Monthly Archives: May 2016

When the end is not the end

In my last post, I said I was worried that people hated the ending of the A to Z story [link to beginning] posted here on my blog. If you’ve been reading the comments, you know some of us have been discussing the issue. I’ve also been discussing it privately with a few people.

Truth is, regardless of what anyone else thought, I hated that ending. Just took me a while to realize I did. And why. Here’s part of one comment I made:

“I’m honestly feeling very undecided about the whole VR thing right now. The classic Hero’s Journey begins in the normal world, adventure ensues, and ends by returning to the normal world with the character somehow changed. This story didn’t do that. It finished in a world the reader didn’t know existed. There’s a difference between a plot twist and a betrayal of story premise. After a lot of thinking, I realize the latter is what I did here.”

So, due to the power of editing, that ending no longer exists. Didn’t happen. That entire “Z” post — POOF! Gone from the book. The story does not end that way and does not happen in a VR game. Never did. It was a figment of your imagination. Or mine. Whatever.

You make mistakes, you fix them.

Not that I have anything against VR games or stories about them — I still think that’s a cool concept — but that’s not what this story is. This is a story set entirely in a world where there are dragons and magic. Period.

Interestingly enough, once I made that decision, new stories and new adventures in this world started to tumble around in my brain. In fact, even while I’m refining and fleshing out Zoey and Anton’s story, I’m having to pause occasionally to take notes about the next story pushing its way up into my consciousness. It’s pretty exciting.

But for those of you who LOVED the original ending, no problem. You can still believe that was how it ended. Just, um, maybe don’t ever read the final version I’ll be publishing. Or only read up to the last chapter or two. You’ll be fine.

As for me, lesson learned.

This is the real reason you shouldn’t write fiction, in real time, on your blog. Not because you’re worried about what people might think of your rough unedited writing. Not because people might think your unvetted ideas are ridiculous or that you’re being unprofessional and taking stupid risks. And certainly not because it makes you feel uncertain and vulnerable and afraid– those are good things for a writer to feel.

No, the real reason you shouldn’t do this is because most readers don’t realize just how drastic the editing process can be. Frankly, they shouldn’t have to. Readers get vested in a story and its characters, and that’s good. You want that to happen. Sure, you can go back and change minor details, add a few things here and there. But change the entire ending? That’s a problem.

Once you tell a story, it’s damn near impossible to convince someone it didn’t happen that way.

With that in mind, I’m going to delete most of the “Z” post over here. Not the entire thing, as I don’t want to also delete the comments, but most of the text. Believe it or not, I’m still getting new blog followers every day [hello and welcome!] and it occurs to me it might be a good idea to limit the damage to those few who have already read the story with the crappy regrettable ending. So, I’ll be doing that.

Never fear, I’m hard at work on the final version. I’ve written most of the new ending and I think it’s a vast improvement. I hope you all will agree.

Also, I have an online appointment with a cover artist in a couple weeks. She is amazingly talented and I’m excited about working with her. Except . . . we all know how well I do with anything related to arts and crafts. Probably I should hurry up and finish the story before then. In case she decides to reduce me to ashes.



Filed under Anton and Zoey, reader opinion, writing

A to Z Challenge: Reflections

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]The people behind the A to Z Challenge are asking participants to post their reflections on the month-long effort. What worked and what didn’t, what you liked, whether you’d do it again.

This was my first experience with this challenge. It might well be my last. That is not a reflection on the challenge itself or the way it was organized or whether it was worthwhile. All those things were great. It’s a reflection on the type of challenge I opted to tackle.

If you’re reading this, probably you know I decided to write a piece of fiction, a complete story, during this challenge. Yes, I am well aware of what a bad idea this was, and also experienced enough to know better. I had my reasons.

Someone asked in the comments about my process during the month. I replied that there was no process– it was sheer panic. That’s absolute truth.

I know a good deal about plot and story structure and pacing and character arcs and motivation and scene/sequel and genre expectations and . . . a thousand other things that make for good story. During this challenge, it felt like I took all those things and rather gleefully threw them out the window and just went at it. And left a huge mess to be cleaned up (working on it).

I’d write a post and get to the end and think, “Now what?” Or more accurately, “What were you even thinking here?”

When I wrote the first scene on the beach and there were bats flying in the dusky sky, I was pretty sure there was a cave. I mean, clearly, bats live in caves. But I had no idea when I mentioned those bats that there was also a dragon in the cave. And when I wrote the next scene in the dark of the cave, when I realized there was a dragon, I didn’t know anything about the dragon other than there was one. And it was much later when I realized they weren’t bats after all.

