3 Keys to a Happy Ending

Do you see that rainbow and pot of gold 10 days away?  That is the end of NaNoWriMo, the grand finale of the project that might right now make you feel a little like this.

 

And standing in the way of you and your finale is a giant turkey.

(I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get in his way. Besides, the Minnesota Vikings are playing the Detroit Lions, so that is a mandatory time out/no writing day).

So, let’s optimize this weekend, take a couple days off to hang out with our people…and consider our Grand Finale.

You know those movies where you finish a book and you think…did I like this?  How do I feel?  Often it’s because the author hasn’t give you the  3 Keys of a Happy Ending.

A great happy ending has three parts:

  1. Your hero/heroine is freed from the lie they believe, allowing them to become a New Person (and do that think at the end they couldn’t at the beginning)
  2. Your hero/heroine’s WOUND is healed. The wound is the emotional heartache from the Dark Moment Story. That think that he/she had always wanted but never gotten.
  3. Your hero/heroine receive a piece of the Greatest Dream. Something sweet and unexpected that is also pulled from the Dark Moment story.

 

The LIE is defeated by TRUTH.

This is the capstone of your ending. It’s what ignites the epiphany and change in your charcter. It’s WHY your hero is on his journey.  If you do nothing else, give your character TRUTH.

Now, let’s add all the Feels:

Heal the Wound:

Remember when we were building characters and we asked our character what their darkest moment in their past was? We pulled out of that the lie and the greatest fear and used those to create the inner journey and the black moment event.

But from this moment, you can also find The Wound. 

From the dark places of our past, those things that have hurt us, we’ve learned a lie…but we’ve also received a deep wound.  Something that just…hurts.  It could be rejection, or betrayal, or even grief.  Often, it has to do with a broken relationship.  We carry these wounds around with us, keeping us away from people who might pour salt into the wound, or reopen it.  Hence why people self-sabotage relationships, or veer away from anything substantial – their wounds simply won’t allow them to draw close for the fear of reopening.

Hello, it’s thanksgiving. Time to spend time with FAMILY.  We love them…but oh, they can hurt us, right?  Imagine your hero going to hang out with his family over thanksgiving. What are the wounds that might inadvertently be opened?

When you give your hero his HEA…heal one of those wounds by giving him what he wants.

And then…delight us with a piece of the Greatest Dream:

The Greatest Dream isn’t just about healing the wound or winning the day, or conquering their fear. It’s something deeper, something sometimes your character won’t even know or understand.

Start by asking: What is your characters’ happiest moment in their past?

We want to dig around in their past to find that one moment when everything worked, everything was right.  And, we want to extrapolate from that some element that we can then use in the ending.

Don’t let them off the hook by saying, “when I graduated from college,” or “when I got married,” – make them be specific.  You want to pinpoint an exact event, with details. An exact event allows you to take a good look at it, and frankly, if you want, recreate it.  Most of all, it allows you to find the nuances that pull out exactly why this was the happiest moment

 

So…while you’re eating turkey, or watching the Vikings crush the Lions, think:  How can I give my hero truth, heal his wounds and give him a piece of his greatest dream?

Then…okay, you can have dessert.

Have a fabulous thanksgiving!

 

P.S.  Another reward you can give yourself for finishing that epic novel is to bring it to the annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat and let us help you hone it into publication!  We specialize in individual help, getting to the root and power and magic of YOUR story. In short…we help you find the happy ending for your brilliant book.  Join us in FLORIDA in February—check it out here!

 

3 Brainstorming Sparks To Get You NaNoWriMo Ready

Photo by Karen Andrews
Photo by Karen Andrews

NaNoWriMo, the write-a-novel-in-a-month challenge, is not for the feint of heart.

But you aren’t chicken. Chances are you’ve faced down an editor or agent pitch with only two cappuccinos. Quite possibly you wake up before the sun rises or stay up after it sets to put words on the page, while raising a family, or working a full-time job.

Your life is the stuff of the courageous.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like you scale mountains, but you’re in a career where you know you will receive numerous rejections, still you face them fearlessly and swallow back disappointments with grace. (Outside of maybe that tub of Ben & Jerry’s you didn’t tell anyone about.)

