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I am a re-reader. Sometimes I pick up a book that I’ve already read in order to study some aspect of craft, like a fight scene or character introduction, but my primary motivation is usually entertainment.

I love knowing that the piece I’m reading has a great story, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion. Often, that last element is where things fall apart. Over the holidays three books in a row ended with a whimper, and left Reader Me at loose ends, feeling out of sorts and disappointed. Writer Me was not impressed.

Good openings pull readers deeper into the story. 

The first scene can be anything—a funny incident that introduces one of your protagonists, or perhaps an argument that leaves your reader shocked. Maybe you’ll write a scene that will leave your reader admiring your protagonist and cheering for her, or perhaps you’ll introduce your tale with a gruesome murder that will leave the reader horrified but burning with intrigue. Whatever you do in your opening, a great opening scene will almost always find some way to arouse a powerful emotional response in the reader—and the impact of that scene will convince the reader to delve further into the tale, hoping for more.

David Farland’s Writing Tips – Be Excited

All excellent advice. But a good opening isn’t enough. It’s a promise. Endings should deliver on that original promise by giving the reader a satisfying emotional conclusion. If a story opens with a question the ending must close with the answer. Not any answer. Not a conclusion (dramatic or otherwise) that has no relationship to the questions posed at the outset. And not, for the love of all that’s holy, a cliffhanger.

This is why so many books fail, in my experience. Open with a lost dog, close with a found dog. Open with a murder mystery, close with the murderer being brought to justice. 

What if The Return of the King had ended as the One Ring went into the lava? That’s it, right? Game over, no reason to continue. Not quite, and the fact that the story didn’t stop there is one reason I went back to The Lord of the Rings every year for decades. Our emotions are tied to characters, and in this case to one group in particular. Start with hobbits all nice and cozy, end with slightly battered but stronger, more capable, still cozy hobbits tucked up nice and safe at home.

There’s also a reason I have several reliable series on call at all times. I don’t do well with literary disappointment. That’s also the reason I return to some shorts over and over again.

I’ve mentioned this story before and may well again. Do I like young adult stories? Frequently not.* Do I like horror or monsters? Not usually. But everything about this story works for me, and it’s about time to read it again:

Holly Black’s Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind) is everything I love about a story: it’s funny, poignant, trying and triumphant. And fun.

I hope you enjoy it. I know I will.

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Photo by Gaman Alice on Unsplash

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* There are exceptions. This story is one, and there are others like The Scholomance and Rory Thorne books.

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I just read half a dozen short stories looking for a piece to share with you today. All were excellent. All were depressing as hell.

This is story number seven.

GO. NOW. FIX. by Timons Esaias

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Photo by Roger Bradshaw on Unsplash

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To Whom It May Concern,

Enclosed please find my NaNoWriMo after-action report. Please be advised that this AAR is a summary document of an ongoing project and may be reassessed upon future review.

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Project: NaNoWriMo 2021, Modified Edition (a.k.a. NaYes, a.k.a. NaNoFinMo)

Overview, or The NaNo Plan-Mo

  • Goal, Part 1: Plan a story
  • Did I do this? Yes!
  • Goal, Part 2: Let’s just focus on Part 1, shall we?

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Analysis

Looking back, how did it go?

  • After years of NaNo pantsing,* was planning the story a good idea? Yes, to a point. It got me out of being stuck mid-month, but then I went a little overboard and realized that I was probably planning myself into a corner. Backing off, making sure I had a solid foundation under the piece, getting inside the heads of my characters, that made the most sense. (And that wasn’t always easy. One of the characters is an alien space mouse.)
  • Was I efficient? Not so much. Taking the word count pressure off was great in many ways, but also allowed me to spend too long vacillating about which awesome idea was the most awesome of all the awesomes. And then writing, backtracking, and writing some more. Not helpful.
  • Was I creative? Yes. See the aforementioned space mouse.
  • Did I accomplish more than a big fat zero? I did!
  • I began the month writing countable words and considered putting out enough verbiage to qualify for the formal challenge. This option was rejected because 50,000 words to no apparent purpose? No thanks!

Notes on the process, using previous related posts and their goals as guides:

NaNo or NaYes?

Yes, I took on the challenge. Go me.

NaNoFinMo

No, I did not actually finish said story. And yes, I will expect this fact to be reflected in my end-of-year bonus package. No need to remind me.

I’m Doing It Again

I am happy to report that I fixed the stopping and restarting problem, picked one idea and rolled with it for the rest of the month.

About halfway through the month I decided that project parameters be damned, I really didn’t care about the word count. At all. What I wanted was a platform to act as a springboard for next steps. So that’s what I did.

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Recommendations & Action Items**

What would I change for next time?

  • Skip the prep reading; it was helpful but now I’ve crossed it off my list.
  • Go faster, not spend the whole month on one idea, develop more stories, spend more time noodling, more wandering the neighborhood thinking up fun stuff.
  • I considered a reading hiatus but then all my library books arrived and I just didn’t want to, frankly. Probably would have helped, though!
  • Make December the official followup month, where actual writing shall occur.

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In Conclusion!

Experimental or not, this year’s NaNoWriMo actually went pretty well. My main takeaway is not to stress very much. Or at all. I’m much more productive when I’m having fun.

Because I didn’t bother with the 50,000 words I didn’t count this NaNo as a “win” in the formal sense. I do count it as a win in the “getting things done my own dang way, thanks very much” sense, so yay. 

I may be the only one in this particular race, but still. I win!

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* A guide to NaNoWriMo strategies, including pantsing. I suppose you could say I’m a “plantser” at this point, but really, that’s a pretty terrible word.

