Thursday, 15 November 2018

Endings – getting them right

I’m currently working on my second edit of my fourth Peace Child novel. I call this edit “Is the resolution satisfying?”  The Peace Child novels are YA or new Adult so a somewhat open ending is possible and actually desirable. But “open” doesn’t mean dissatisfying.

A common fault

I note that new writers often do not make their endings satisfying. This is in fact one of the most commonly occurring faults in new writing.  I notice this often as a publisher and as a creative writing teacher in higher education.
If the ending isn’t right the story isn’t right. As a publisher I reject most often because the story is not well-formed. My students get lower marks when their ending is poor as they are not showing that they understand story. 

What constitutes a poor ending

I’ve established three main faults:
1.      Nothing much happens
2.      The ending is melodramatic and improbable
3.      The writer has used a ‘deus ex machina’. This is another improbable ending. This expression refers to Greek drama when a god appears in the story and is whisked on to stage through some clever contraption. The god makes everything all right.  In the 21st century this often translates as a hurried ending with an unlikely set of circumstances solving all of the issues.  

Where an how open-ended can be fine

Indeed young adults like to have some control over the ending. They like to interpret what has actually happened and what will happen to the protagonist after the story has ended.  Endings for this reader tend to be upbeat but inconclusive.
If the work is part of a trilogy or series, the ending of one book may point to the beginning of the next. Even if some matters are resolved news issues may be raised at this point.
At a book reading of a so-called literary novel, tongue in cheek, I asked the author how one defined a literary novel. He explained that if you turned to the last page before you’d finished the book you didn’t get a spoiler. Well, well. Let’s see.   

How to avoid poor endings

Make sure there is growth in your protagonist. Are they different at the end of the novel / story from how they were at the beginning?

Make sure that throughout the story there is cause and effect and that this is logical.

If you’re a planner, you should know how your story is going to end.  Make sure you work towards that ending all the time.

If you are a panster you should at least know what your story is about.  Keep that in mind all the time.  Maybe have a post-it note stick to your computer screen.

Some examples

The second book of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses trilogy ends with us not sure whether someone has died or not. Actually though you only have to read the blurb for book three to find out the answer.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles has a surprise ending. We don’t see it coming and we wouldn’t have thought it of the protagonist.  However, you soon realise that all the clues were there. The has been cause and effect.  

Maggie Gee’s Virginia Woolf in Manhattan has a surprising premise; Virginia Wolfe comes back to life and must learn to live in the 21st Century. The ending provides a plausible explanation for why and how this has happened.        


Monday, 12 November 2018

Author Anne Goodwin has a new book out

Today  I welcome Anne Goodwin to my blog. We have published Ann in Bridge House anthologies and have been in touch with her for sometime. Make sure you get a copy of her fabulous book released on 23 November and do join her online launch party (details below) . I'll be there!    

About my new book, its focus and inspiration
At the time of writing, I’ve published two novels and around eighty short stories, the latter in various anthologies (including a couple from Bridge House), and in online and print magazines. I’m now about to publish my first short story collection with micro-press Inspired Quill. As with my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, the unifying theme is identity, and particularly the process of developing, losing and reclaiming one’s identity encapsulated in the title Becoming Someone.

Many writers are curious about identity. How do we become who we are and how that does that change across time and circumstance? How do we manage the gap between who we are and who we would like to be or who others feel we ought to be? How much control do we have over our identity and is it bestowed on us by others or something that arises from within? The way I’ve explored – and occasionally answered – these questions in my fiction is informed by my own identities, including my professional background as a clinical psychologist.

Like a satisfying story, the journey to selfhood often entails working through conflict. Sometimes, it’s only through opposition that we begin to discover what really matters to us. I also believe identity develops in the context of a relationship, even if only with oneself. Furthermore, we have multiple roles and identities, and the tensions between them can cause real-life difficulties – or a satisfying fictional narrative arc. Then there’s the conflict that ensues when someone close to us changes how they present themselves, forcing us to change too. Although none of the forty-two stories were written with a theme in mind, I could probably spin a tale to suggest I’d been working towards this collection since my first short-fiction publication over ten years ago.

Nevertheless, I found it challenging, in assembling the collection, to ensure the individual stories were sufficiently different, while the whole would be more than the sum of its parts. In an attempt to illustrate the process of becoming someone, we’ve arranged the stories in order of the central character’s increasing confidence with who they are. In the first section, a struggling teenage mother is followed by a man who identifies more with birds than people. At the end, a jaded wife finding a new impetus precedes a widow marking her husband’s passing in style. In between, there’s a Holocaust survivor, an amputee high on morphine, a sex tourist, an adoptee with a secret, an overworked doctor and a girl who can’t smile – although they probably wouldn’t choose to introduce themselves that way.