November is your month to go big or go home. How do you get the first sparks for your NaNoWriMo? From your own courageous journey infused into your character.

3 Brainstorming Sparks To Get You NaNoWriMo Ready:

*First, start a spark journal. This is your NaNoWriMo thought bank. It won’t just be pieces of your characters’ journey and story structure. It will be emotions, words, stressful moments, music, muse, and so much more. Mark these segments with sticky dividers so they are easy to find.

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 Spark One: Determine the place your hero/heroine is in at the start of the story. Identify their favorite thoughts, music, places to think, and where they go to find peace. If you love collage, cut out pictures that represent that either online, or from magazines.

This is what I call the frame of mind spark. Every day you sit down to write, review the pictures and sounds of where they are at in life before you start.

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Spark Two: Determine your hero/heroine’s down and out response in the story. Create a segment that shows the thoughts, tension, fight music, junk food cravings, music binge that they take when discouraged.

Use your own life experiences to put this into emotional words. The hardest point of your month in October should be journaled about here. My Book Therapy taught me to keep an emotional journal. This is a very specified emotion you might find in it.

If your hero/heroine is to spend a good amount of time facing hardships that bring them to change, that is an emotion you should connect with on multiple levels of severity.

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Spark Three: Geek out about your passion. If you love your hero/heroine, your plot, or your setting, here is the place to fill the pages with why you love your favorite one of these. Cut out pictures, write your emotions, pour it all on the page. Add musical inspiration, pictures, or prose.

Why? There will be a point this month where you will need to remember why you love this story. That is the time or times when this spark will be helpful.

Are you planning on doing NaNoWriMo? What other sparks will you add to your spark journal?

NaNoWriMo Scene Starter!

[So—like you all, I’m writing a book in month with NaNoWriMo! Just to encourage myself, I dragged out this conversation I had with an aspiring author on how to keep going!

If you want the entire Conversation on How to Write a Novel, check out Conversations with a Writing Coach!]

*****

“How is your NaNoWriMo manuscript going?” I set my coffee down at the table where Sally sat waiting for me, drinking coffee and eating a cookie. A light frost tipped the grass outside, the lake frothy along the rocky shoreline.

“I think my brain is shutting down. I’ve written about two thousand words a day, but I am running out of ideas on how to start my scene.” Sally broke off a piece of her monster cookie, the fresh-baked smell enough to make me wish I hadn’t eaten breakfast.

“Have you done your scene preparation?  Figured out Layer One: what kind of scene it is, and the 5 Ws’?”

“Oh, that’s the easy part. And Layer Two isn’t so hard either. Creating Tension is easy once you understand the equation: a Character we care about who has a goal, as well as something to lose who meets obstacles that feel insurmountable so much so that we fear they’ll fail.”

“Right. The equation is: Sympathetic Character + Stakes + Goals + Obstacles + Fear of Failure.”

She broke off another piece of cookie. A M&M dropped onto her napkin. “But finding the first line and getting going that is stumping me. I feel like the words should just come to me, but…I’m staring at the blank page.”

“I understand. Let me teach you my first line/hook technique that is simple and fast to get you going into the scene. This is Layer Three and it’s simply about making the Hook SHARP.

“S stands for STAKES. What does your character have to lose? What can go wrong? You must have this element or there is simply no reason to have this scene, and especially no reason for your reader to stick with the story. In an Action scene, it’s something that could happen. In a ReAction scene, it might be making a bad decision. To find this, ask: What is the worst thing that could happen to your character right now? What does he/she fear?

“H stands for Hero/Heroine Identification. Why should we care about your character? What about your character makes us understand or even sympathize with him? To find that element ask: What do I have in common with my character? What need, or dream, or situation, or fear, or past experience do we share? And what about that can I extrapolate that fits into my story? Giving your character a realistic, sympathetic situation and realistic emotions is the key to creating that connection between your reader and your character.

