So—I’m Emily Lavin Leverett. If you’ve been reading here a while, you might have seen me comment as Peafaerie. I’m a writer of short stories and novels, an editor of The Big Bad I and II with John Hartness, and an English professor. Thanks very much to Magical Words for letting me be here today to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart!
I’m here to talk about grammar.
(The sound of people clicking to something else is overwhelming, so I’ll just wait for a moment, until it passes.)
Grammar is important. I’ll put that out there first. Anyone who tells you it is not, or that if your voice or characters or story are really good, bad grammar won’t hurt, is a lying liar who is lying. Great voice, character, and story will get people past typos, but not persistent problems. Good grammar is the key to beautiful prose.
What I want to talk about today is a slightly different approach to grammar. This is actually inspired by David Coe / D.B. Jackson. He joined me on a grammar panel I put together for ConGregate this year. Afterwards, he said that he feels like teaching someone grammar is like teaching someone to swing a baseball bat—it’s nearly impossible to teach, because it’s just something you feel.
That analogy just doesn’t work for me.
Sure, lots of people who grow up speaking American Standard English have a sense of the language. They may speak correctly 99% of the time, and not really know why. But that’s not knowing grammar. Until I was working on my PhD and had to teach my students the dreaded passive voice, I didn’t really know how it worked or how to explain it. Sure, I used it correctly, but it was teaching that led me to understand what really made it work.
So, this post isn’t on a specific element of grammar, but on the idea of grammar itself. Grammar is a system of putting words together to make meaning. Like any other system, it has particular rules, and those rules can be learned. In short, grammar is more like learning math than it is like learning to swing a baseball bat. Sure, in the end, writing is a lot about gut instinct, but the basic tools of the trade? Anyone can learn them. Of course applying them is the hardest part, but understanding and recognizing them? Totally possible.
In great writing, grammar is often invisible, which fools us into thinking it is unimportant or mysterious. Audiences don’t notice the structure, because the meaning is clear. Find something with poor grammar, and it may well be unreadable. Grammar doesn’t obscure meaning; it facilitates it.
Grammar is a toolbox. Knowing the elements, what they mean, and how to use them, gives you a myriad of ways to phrase something. You aren’t stuck with only simple sentences. You aren’t stuck with only adverbs of manner (those –ly words people tell you to cut). You aren’t restrained by only single-word adjectives to modify your nouns. It opens a world of possibilities.
There is a lot of good stuff out there for those who want to learn grammar. I’m currently using Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Good Prose by Constance Hale in my Freshman Composition courses. Her book mostly focuses on fiction and non-fiction for publication, but it is applicable to work-a-day language, too. For straightforward instruction, walk into any college bookstore and go to the Composition section, or raid the textbooks of composition classes. There will be handbooks of all kinds. For a book about the joy of sentences done well, see Stanly Fish’s How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One.
As an experiment, pick an element of grammar—whatever you like—and look in your favorite book or story for examples of it. Does the author use prepositional phrases well? Do you love her choice of verbs? His unusual adjectives? The long sentences, with all their subordinate clauses? Just like you can look for elements of writing, you can see how authors use grammar. Feel free to share your finds in the comments below!
So, in closing, I leave you with this: grammar is a tool. The better understanding you have of that tool, the better your writing will be because you will have more options. Beautiful tales well told give us examples of the elements of storytelling. Beautiful sentences well stated give us examples of the elements of grammar.
If anyone has specific grammar questions, or just wants to talk about grammar (or diagram sentences—that’s fun, too!), I’m happy to discuss such things in the comments!
Welcome back our friend Tamsin Silver! Tamsin is the author of the Windfire series, and she is also the writer/director of the NYC based web series SKYE OF THE DAMNED. You can see more about it (and watch episodes!) at SkyeOfTheDamned.com.
