars each of the weekend days it is open.  And all of those cars make it to the site down a two-lane road forming a parade miles long and manages to block access to the surrounding communities.

None of which bothers me much, except that they all seem to need gas.  The nearest station/snack shop has eight pumps, four on each side, and has two entrances at ninety degrees to each other.  Cars pour in from either of the entrance to gas up, some coming from the right and others from the left.  In a logical world this would present no problem: Cars would line up to take their turns like good little soldiers.*  But we do not live in a logical world.  In the real world car manufacturers have no appreciation of mechanics or the realities of gas stations.  Willy-nilly they put the filler pipe on the driver's side or the passenger's so that it is impossible to have an orderly line.  Instead the cars butt head to head, cutting from one side to another and, on too many occasions, finding that the side nearest the pump is the wrong side.  In older times, but hopefully later than the RenFaire period, hoses were long enough to reach the opposite side of the vehicle, but today the behemoth trucks, SUV's, and even ordinary cars, that is not possible.

What I want to know is why there can't be some standardization?  I don't care which side they want or whether it has a flip lid or not.  Just put the damned filler cap on one side.  Is that too much to ask?

So each Saturday or Sunday a low level conflict takes place as those in line for one side scream at those who, at least to them, cut into line from the opposite direction, or block them from leaving by parking too close. Lesser skirmishes blow up when someone* decides to do a little shopping or have lunch while leaving their car at the pump, but that is a subject for another day.

*except for the occasional oblivoid (e.g. asshole) who ignores social conventions

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why do I write?

Writing professionally means producing stories that are salable.  Being salable is, in part, meeting the needs of the reading public by giving them satisfying, interesting, and challenging stories.  Editors are attuned to their customer base and routinely reject pieces that might be of excellent literary worth but would not resonate with their readers.  If someone wants to earn a living at writing they have to focus on current fads, current tastes, and the whims of the reading public.

But there is another side to writing and that is to express a thought, an emotion, a vision, or a hope that bears on the human condition without hope of a sale.  This is writing as an Art, putting down something because it needs to be written.  Much of what is produced solely as Art might turn out to be crap (Sturgeon's  90% rule) but it can also be something new and exciting.

I  have a trunk and, in that trunk, are the unsold stories and pieces of stories I've created over their lifetime. The number of stories in the trunk reflects my ability, rate of production, or willingness to finish the pieces enough to sell.  As I've improved in skill, the proportion of unsold pieces in my trunk has diminished in relation to my total output.  Occasionally I pull something, a finished story that did not find a willing editor, or an unfinished story that could be brought to fruition with a little effort, from the trunk and make a sale.  Rarely, and in direct proportion to the age of the piece, I've managed to sell an old story, but usually not the oldest since they reflect a time when I was not nearly as accomplished nor skillful. 

So which path do I follow - to write what is in my heart or to write what I think will sell?  Years ago an agent told me that, with my name, I should write stories about war, action-filled pieces with heroic characters in dire circumstances.  Instead I've written more thoughtful pieces, some of which focus on military conflict, but most do not. My stories range all over the map and mostly concern modern society, occasionally something in the news, or even arise from a vagrant thought as some  half-forgotten memory catches my imagination. Whatever, I write what is in my heart as best I can and then search for an editor who will appreciate it. Writing as an art is my motivation.

But it is nice to make a sale. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I haven't written a damn thing in three days, and that is not because I haven't the time. It's just so hard to get moving.  Running in creative molasses is more like it.  Wooden words, weak phrasing, unstructured rambling paragraphs.  What is going on?

Is this what writer's block feels like?  I've half a dozen stories in the final stages of editing and seem unable to move forward on any of them.  Let's see, I have finished rewriting the novel - and am still plagued with "Hey, why don't we change this?" thoughts that prevent me from moving forward.  I have novelette that is stuck on resolution, three short stories that still need rearrangements, and one that is finished but just doesn't feel quite ready to be released.  All told, I have about twenty-four pieces lying about, crying to be finished.

I thought this was bad until I talked to Michael Swanwick who admitted that he, master of the form that he is, always seems to have more than forty uncompleted works polluting his workspace. I am such a piker in comparison.

Whenever I got stalled before I'd gather some old stories together, put them in Kindle format, and upload the collection to the Kindle store.  Just did that and it didn't help a bit. Not only that, but eventually I'll run out of previously published stories to put into collections.  What then - upload a few of my unsold (and unedited) novels to see how they meet the brutal reality of the reading public?  At this point it doesn't seem likely that sale to someone who might publish print editions is likely, not with the current state of the industry.

So why can't I move forward?  What is holding back the creative juices? Should I worry about it or not?  Indecisions sucks!

But so does lack of progress.