“A stand for Anchoring, or Storyworld. Use your inner journalist to create place. By the end of the first paragraph, and for sure the first scene, you should have anchored your character into the scene by using the five W’s. Who, What, Where, When and Why? Then, add in the 5 senses. The Facts and Feelings work together to establish place and evoke emotions. The right storyworld can give us a feeling of happiness, or tension, even doom in the scene. Ask: What is the one emotion you’d like to establish in this first sentence, paragraph, scene? Using the five 5’s, what words can you find that conveys this sense of emotion? Use these in the crafting of your first paragraph.

“R reminds us to start your scene: on the Run. Writing craft instructor Dwight Swain in Techniques of the selling writer says that “a good story being in the middle, retrieves the past and continues to the end.” Your scene should start in the middle of the action, as if drawing back the curtain on the scene to find it already in action on the stage. Ask: How can I start my scene with the characters already engaging the problem of the scene?

“P helps us to identify and weave in the Thematic Problem, or the Story Question, in the scene. You will have one story question, or thematic question that drives your book. This question permeates all the decisions your hero and/or heroine make throughout the story. Ask: What thematic question is my character grappling with in this scene? How can you weave in the theme, or some part of it?

“Once you have identified all these pieces, climb into your POV character’s “skin” (or head) and stand at the edge of the stage, looking at all the activity and ask: What am I (as the character) thinking right now? Not what am I thinking about, but what am I thinking?

“Use this sentence to start your character in the scene. You can change it later, but at this moment, you’ll be in your character’s skin and able to go forward in their POV and write the scene. (Because you’ll know the goals, stakes, obstacles and even the thematic problem they’ll struggle with in the scene).

“What if I get the wrong first line?”

“Sally, there’s no wrong first line. But at this point, you’re just trying to get words on the page. Try it – you’ll be surprised at how the words just start to flow out of you once you figure out these elements.”

“I don’t know. I like to let the scene just . . . flow out of me. Organic. Seat of the pants.”

I looked at her cookie as she finished it off. “When you make cookies, you use the same ingredients for almost every kind of cookie. Sugar. Flour. Eggs. Salt. Baking soda. However, have you ever started making cookies and realized you’ve run out of one of the ingredients? Suddenly you have to run to the store, and your baking is stalled.

“The same thing happens when you are creating a scene. First, you assemble your ingredients. If you skip this part, you don’t know what you’re missing and you’ll suddenly be stalled in your creation process. This way, you’re pulling your “scene ingredients” out of the cupboard (your head) before you start mixing it together. You’re still writing the scene “Seat of the Pants” but you’re using specific ingredients to help you build it. And since you’ve assembled them before hand, you can flow without having to stop and figure out what you’re missing.”

“You’ve been eyeing my cookie all morning haven’t you?”

Truth: Success with scene building and maximizing your writing session is about preparation and gathering your ingredients before you begin. 

Dare: Do your prep work before you begin your writing session. An hour of planning will save you and hour of staring at an empty page!

Have a great writing week!

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May

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Conversations Postcard bigLet’s have a conversation about how to be a published author! (only $4.99 on Kindle!)

“I was so excited to see that Conversations with a Writing Coach contains the lessons and writing aids that took me from being an unpublished writer to published with a multi-book contract. Susan’s talent for teaching the craft of writing is phenomenal. The lessons are easy to understand and will help beginning writers understand and develop their characters, plots and settings. And not just beginning writers—the workbook is a great refresher course for me as I begin my 5th book in two years. Patricia Bradley, author of the Logan Point series”

 

NaNoWriMo: 5 Steps to building the right SCENE FOUNDATION

[A note from SusieMay:  So, like you all, I’m working hard on my NaNoWriMo project!  To keep me motivated, I pulled out a conversation I had with an aspiring author about how to set up a scene.  (to read about the rhythm of storytelling, click here.)  Go! Write Something Brilliant!]

If you want the entire conversation on how to write a novel, check out Conversations with a Writing Coach!

*****

Sally was waiting for me as I walked into the coffee shop.  The fallen leaves chased me inside and Kathy handed me a spicy pumpkin latte, with whip and a layer of caramel.  I sat down at the table and couldn’t help note the frown on Sally’s face.

“What?”

“It’s just boring.”  Her hand rested on a stack of printed manuscript papers. “I mean, the story is good…in my head. But it seems to lack…well, let’s put it this way; my husband fell asleep somewhere between page 87 and 103.”