I want to write a blog post. Let me be more specific. I want to write a helpful blog post for writers. But when I focus on this task I can’t think of a damn thing to say. So…hey! Want to talk about dogs? Cause that I have no problem with. What? You’re here for writing advice? Oh. Ok. Let’s see what I can say that sounds worthy of this website…
……………………*stares at blank page, eyes wide*…………
See…this is what I mean…I draw a blank. Hang on…I’ll be back…
…………*enter music from Jeopardy here*…………
OK…I have something…(It’s been a few days of pondering so…yeah…if you deal with this affliction too, don’t fret it out, you’re not alone.)
SO…I’m going to talk about a different form of time management and writing other than the usual, “Find an hour to write every day rule.” I’m going to get a bit more specific. And hey, it relates to dogs! HA! See…I’m going to fit this in anyway. Tada!
Here’s the thing. I have this fun idea for a story in my head that I want to play with BUT I have a new puppy. Yes, he’s the one pictured in this post. He’s cuteness personified, like all puppies, and his name is either “Stop that!” or “Give that to me” or “Leave the cat alone!” We’re still choosing which we feel is best. Just kidding, his name is Kadin. Anyhoo…why is this relevant? Let me explain.
Kadin is adorable, which is why he’s still alive, and much like a two year old toddler (which is basically what he is as a 4 months old pup) he has temper tantrums and tries my patience daily (okay, multiple times daily), without pause, to see what he can get away with. He’s testing boundaries, as children do, to see who’s in charge. Hint: It’s not him.
What does this equate to? It means I have NO time to write at home. None. Nada. Zilch! We then add on that I’ve not had time to write at the office during lunch due to SKYE and Dragon Con stuff, AND I cannot stay at the office late to write because I need to get home to the pup, and you have a conundrum. I find I’m yelling at myself with, WHEN WILL I WRITE? Because, I don’t know about you, but if I don’t write, I feel broken.
That said, if you went to ConCarolinas this year, and attended the panel I was on called “Shifting Gears,” you heard me talk about where I find time. And because a friend of mine from the Carolinas attended that panel and opted to implement the idea I’m about to talk about, I thought I’d share here. So, Cody, you’re the reason I’m writing this blog post.
I live in NYC so here’s what I do: I write while in transit, to and from home, on the train. I do this on my iPhone (Notes App) and on my iPad (Pages App). Basically I use downtime to write. Obviously, if you drive to work we do NOT want you writing as you drive. However, everyday (or every week) you have time where you’re waiting. A few examples:
A) You’re in line for your Starbucks or fast food order that unrealistically takes ten minutes to make.
B) You sit at the doctor’s office (where your wait time is more than you actual “see doctor” time)
C) You stand in line at the DMV (ok, that’s like once a year but seriously, you could almost do a full
10K short story while you wait).
D) You have to kill an hour between item one and item two of your day.
E) You’re meeting a friend for drinks/dinner and they’re late. (Unless you’re the late one of the friend’s pile, that is).
F) <<<Fill in your idea here>>>
Look at your week. See where the holes are. Will you be having tires replaced on your car this week? WRITE in the waiting area. Are you going to be too far away from home (and your computer) to run back and work between errands you’re doing that day? Tuck your tablet into your bag and WRITE in between events. Do you have time to kill between dropping one kid off and picking another one up? WRITE while you wait.
For example, this past week, while I was on the train (or the train platform), waited in line, sat in waiting rooms, or took a jaunt to the coffee shop near my apartment for three hours while I put Kadin in his new crate (we’re working on crate training), I wrote for a total of seventeen hours. It’s not as much time as I’d have liked…but it’s nothing to sneeze at AND it’s better than nothing. Yes?
Can I edit on my tablet? Yes, I can. I don’t do final formatting there, though. Once I’m done writing/editing content and grammar on the tablet, I email the document to myself and work at the actual computer from that point on for formatting and final edits (for print or editor submissions). For that, I will have to set aside time. BUT…there is so much you can do before that point on your Smartphone or tablet of choice. I prefer Mac products mainly because they all talk to each other and you can export your document from the Pages App to Epub, PDF, Word, or a Pages document. I’ll also mention that it’s not expensive. However, you should find what works for you. Droid’s have writing/note taking programs too. Do research, Google reviews of the apps you see, and ask fellow writers what they like. That’s what I did.
