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The Google dictionary definition of “denouement” is “the final part of a narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.” “Denouement” is one of those literary words that most of us learned somewhere in high school or college English classes and then filed away along with “synecdoche” and “antithesis” to be trotted out when we need to sound smart, but whereas you could probably write a pretty great novel without being able to identify the areas where you used antithesis, it’s REALLY hard to end a book well without having more than a dictionary understanding of the functions of a denouement.
Think of the denouement as “the beginning of the end.” If you’re plotting the arc of a story or plot, the denouement appears right after the climax and generally encompasses everything else taking place between the climax and the end of the story. Let’s start by looking at the jobs a denouement needs to do:
- Resolve the events of the climax. If the climax occurs when Slim pulls Sue off the railroad tracks seconds before the train thunders by, we don’t have to see every second of what happens next, but we would eventually like to know how they made it back to town after Slim’s horse ran off, how Salty Sam was finally apprehended, and whether or not Slim’s sidekick died of his rattlesnake bite. The actual top-of-the-tension moment is when Sue and Slim declare their love seconds before they might be smushed by the train, but these other events were all pieces of the climactic scene and the scenes leading directly up to it, and the reader wants to know how they turned out, even if it’s in a paragraph of narrative at
I’m starting a new series today, one that will last until I run out of things to say on the topic or until I get bored, whichever comes first. I’ve received several ending-related questions over the past few weeks as well as been disappointed by the endings of several otherwise-good submissions I’ve read lately, so I thought we’d spend a few weeks talking about how to end a novel as effectively as you began it.
There are a whole lot of resources out there to help you craft a dynamite beginning of a novel– plenty of “first five chapters” workshops, lots of conversation on the importance of a great opening sentence, a bunch of opinions on how soon in a book the action needs to kick off– but not as much attention paid to how to END a novel well. It makes sense; the beginning is what makes someone decide whether or not to keep reading, and therefore gets most of the responsibility for selling a book to an agent, editor, or reader, but too often, all this emphasis on the beginning of a novel leads to some neglected or rough endings by comparison, and endings are what make someone decide whether or not to look for another book from that author. If you’ve managed to entice a reader into picking up your book and making it all the way through, you want them to stick around longer than just that one book. This week, we’ll talk about how the end of a story and the end of a book are (or should be) connected, as well as preview some of the topics we’ll address over the next few weeks.
“When is a book done?” “When is a story over?” These questions came in separately, and while they’re asking about two different things, the answers are related. A complete story has been told when the major conflict has
I never have trouble getting up before my alarm rings on a Saturday morning. For one, I’m looking forward to my weekly blog, SATURDAISIES, to go live. And second, it’s time to get together with my writing group, The Flying M-Inklings.
Let’s do confessions, shall we?
If I ever walked into our beloved coffee shop, The Flying M, and some oblivious and under-formed new guy was sitting at our M-Inkling table, I would probably commit a crime.
(I’m not proud of it.)
But I’m kinda like the guy who walks into church on a Sunday morning to find that someone is sitting in his pew? Some oblivious and under-informed new guy and his wife – with four or five rugrats in tow? And the guy whose pew has been hijacked has to get his heart right with the Lord again because instead of being gracious and welcoming this new family into the church, all he really wants to do is clock him with a candle holder?
I would need a Divine intervention to stop me before somebody had to call the po-po… just sayin’.
Brilliance happens around our table. It’s where we M-Inklings make our plans and dream our dreams. It’s where we laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. It’s where we write. I have christened that table, and it is ours. There’s no metaphor there – when we sneaked in a bottle of champagne to celebrate our one-year anniversary together, I popped the lid off of that sucker and the bubbly cascaded all over the table, the chairs, the floor, my lap… marking that sacred place. Ever since then, the Flying M-Inklings have made it a point to leave our mark wherever we go.
(There’s your metaphor.)