“Oh my,” I said, sipping the latte.  Just the right balance of whipped crème sweetness and pumpkin pie spice.  “So, what do you think is the problem?”

“He says I have a great story, with great storyworld and fun dialogue and even good emotional layering. It’s just…well, he says the scenes are boring.”

“This can be fixed, Sally, don’t despair.  What you have is the right ingredients to the second layer of a scene: storyworld, emotional layering, dialogue and even metaphors.  However, none of these matter if you haven’t built the first layer, or the foundation of the scene: the scene tension.”

“You mean what we talked about last week. The Scene Equation.”

“Right.  You have to understand what drives a scene before you can create the actual scene. Let’s review just a bit:  The scene equation is:

Sympathetic Character + Stakes + Goals + Obstacles + Fear of Failure. 

“If any of these are missing, you don’t have tension and are simply decorating the house before its finished.  Only after you build a solid foundation can you add the gleaming details that make your scene stand out.  (storyworld, dialogue, emotional layering, wordsmithing. emotions, metaphors and even a great hook.)

“Let’s go a bit deeper and explore each of these pieces of the equation:

“Sympathetic Characters:  Building Sympathy isn’t just about putting our characters in sympathetic situations – it’s about seeing ourselves in our characters. What situation is your character in that we can understand or identify with?  Or, what common emotion do we share with the character that helps us sympathize.  Consider this:  When have you felt the same way your character feels?  Can you build in either this situation, or actions that help us connect?

“Here’s an example:  In my book, You Don’t Know Me, my heroine, Annalise, is in the WitSec program. However, she’s never told a soul – including her husband and family.  She is leading a normal life…until her WitSec Agent appears in her world and unravels it.  Although most of us haven’t been in the WitSec program, we do have situations where we fear a secret might emerge. It’s this feeling I built into the scene where her past shows up.  I created a scene in a coffee shop with all of Annalise’s friends and community around her – including her husband – and made her stumble to keep her secret and composure in the face of this awkward situation.

“Goals: What does POV want?  Emotionally, physically?  What do they need?  Why?  Answering these questions gives the character a purpose for the scene – something that pushes them forward.  Your character must have a goal for every Action Scene.  (and a dilemma to solve for every ReAction scene).

“Obstacles:  These can be People or Situations, (weather, or machines, or even government) – but at the end, they are the conflicts that stand in the way of the character reaching her/her goals.  Tension is created by the use of these external and internal obstacles.

“Stakes: What will happen if the character doesn’t meet their goal?  What fear hovers over the scene?  Both the character and the reader must see what might go wrong in the scene to create tension. This involves using the Push-Pull rhythm, a MBT technique for creating the right motivation.  (in short, it’s the PUSH away from something negative, and the PULL toward something positive.)

“Fear of Failure:  This is the secret ingredient to keeping tension taut in a scene.  Without this fear, and this believe that it could happen, the scene is flat.  If we know the outcome is a sure thing, then why bother?  Even if the tension is only inner dissonance, it’s that fear of losing themselves that keeps the tension high.

Sally, go through every scene and ask:  Why should I care about this character and this scene? What’s at stake?  What are the Goals and Obstacles, and finally, do I fear the character might fail?  Answering these questions for every single scene will help you reshape your story into something that won’t put your husband to sleep.”

“It might have been the Vikings game, and the way they crumbled after the first quarter.”

“Yes, that was painful. I would have rather been sleeping.”

Truth:  Wordsmithing can only get you so far in a story; if you don’t have tension, your book will suffer the “put it down in the middle” syndrome.  

Dare: Analyze every scene and build in the right foundation before you add in the riveting details.

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May

Conversations Postcard bigLet’s have a conversation about how to be a published author! (only $4.99 on Kindle!)

“I was so excited to see that Conversations with a Writing Coach contains the lessons and writing aids that took me from being an unpublished writer to published with a multi-book contract. Susan’s talent for teaching the craft of writing is phenomenal. The lessons are easy to understand and will help beginning writers understand and develop their characters, plots and settings. And not just beginning writers—the workbook is a great refresher course for me as I begin my 5th book in two years. Patricia Bradley, author of the Logan Point series”