On the train, I tend to use my phone cause its small, out of the way, faster (as the distance between keys on the board are closer), and people can’t read what I’m writing over my shoulder (Oh, ‘cause they do! New Yorkers, you nosey bunch, you know you love it! LOL!) as easily.
It’s the electronic age! So use it to your benefit and write! Or hey, if you can’t focus on writing on the go, use the time to get online and do research for what you’re wanting to create later on. You jot down basic concepts or copy/paste links for review later as well.
It’s a fact. We’re all busy. We fill our days with “stuff” and then we add more when others ask things of us. So learn to say “no” a little bit, find a bit of time each week to sit at your computer at home, if you can, and use your downtime to your advantage. You’ll surprise yourself. Trust me! For example, you know that story I mentioned at the beginning of this post? It’s now 15K in less than a month. I was shocked when I transferred it from my Notes App to email to a Word Doc. It made me suddenly feel like I’ve not let the ball drop.
Anyway, I hope this helps some of you rethink the phrase, “I don’t have time to write,” in a way that creates an open door…or hell, even a cracked window. Remember, anything is better than nothing. Don’t EVER say, “I only wrote a thousand words today,” because that’s more than the person who’s still saying, “I have this great idea, but I don’t have time,” has done. If you want it, make it happen. I know you can!
Best of luck! And if you find an app you like for your phone or tablet, let me know! I’d love to share it with people! Oh, and I recommend a wireless keyboard (I use Logitech) when using your tablet. It’s faster than the touchpad, unless you’re somewhere like your car, where the touchpad keyboard is the better option. I have this one: http://is.gd/UXXKRG. Or, you can go hunt about by typing, Logitech Wireless Keyboard with Case on Google.
And now, back to “Mr. Leave-the-damn-cat-alone!”…err…I mean, Kadin.
As I’ve mentioned before — and as Faith and others have mentioned as well — the release of a new book can be incredibly stressful. Of course there is satisfaction in seeing the finished product in print (or ebook format). Writing a book is a big deal. That completed volume represents a tremendous amount of work; it required a huge investment of time, and of emotional and intellectual energy. It represents as well, an admirable accomplishment, and there is nothing wrong with taking pride in that. The problem is, releases are fraught with additional significance. Right or wrong, the success of a new book is judged on a collection of external factors that have little or nothing to do with the work itself, and everything to do with how others receive that work.
Every writer, aspiring or established, knows what I’m talking about. How many of you have finished a book or piece of short fiction and handed it to a friend or loved one to read, only to have them come back with criticisms that you never anticipated? It hurts, doesn’t it? We joke about having someone tell us that “our baby has warts,” but when it actually happens, it’s not a laughing matter. How many of you have sent out stories for possible publication, only to have them come back with polite but unequivocal rejections? That hurts even more. Those of us who are published now understand intimately the pain of these setbacks, because we’ve experienced them all.
The things I (and others in my position) fear at release time are really not so different. Sure, we’re not worrying about rejections at this point — the books have sold to publishers already. But we worry about reviews and we REALLY worry about sales. The hard reality is that a release that doesn’t go well can do more than merely doom the book in question. It can set back one’s career. If the numbers for A Plunder of Souls are weak, my chances of selling additional Thieftaker books to Tor — or to anyone else, for that matter — diminish. If the numbers for the Thieftaker books overall are not strong, my next advance will suffer, or perhaps I won’t receive offers at all.
And as much as I would like to tell you that I ignore bad reviews, the truth is I try to read every critical response to every book I write. I probably shouldn’t but I can’t help myself. As hard as it is to hear criticism, it’s harder still to ignore that criticism knowing that it’s out there for others to read. And I’m not even talking about reader reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other sites. I just mean the journals, magazines, and content websites that help to form the critical consensus that surrounds most books. Authors are constantly bombarded with other people’s opinions of their work, and try as we might to develop a thick skin and tell ourselves that those critics don’t speak for everyone, each negative word is like a paper cut: They won’t bleed you to death, but they sure as hell sting.