Your writing group should leave a mark on this planet. If your group has not considered how to promote literacy in your community and
This week’s post is one I always think about writing after attending a writer’s conference, the reason being that, for every three manuscripts I’m handed at a conference, two of them (on average) begin with a prologue. Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with starting your book with a prologue, but over the past few years, there seems to have been an increase in authors treating a prologue like a required element of a novel. It’s not. The problem with this trend is that, in many cases, these prologues are either boring, unnecessary, or straight-up misnamed, so that, right off the bat, I’m distracted or distanced from the story rather than drawn in the way I want to be by the first page of a manuscript. This doesn’t mean beginning with a prologue is always a bad idea, just that you should be sure you understand the function of a prologue and whether your story is best-served by one.
What is a prologue? A prologue is an introductory part of the story (meaning, it’s fictional– not to be confused with a forward or an introduction, which are written from the point of view of a real person such as an author, as opposed to a character or the narrator) that, for whatever reason, doesn’t “match” the rest of the story. Examples include a piece of the story told from a different perspective, such as when the prologue is told from the point of view of the murder victim while the rest of the story is told from the point of view of the murderer, or taking place in a different time period, such as when the prologue shows a scene which takes place during the Civil War while the rest of the story takes place in 1978. A prologue along these lines is used when an author wants to make sure the reader has a certain piece of information or sees
When I decided to start a writing group, I didn’t just slap something up on social media or tack a flyer on the bulletin board of a book store or coffee shop to solicit writers. I privately recruited people whose writing I had already read and respected – people I liked. After I secured my top picks, I put the idea out on Facebook WITH some conditions. I listed the genres that need not apply, apologized in advance for not welcoming them with open arms, and wished them well. For fear of offending anyone, I won’t list those genres here. Let’s just say that I am prone to flashbacks from having to endure the readings of exhaustingly plodding poems about leaves or some convoluted mash-up of intergalactic contention between angels and space aliens that left me twitchy by the end. I have no poker face. I just don’t relish having to slap on an encouraging smile as I ride out lengthy descriptions of serial-killer-high-school-science-teachers slashing body parts in some haunted shack off the I-70 in Eastern Utah. There’s a reason I don’t read that stuff. If I’m being honest, the only book I’ve ever read by horror master Stephen King is his book on writing which is called… and this is brilliant… On Writing. It’s a page-turner! And it didn’t make me pee down the side of my leg. In any case, regardless of your genre of choice, get into a group that is able to support you the best.
Once you get a group together, here are some brass tacks to make sure it moves and grooves like it should:
- Meet once a week. It’s a big commitment, but the time you invest in this group will return to you tenfold and more. We’ve talked with groups who only meet once a month. Guess what? They don’t have websites. They don’t go on field trips. They aren’t
I’ve talked before about the value of a good writer’s conference as a place to connect with mentors/writing partners and as a reward/motivating factor in meeting your writing deadlines. Since I just got back from a writer’s conference, I thought I’d talk about some post-conference steps you can take to make sure you get the most out of your experience, because as fun or as encouraging as writer’s conferences can be, you’re not getting the most out of your time and money if you don’t follow up on the new information and contacts you encountered there. Here are a few ways to maximize your conference experience after you get home.
- Organize new contact info (before you lose it). Save email addresses and phone numbers, make notes about who was who while you still remember– if you’re keeping business cards, write some reminders on the card, such as “French parenting book” or “talked about Star Trek.” This will help you keep all your new acquaintances straight and give you a talking point to start from if you contact them in the future.
- Compile new information/feedback. Go through your notes from workshops and meetings, look over the comments on any manuscripts you shared for critique, and highlight or copy the pieces of advice that resonated the most, as well as the pieces you have questions about or didn’t understand. This way, you have all your favorite advice in one place to look over and remind yourself of, and you have the things you need to think more about/ask more questions on in one spot for reference if you want to email the workshop teacher for clarification or decide explore a topic more at a future conference.
- Compare advice. Between workshops, critique groups, and agent/editor meetings, you can come away from a writing conference with a whole bunch of suggestions for your work, and they’re not always going to agree! Before
In the month of March we’re going to invite writers to send in the questions they have always wanted to ask a literary agent. Normally we tackle one question per day, and try to go into it in-depth, but in March I want to fill up the calendar with questions, and respond to as many questions as I can from readers of this blog. So just start an email, write down the question you’ve always wanted to ask someone in publishing, and send it to chip at MacGregor Literary (d0t) com. I promise to get to a bunch of questions over the next month. Looking forward to it! You in?