How can we get a copy?
Becoming Someone is published in paperback and e-book formats on 23rd November, 2018, by Inspired Quill. Generally, my books are most easily accessed through online retailers, through my publisher’s website or at author events:
Amazon author page
Author page at Inspired Quill publishers
Also, anyone subscribing to my author newsletter before 19th November, has the chance of winning a signed copy.

Do you have any events planned?
For the first time, I’m hosting a Facebook launch party on publication day, 23rd November, 2018 (and found your post on how to go about it extremely useful, Gill).
My book is dedicated to a couple of online friends who have been especially supportive of my writing and I’m excited that they will be able to celebrate with me from Australia and the USA. I’m also using this event to support Book Aid: the more people participate, the more I’ll donate to this charity getting books into the hands of disadvantaged readers around the world.
I’m also having a live launch along with a few other local writers at Nottingham Writers’ Studio on 9th December.

Secrets by Jacqueline Wilson

2014, fluent reader, Key Stage 2, ages 9-11

In Secrets we have the stories of Treasure and India via their diary entries.
Secrets opens violently with Terry, Treasure’s step-father, taking off his belt to her and thrashing her. Just before he starts hitting her, he has torn pages from her diary; she had invented all sorts of elaborate torture methods for him. Terry’s violence has been ongoing for some time and not just towards Treasure.
Even before Terry came on to the scene life with just Mum had not been good. Treasure’s mother had no time for her when she was little. Treasure generally has low self-esteem.        
India’s father is different form Terry. He isn’t violent but is constantly under stress because of his work. He has little time for India. He also has affairs with the string of au pairs that come to look after India. He is plagued by constant money worries. Eventually he embezzles the company he works for. Her mum isn’t all that much of a mother, either. She is obsessed with dieting and puts pressure on India to lose weight. Perhaps the ultimate problem in the relationship between India and her children’s clothes designer mother is that she hates the clothes her mother designs. They are too small, bright and sparkly. Similarly, a friend of her mother’s has written a book about diets for intelligent children.  Her own intelligent son remains fat and refuses to go on the diet described in the book. It is likely also that India’s mum is anorexic.
India is desperately lonely and has difficulty making friends. She envies Anne Frank who had a lot of friends before she went into hiding. India hides within the house for two hours and no one notices.       
Wilson takes a risk in being explicit about the Holocaust. In an outburst when other class members are not taking a reading of “Anne Frank’s Diary” seriously India gives us a graphic description of what the concentration camps were like.
The two girls live on separate estates. Treasure is on the very bleak and tough Latimer estate. India lives on the luxury complex of Parkfield Manor. The two groups of residents gaze at each other xenophobically. We have the beginnings of a dystopia. The girls’ first meeting is tentative.                
There is some mitigation in that Treasure’s grandmother cares for her and even step-sister Bethany is kind when Treasure has to leave; she gives her a designer T-shirt that she had previously guarded jealously. Treasure finds a good family situation with her grandmother, child-aunt Patsy and her cousin Loretta’s baby, Britney. Life is comfortable with Nan, but she cannot quite forget the horrors of her life with Terry. However, her mother is adamant she should return; she needs help with the younger children. Eventually her mother and stepfather threaten them with social services; Nan’s partner Pete will be coming out of prison soon. However, Treasure eventually gets her wish and is allowed to live with her grandmother. But she is torn; she still loves her mother and will miss her.        
When India and Treasure first meet, they are initially wary of each other but they have the courage to talk it out. They speak and listen to each other. Wilson thus gives her readers some hope that conflict can be resolved. In the end, India manages to stand up to her mother.   
There is an ironic twist in this story that makes it even darker. “Mumbly Michael”, Nan’s neighbour with special needs is accused of murdering Treasure.
As ever, Wilson skillfully gets rid of the grown-ups. 

Stories of the First World War by Jim Eldridge


2014, fluent reader, Key Stage 2, ages 9-11, junior school

This is neither an easy nor comfortable read.  It includes twelve short stories about the Great War. Each one is told from the point of view of a young person.  Most of them are to do with combat and many feature death. A couple of civilian stories are also quite grim. One involves a bombing, anxious parents and the rescue of a friend and a dog. The other is about a much-changed young man who at first cannot face going home; he was one of only seven of the Accrington Pals who survived. He is different now also because he has been a prisoner of war.   
Jim Eldrige writes a few of the stories from a German point of view.  The British and the German experiences are very similar. He even tackles the conscientious objector – the “conchie” and invites the young reader not to see this just in black and white. 

The stories are in chronological order and there are sections between them that give historical contexts.    

This would be an extremely useful book for teachers or parents wanting to study the Great War with   children. The child probably needs some adult guidance.