So, what’s an author to do?
I wish I could say that there is some magical elixir for dealing with such worries and hurts. There isn’t. In part it comes back to what I said in the opening paragraph. Writing fiction — short form or novel length — is no small thing, and upon completion of a story or a book we should be able to pause and take pride in the accomplishment. Indeed, we have to be able to do that, because it is the one reward that cannot be taken from us or spoiled by those external factors I mentioned before. There is something to be said for taking satisfaction in work well done, in a challenge met, in a goal achieved.
I have been fortunate in so many respects. I have built a writing career for myself, and every day I feel blessed to be able to make my living, meager though it may be, doing what I love to do: creating worlds and characters and story lines and actually being paid for doing so. It is literally a dream come true. I have also been lucky in that much of my work, the Thieftaker books especially, have been well-received in a critical sense. I don’t know how the sales for A Plunder of Souls will turn out. I don’t know if Tor will want more Thieftaker books after the release next summer of Dead Man’s Reach. But I have come to terms with that uncertainty. I have written the best books I could write. I have realized the vision I first had for this series years ago when the idea for the the Thieftaker series came to me (while reading a footnote about thieftakers in Robert Hughes’s history of Australia, The Fatal Shore). I have worked incredibly hard to ground the books in thorough research, to write them with care and attention to detail, and to bust my butt promoting them. If they succeed commercially, that will be great. If they don’t it won’t be because I did something wrong, but rather because the market simply didn’t take to them as I hoped it would.
And, perhaps, therein lies the elixir after all. As I have said here before, rejections are not notices of failure, but rather are stages in a negotiation. If our story or book is rejected, it doesn’t mean that the piece we wrote sucks, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we suck as well. It means that on this day, for the editor in question, the story did not work. If our piece is met with repeated rejections then, yes, it might mean that the story is flawed in some way. And if we are are fortunate enough to get some editorial feedback, we can try to fix the problem and try again.
But even if a story never sells, that does not mean the story is worthless; it does not mean it has (or we have) failed. Some stories and books never sell. That is a harsh reality. Like so much else I’ve mentioned in this post, it hurts. But still the story is complete, the novel is written. The work was done. It represents the best we could do at that moment with the idea we had. Perhaps it is odd to take satisfaction and even pride in that, but we must. Read the story again; sit down with that book and enjoy the characters and setting and narrative. We created that, and isn’t that kind of cool? I have photographs I have taken that will never earn me a penny, that I will never, ever sell to anyone. But I love them. I think they’re terrific. I use them as background on my computer or as a screen saver. Some I have printed and framed and I hang them on my wall. Where is it written that we can’t take similar pride in our stories, even if in the end they are only there for us to revisit?
Writing is hard. It is hard, hard, hard. Navigating the publishing business is harder still. Not all of us can be bestsellers. Not all of us can be professionals. That is why we say again and again, do this because you love it. Write the stories you need and want to write. The worst thing we can do for you here at MW is coddle you and say, “Of course you’ll meet your goals.” We don’t know if we’ll reach ours; how can we possibly be so arrogant as to assure you that yours are within reach?
The truth is that success has to be self-defined, without relying on the externals. Take pride in the simple accomplishment of artistic creation, of the realization of literary inspiration. That way, if and when the rest of the world sits up and takes notice, their accolades and dollars will be icing on a cake you yourself have baked.
Thank you all for welcoming me back to Magical Words. It’s been great spending this month with you.
D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, has recently been released in hardcover. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.
One of the questions I get a lot – having been doing this full-time for a decade now – is “Don’t you ever get tired? Don’t you ever feel burnt out from the constant need to produce?”
What they’re really asking is, “is that going to happen to me?”
For the longest time – years – I never ran out of things to write. There was always an idea fermenting, waiting for its chance. There was always an idea (or two) in progress, fighting for time in the chair. I was writing three books a year, and while I was more than slightly exhausted all the time, the stories kept coming. Long form, short…
And then they all stopped. Nothing. Nada. Dead air.