I’m wrapping up my “Before You Write” series today with a post that’s a bit of a cheat, since it actually has more to do with the end of the writing process than the beginning; that is, what you’re going to do with the finished manuscript when you’re done. It’s worth mentioning because, as I’ve said once or twice (or seventeen times) during this series, the purpose of pre-writing exercises and plans is to make it easier to sustain your momentum during the actual writing process. To that end, knowing in advance what you’re going to do with your completed novel when it’s finished can help you avoid the post-writing slump and take some meaningful action with the result of all your hard work. Having a plan for your finished novel can also help motivate you to stick with it when you hit those middle-of-the-book doldrums. Here are some suggestions for next steps you may want to have in mind on the front end of the process.
- Take your manuscript to a writers’ conference. Even if it’s not ready to be published, a writers’ conference can be a fabulous place for a manuscript to continue to take shape. Between writing workshops, opportunities for private critique, and chances to pitch your book to agents and editors, you can leave a good writers’ conference with some really helpful feedback and a better sense of what should actually be next for your manuscript. If you’re an experienced writer or a really fantastic first-time writer, you might come away with some good leads as far as editors or agents who might be interested in your book, and if you’re newer to the writing scene, you will most likely get some valuable direction for how to improve your pitch or your manuscript before seriously attempting to get it published. If you have a rough idea of when you’ll be done with a draft of
I’ve been spending the past few weeks outlining some before-you-write strategies that can help position you for greater success during the novel-writing process. Today, I’m talking about what is probably the easiest step in the whole writing process: quitting! Seriously, you wouldn’t even believe how easy it is to let your writing ambition die a quiet death while your day job and your personal life and your volunteer commitments and your own psyche chip away at your writing time and your confidence and your momentum. I’ve been droning for five weeks about all kinds of exercises and plans and busywork you can do before you even begin to write your novel, and guess what: it only gets harder from there! So who needs that kind of aggravation and stress in their lives, right? Right, you say! You’ve had enough of juggling to make room for writing and then of struggling to get published, you want out! But, you say, you feel so “passionate” about your story, or you “love” writing so much, or you feel such a sense of “accomplishment” when you finish a book, blah blah blah– how can you just let all that go, you may be asking? Well, here are some really good ways to wuss out on writing your novel before you even start.
- Set an imaginary deadline for yourself. Wait, you might be saying. I thought deadlines could help motivate me? Well, sure, they can when you stick to the goals you need to in order to meet them, but what about when you fall behind? Example: I’ve attempted to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) three or four times, “attempted” being a word which here means “I’ve briefly entertained the crazy notion and made vague efforts towards starting a novel during the month of November.” The problem with NaNoWriMo for me is always the reality that, if I am going to complete 50,000
Continuing my series on pre-writing techniques that can help position you for a more successful writing experience, I’m talking today about assembling a strategy to help answer the “when,” “how,” and “so what” of your writing process. A lot of the pre-writing exercises I’ve discussed can be used by the savvy writer to put off the actual novel-writing process indefinitely, but if you’re one of those authors who actually wants to write his story instead of just talk/think/brainstorm about it, you’re going to want to put some kind of a plan in place to help you manage your writing time and meet your writing goals.
When are you going to write?
There are lots of people more qualified than I am to tell you how to use your time productively, what time of day/year is ideal for maximum creative synergy, how to arrange your furniture for minimum bad karma, etc., but the fact is that none of those experts is going to be helpful if you don’t start by understanding your specific lifestyle. What works for someone else may not work for you, no matter how much sense it makes on paper. When establishing a writing schedule, start by asking yourself these questions:
- When do I feel the most energized/alert? If you can coordinate your writing time with the time of day you are mentally the most active, your writing time will be more productive.
- When do I have the most free time? (Note: if you would argue that you don’t have any free time, answer the question this way instead: when do I spend the most time on Facebook? When do I watch the most TV? See what I did there?) Is there a way you can arrange your schedule so that your free time and your energized time coincide?
- What can I eliminate/sacrifice in order to create more writing time? If you’re looking at your life and you