None of that was planned.

When I introduced the ermine character, I called him “Ermie” because I HATE naming characters. I wrote,

“He’s an ermine. Claims to be a royal prince of some country with a name we can’t pronounce, so we call him Ermie.”

I purposely made it ambiguous about whether it was the country or the ermine that had an unpronounceable name. And two weeks later, when Prince died and I realized what I’d written, I was stunned. Some things defy explanation. So I added a small tribute of my own toward the end of the letter V post and hoped it was subtle:

Her thoughts were interrupted when they arrived back at the cliff, where everyone greeted them with cheers and relief. Even Ermie was there, dashing rather frantically back and forth along the cliff edge, getting splashed by an occasional wave. He seemed to be watching Bubbie, now a mere speck on the horizon.

“Is he . . . turning purple around the edges?” Zoey asked.

Ferraro glanced at the ermine. “Only happens when he gets wet. You should see him when it rains.”

Sam diverted Zoey’s attention then, giving her a big hug. The girl was beside herself with excitement now that she knew Zoey was safe.

Most of the “magic” in the story wasn’t planned either. It came about because I’d written myself into a tight spot and in retrospect needed something to make sense. It was like writing an outline in reverse.

And when I wrote the scene where Ferraro tells Zoey to leave, I sat here shaking my head over how stupid that was. I mean, I’m telling a story solely from her point of view and I just ejected her from the story. It was insane. Who does this?

My daughter was reading along and would text me after reading each installment during her commute home from work. After that scene, she said:

DD: NO!!
DD: I do NOT approve!!

Me: What?

DD: You know what!!!!
DD: I suppose this is one way to tell that your story is having the desired effect on readers

Me: I’m delighted that you care about these made-up people!

DD: Sam better stand up to Mr Meanie-head

Me: Maybe Mr Meanie-head had his reasons…

DD: Like what?

Me: I have no idea.

And I honestly had no idea. I then had to come up with something that would not only explain his reaction, but that would not make him look like a total jerk and would also convince Zoey to stay.

Geez. Talk about pressure.

The entire story was full of situations like that where I just wrote my way into it and hoped for the best, trusted that I could make sense of it later. There was no way to go back and edit things after the fact or delete stuff that didn’t make sense or foreshadow anything.

As nightmarish as all that was, it wasn’t the truly scary part. The worst part was that I had no idea what came next. Several people commented on the cliffhanger aspect of the posts, said they couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Yeah, I was right there with you, wanting to know.

I did know, almost from the beginning, how it was going to end. I knew the “twist” ending, which was the premise for the story. And that helped. Except when I worried that people were going to hate it. I’m still worried that people hated it.

I almost always finished writing a scene with no idea of where things were going from there. No idea of how I’d resolve some ridiculous new problem I’d just created on the fly. I didn’t know from one day to the next whether I could salvage things or I’d have to just give up and say, “Sorry, everyone. I screwed up and can’t see how to fix it. There’s no more story.” It was terrifying and exhilarating, telling a story in real time, in public.

I have to say, this is perhaps not the best way to write a story.

Please note: No one over at A to Z suggested this was a good way to write fiction. That not-so-bright idea is all on me.

In terms of the A to Z Challenge, I can’t say I regret taking part. It was exhausting and terrifying and relentless. Never have I looked forward to Sundays with quite so much desperation. The writing wasn’t even the time-consuming part. It was the editing and polishing needed before posting. The constant focus and thinking: now what?

There were times the need to use an alphabetical prompt word was helpful. It added things to the story that might not otherwise have been there. Like the Chinese junk for J. And there were times it was truly inconvenient. Some of the letters were just difficult, especially since I was writing a story and the word had to fit in.

At times, it seemed like the month would never end, that I’d run out of story ideas long before the 30th. But toward the end, I discovered the opposite problem. There was too much story left and not enough time to do it justice. So, for those of you interested in reading the final version once I finish, don’t be surprised if the last half is significantly . . . expanded. And yes, there will be more dragon.

Looking back at the month, the effort served a purpose and was a great incentive for me at a time when I sorely needed it. I’m grateful for that. I am so damn glad I did it. Would I do it again? Too soon to say. Ask me again next year.

But strictly as a strategy for writing fiction? No. I can’t say using the A to Z Challenge is the best approach for writing a novel. Don’t do that. Unless, you know, you’re hopelessly stuck and doubting your abilities and on the verge of giving up on writing entirely. In that case, I highly recommend it.



Filed under A to Z Challenge, Anton and Zoey, just for fun