I’d broken myself, I thought. I’d used everything up. I had nothing more to say.
Every story I started, stalled. Everything I’d been working on went stale. I’d stare at the screen and have a vague memory of where something was supposed to go, but it no longer went there, and I’d lost the map.
And for a while, I thought it was all over. I’d run out of stories. It was, no overstatement, devastating. How could my brain betray me like that?
So the answer is, yes. If you’re writing regularly for any length of time, odds are it’s going to happen to you. Probably at least once. Maybe more often. Maybe it will happen with regularity, until it becomes like the distant cousin you can’t escape at family functions, or the sore tooth that never actually shows anything wrong, but won’t stop hurting.
Your brain will betray you.
There’s a panic in that, especially when we make our living in this gig. We’re supposed to be inexhaustible, a never-ending font of storytelling – how dare it dry up!
And sometimes there’s an exhaustion that prevents us from panicking. Bone-deep and rust-dry, too overwhelming to allow anything else to come through. And that’s almost worse.
So I want to tell you something about that, about the breaking, and the panic, and the exhaustion, and the feeling that it’s all gone.
You haven’t done anything wrong.
Even if you’ve run out of things to tell, it’s okay.
Even if you can’t remember the joy of creating, or can’t find the energy to open the file and start writing, it’s okay.
Yeah, you might be done. You might have used up everything you had to say. You might not have anything pushing to get out. Or, you might just be tired, tired of the endless drain and the long delay, the constant need to turn on creativity like a fitness routine, day in and day out, week after week, and even a month-long vacation where you normally would be itching to start again hasn’t jumped the engine.
But the well is still there. The urge to tell a story still exists. If it didn’t, the lack wouldn’t hurt so badly.
So breathe. Wait. And then – just like you would if you’d written yourself into a dead end – take a hard look back to when it last flowed. Because what I’ve found – and what others I’ve spoken to have found – is that often the problem is that you’re tired of the stories you’ve been telling, not the storytelling.
So find a new story.
Change your approach. Change your genre. Find a new voice. Shake everything up and reinvent yourself.
That’s how you rise, the ever-dependable phoenix metaphor, from the ashes of your burnout.
And yes, that’s how I found myself grabbing at the challenge of writing a mystery, as I discussed in last week’s post. And why next year, in addition to that, I’ll be starting a fantasy series different from anything I’ve done before…
Oh, and a winner from last week! The Oracular Cat chose #6, Daniel Davis! Daniel, contact me at LAG@Lauraannegilman.net!
In addition to the Gin & Tonic mystery series (Collared, Fixed and Doghouse), Laura Anne Gilman is also the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus novels, and the Nebula award-nominated Vineart War trilogy, plus many short stories and novellas. Her next fantasy novel, Silver on the Road, will be released by Simon & Schuster in 2015.
Learn more at www.lauraanegilman.net or follow her on Twitter: @LAGilman
SHATTERING THE LEY
This is my last guest post here at Magical Words for my new novel SHATTERING THE LEY (in stores now). Again, thanks for having me. It’s been great fun posting here and I hope the readers have had a blast as well.
In this last post, I figured I’d talk about my crazy writer’s life, because it is indeed crazy. You see, I have a day job, because the writing doesn’t yet pay the bills on a regular basis. So the day job teaching mathematics at SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York is a necessity. It’s a great job and I really do enjoy teaching (yes, even math), and I’ve recently received tenure, so it’s now a secure job, which is getting harder and harder to find. But like any job, it does suck up a lot of time where I could be writing instead.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t write. There’s always time, you just have to carve it out of your schedule and then make certain you actually WRITE during those few hours you can grab. This past year, I’ve been working on the sequel to SHATTERING THE LEY, called THREADING THE NEEDLE. In order to get my writing time in, I organized my teaching schedule so that I’d have at least an hour of writing time each morning, before heading off to teach. (This is opposite my usual schedule—I typically write in the afternoon—but the teaching schedule demanded it.) So, each morning I’d get up, get around, and then sit myself down in the chair and write. One hour. Every chance I got. Normally I try to get 750 words in that one hour, but for this book I tried to push myself up to 1000 words. Sometimes I made it, most often I got between 750 and 1000, a few days, I’d drag out only 500 words. But I was writing.