** I just wanted to say “action items” because it’s ridiculous and fun.

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I’m a little too caught up in work to write the piece I was planning for today, so instead we have a free story via Slate’s Future Tense Fiction. It’s long, so save it for when you have time to do a little thinking about the environment, technology, and society.

“Ride,” a new short story about climate change, A.I., and social credit by Linda Nagata, with a non-fictional response by Henry Grabar, a journalist who reports on cities and autonomous vehicles.

Jasmine’s thoughts turned to the boy. He’d claimed he’d met someone on a shared taxi ride, a nameless stranger who’d told him about the Easter egg—a hidden bit of code embedded in the programming controlling the city’s autonomous taxi fleet.

Probably, the boy had been stringing her along. Yet there had been something about him, a sweetness, a rare sincerity that made her want to believe him—and anyway, what was the harm?

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Photo by Alessio Lin on Unsplash

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Seems to me like it’s free fiction Friday. Here’s a story from Josh Bales via Future Tense Fiction. I particularly liked the ending.

In the Land of Broken Things

The shop was a three-story brown brick building on the north end of downtown. The pawls on her bike clicked slower as she pulled up in front of it. Block letters in faded gold paint proclaimed REVERTE REPAIRS on the front window. Beneath that, in smaller letters: WE FIX YOUR BROKEN THINGS.

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Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

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Hey hey, dispatch from the NaNo mines here, and I’m sorry to say that I may be a tiny bit stuck at the moment.

I don’t want you to think that my projects are always a breeze so full disclosure, we’re talking stuck as in deep underground trapped between a boulder leftover from the Pleistocene and a jagged hole leading onto a tiny ledge winding down into darkness, from which I can just hear a river rushing over the sound of war chants echoing through the uncharted cave system in which I find myself trapped for all eternity!

Ahem.

I keep starting and restarting my project, which is a problem I have sometimes. NaNoWriMo’s word count is a tool to get beyond that issue, but my goal for this month is not just writing but finishing. So yeah. It’s time for more thinking, prepping, checking to see how my favorite authors did it, reworking my whole premise, stalling doing.

The good news is that I’ve noticed there’s a problem and now I can fix it. Go me:)

There’s a light at the end of every tunnel, even if you have to turn around to see it.

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Really, it’s fine. Photo by Daniel Burka on Unsplash

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I like NaNoWriMo for a lot of reasons. It provides a useful set of constraints, a deadline, and a global group of fellow travelers with which to share the journey. It’s also completely bonkers, in a good way. I remember the sheer sense of glee when I realized that I could actually produce that many words in that short a time.

First question: Can I churn out 50,000 words in a month? Yes, yes I can. Go me.*

Next question, and one that most NaNo participants come up against as the first flush of success fades: Do those words mean anything? Are they useful?

In my case, and no surprise here, the first draft was not 100% terrible but certainly needed work. Writing to a tight deadline with a high word count left me, at least, with the sort of prose I don’t usually write in fiction.

  • Contractions? Nope, they only counted as one word, and why write one word when you can use two?
  • Blah blah blah descriptions that were far wordier than necessary? Absolutely.
  • Unnecessary plot detours? Oh yes. Have my character stop off at a roadside ice cream stand and discuss the relative merits of lemon lavender versus pomegranate basil flavors on the way to the dramatic shootout? Sure, if it helps me meet my word count target.

That part of NaNoWriMo wasn’t as helpful to me. This year, I’m rewriting the rules.

  • I know I can write a lot of words on demand. Check.
  • I know I can write every day. Check.
  • I don’t need more of that. What I want to practice now is finishing.

So this November I’m being a bit of a NaNo radical. Word count is not my focus. I’ve chosen one story idea and will work on it until it’s done. That’s it.**

The end:)

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Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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* I bet you could do it too. Need a pep talk? Check out the NaNoWriMo archives.

** I may or may not also be participating in an imaginary mentorship program with Ilona Andrews Because what good is imagination if it can’t take you where you want to go?

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It’s Tuesday so busy busy, but I still made time for a little cat-related fun.

You’re welcome:)

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The remake you didn’t know you needed, by OwlKitty

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Forty-two years ago this month, we learned the answer to life, the universe and everything. Even if humorous sci-fi isn’t your thing, Douglas Adams’ work has permeated pop culture.

42 years later, how ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ has endured

The influence of the Hitchhiker’s Guide “is everywhere,” says Marcus O’Dair, author of The Rough Guide to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

“We can see it in culture, where Adams’ story is rumoured to have inspired everything from the band Level 42 to comedy show The Kumars at No. 42,” he says. “We can see it in tech: in the real-life ‘knife that toasts,’ for instance, or in-ear translation services reminiscent of the Babel fish. The most visible sign of its ubiquity, though, might be the fact that we can celebrate its anniversary not at 40 or 50 years but at 42 — and everyone knows why.”

This book let me know that there was a place for humorous absurdities in writing, and that it really doesn’t pay to take yourself too seriously.

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an indispensable companion to all those who are keen to make sense of life in an infinitely complex and confusing Universe, for though it cannot hope to be useful or informative on all matters, it does at least make the reassuring claim, that where it is inaccurate it is at least definitively inaccurate. In cases of major discrepancy it’s always reality that’s got it wrong.

This was the gist of the notice. It said “The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.”

― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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Cake with bypass, made by me. To scale.

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The good news is that there is a lot of up and coming fiction addressing issues of climate, change, and the environment. (The bad news is that we need it.)

Grist/Fix: Solutions Lab has a new climate fiction issue out, with discussions about the role of fiction in fixing reality and a dozen new stories from their “Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors” short story contest to get us started.

The Climate Fiction Issue: How fiction can change our reality | Fix

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