Now, of course, it’s the summer break, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to teach. I knew I’d have a good chunk of time to work on writing during the summer. So I’m trying to get at least 2000 words a day now. Why not more? Well, if I can get more, then of course I go for it. But even without the day job, there are writing-related things that I have to attend to, such as promotion. This includes things like writing these guest blogs, answering interview questions for various places, setting up and organizing signings and conventions and appearances, etc. In addition, I’m usually working on more than one project at a time. I write short stories on occasion, and those usually take up a good week of writing. But I also edit anthologies, and in fact last summer, created a new small press called Zombies Need Brains. The first anthology, CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS, should be releasing soon (if it hasn’t hit the shelves already) and we’re working on the next anthology TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER. All of these writing-related things take up some time as well.
So, overall, I’m rather busy. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s my crazy writer’s life. And now it’s time to get back to the real work—the writing and production of new things. Thanks for hanging out with me the last four weeks and reading these posts. If you haven’t already, check out SHATTERING THE LEY. And if you’ve got the time, CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE and TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER as well. And keep watch for new and exciting things from me and Zombies Need Brains in the near future!
Author Bio: Joshua Palmatier is a fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics. His upcoming novel SHATTERING THE LEY (July 2014, DAW) is the first book in a new series, set in the same world as his “Throne of Amenkor” series. He is also the founder of the new small press Zombies Need Brains LLC, which will focus on producing quality science-fiction and fantasy themed anthologies. It’s first anthology release will be CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS, currently in the production phase, to be released sometime before July 2014. Joshua has also published numerous short stories in various anthology. Find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com and www.benjamintate.com.
Social Media Info:
Joshua Palmatier: www.joshuapalmatier.com
Zombies Need Brains: www.zombiesneedbrains.com
Online Store: https://squareup.com/market/zombies-need-brains-llc
Oh, plotting. You and I aren’t the best of friends. More like casual acquaintances, if that.
When many folks talk about writing, they often talk about two kinds of writers—plotters and pansters. Now, plotters are just what the name implies. These are the folks who plot out their books, which can include everything from doing a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book to detailed character outlines to creating storyboards of the various scenes/chapters.
And then there are pansters, or people who don’t do a lot of plotting. I am one of those folks.
Usually, when I’m thinking about an idea for a book, I’ll think about my heroine first—her personality, her strengths and weaknesses, her magic and how she can use it to defeat the bad guys. Then, I’ll think about the three big turning points of the story:
1) The first chapter that opens the book. I often think of these like those opening teasers in a James Bond movie—almost like a small, self-contained story with some action to grab people’s interest but that also ties in to the overall plot.
2) The event—a magical attack, a kidnapping, a robbery, etc.—that happens in the beginning of the book that drives my heroine’s actions through the middle of the book.
3) And finally, the big battle with the villain at the end of the story.
And that’s about as much as I ever plot out a book. Once I have my heroine and all these turning points in mind, I sit down, start writing, and see where the story and characters take me.
Sometimes, I have a good grasp of the overall plot and many of the specific scenes, and the story come very easily to me. Other times, I’ll get halfway through writing a book and realize that I should have zigged when I zagged. When that happens, I spend a lot of time rewriting in my second draft.
Most of the time, it falls somewhere in the middle. I know some of the scenes, but as I’m writing, the characters or story take me in an unexpected direction. Sometimes, that’s a good thing, and sometimes, it’s not.
Now, you may be asking why I don’t plot out a book. Surely, that would be easier and save me some time, right? Maybe. But I find that if I plot out the book beforehand, then I feel like I’ve sort of written the book already, and I’m just not as engaged with the characters and story as I am if I don’t plot everything out.
But this is just the method that works for me. One of the trickiest things about being a writer is finding the method that works for you—because no one else can do that for you. Just like no one else can write your book but you.
So whether you are a plotter or a panster or fall somewhere in between, I wish you good luck in all your writing endeavors. Happy writing and reading!
What about you guys? Are you plotters or pansters? How much planning do you do before you start writing a book?
JENNIFER’S SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Jennifer_Estep (@Jennifer_Estep)
Jennifer Estep is a New York Times bestselling author, prowling the streets of her imagination in search of her next fantasy idea. Jennifer writes the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series for Pocket Books. She is also the author of the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series for Kensington and the Bigtime paranormal romance series.
Poison Promise, the 11th book in the Elemental Assassin series, will be published on July 22. Black Widow, the 12th book, will be released on Nov. 25.
For more on Jennifer and her books, visit her website at www.jenniferestep.com. You can also follow Jennifer on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter – @Jennifer_Estep.
So you’ve written a million or so words in lead-up and now you’re at the end of the series. The last book. The grand finale. You’ve spent hundreds, even thousands, of hours with these characters, plotting and twisting your way through their lives.
How the heck do you say goodbye?
More than that, even: how do you make it worthy? How do you pay off a million words of build-up, a decade of putting stories out there and (hopefully!) having people ask for more? How do you create something *satisfying* at the end of all that, something that will leave you, your characters and your readers all saying, “Yeah. Yeah, that was how it should have ended. That was right.”?
My God, it’s not easy.
For me…for me it’s generally about balance, and with the Walker Papers and Joanne, who began the story badly unbalanced, it’s *particularly* about balance. Nothing can come too easily; that’s cheating. But neither should the payments come out of nowhere: there needs to be story backing it up, not just in the final book but ideally all the way back to the beginning. Which means either you have to know at the start what you’re doing, or you have to be able to look back and recognize where you laid the plot threads to pull it together at the end.
I fell more into the second category, although somewhere around book 3 my editor made a comment that laid a major character’s pathway out for me clearly, and so I knew from that point on where that character’s story would end, which left some obvious implications. (I’m talking around it, I know; maybe I’ll give details in comments if people want me to. :))
I also knew from early on that the lesson learned in one of the very first books was going to have resounding effects at the end of the series. Even so, I blew it on the first draft.
I really did. I knew when I turned it in to my editor that it didn’t sing, and I sort of knew why. There was something that I felt *had* to happen with Joanne, but I couldn’t see how to do it without losing all sympathy for the character–the only way I could see to write it was to have her do something not only unforgiveable from a reader POV, but honestly, unforgiveable from her own. She would rather have died, which would have been a rather abrupt ending to the series.
I spent a long time talking it over with my editor. A lot of emails, and some Skype sessions, and I explained the Unforgiveable Thing and how I didn’t see how to accomplish the end game without it but I couldn’t write the book *with* it–and as often happens when I’m talking out plot problems, I started talking over myself until I had delivered unto my editor several pages of what she essentially saw as gibberish but which ended with me saying “Okay, this’ll work,” and her saying “Good, good, go forth, fix it,” in magnanimous I knew I could solve it all for you tones.
I got past the Unforgiveable Thing in a way that made it work so it was no longer Unforgiveable (although there are readers who will disagree with me :)), and it balanced. It had the weight I needed it to have, the price I was looking for, and it resonated all the way back to the beginning of the series. and I was left with…
…honestly, I was left with a thing I couldn’t live with. It had been a necessary part of the story, and I didn’t want to pull a cheat, but I also couldn’t bear it. It was too awful, it hurt me too much, and…and I realized I had left myself the slimmest thread to reel it back from the edge with. And I also realized that pulling it back balanced. It balanced what had happened in the book without becoming mawkish, and it, again, resonated to the start of the series. It worked both ways–and that was what I needed it to do.
So for me that’s what ending a series is about. That’s how I reach the payoff: by looking for the balance. It’s not about returning to the status quo; it’s about establishing a new one. And I suspect that as a bottom line, that’s exactly what I always need and want to aim for when I’m writing a series.