The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 252
Blue Skies in the Morning
Blue skies in the morning, but they won’t be blue for long . . .
Sounds like some lyrics from a Country Western song, doesn’t it?
My baby’s gone and left me, for a guy with a song.
Welcome to my strange mind, folks, and welcome to The Mailbag!
I’m about to go into triage mode for the next twenty-four weeks. The farmers market season begins in two days, which means losing Wednesday, which means getting five days of writing completed in four days . . . triage!
So here we go! My comments will be a bit shorter for the next twenty-four weeks, my output a little bit less, and my presence here a little less noticeable. That’s just the way it goes, my friends. Priorities move to the top of the list; foo-foo moves down the list of life.
Let’s see what the mail has brought us today.
How Do You End It
From Paul: “Hey, Bill, you’ve got some experience writing novels. How do you know when you’ve arrived at the end of your novel? How do you know when to say ENOUGH and wrap it up?”
Paul, this seems like such a simple question, but oddly I don’t think it’s been asked before, which kind of blows me away. Congratulations on asking a question never before asked.
Every novel is basically a conflict of some sort, a conflict which builds until the climax. Once that climax arrives, and there has been some sort of resolution to that conflict, you have arrived at the end of your novel. I prefer to add one more chapter after the climax, to wrap up the novel in a calm manner, kind of like a deep breath after running a mile.
Now, having said that, there is no “one size fits all” in novel-writing; there are guidelines but that’s all they are, guidelines. You are the master of your ship, and you can steer it in any direction you see fit. I’ve seen novels, which are part of a series, end with a hint of what is to come in the next novel, and that is certainly acceptable. I’ve read novels which had no definitive ending, which really annoyed me, by the way, but again, that’s the option of the author. Just try not to annoy your readers or they may not come back.
I hope that helps. If you were looking for a definitive answer I’m afraid I might have disappointed you.
Flash Fiction Contests
From Trish: “Do you know of any flash fiction contests which are good ones to try out? I’ve got a few stories and I’d like to see how they stack up against competition.”
Trish, no I don’t. I mean, I can go online and find some in a heartbeat, as can you, but I don’t know which ones are better than others. Sorry, I’m no help on this one, other than to say the contests held by major publications like Writers Digest are always reliable. They are also highly competitive, so bring your A Game to the competition.
Maybe someone in the comments will have some suggestions.
From Marilyn: “Bill, I just don’t seem to have the time to write. I have a small child, a husband, a part-time job, and not enough hours. Any suggestions?”
Marilyn, I’m going to say something to you, and I know it’s going to sound snippy, but it is also the truth as I know it: you have the time to write; you are just choosing not to use it for writing. You are sleeping with the time, or watching television with the time, or spending a bit too much time on Facebook with the time.
What I mean is this and please, don’t take offense: if writing is a real priority, you can find the time. If that means one less hour of sleep at night, so be it. If that means less television, so be it, and if that means no social media, so be it as well.
Earlier I mentioned that my writing week is going to be compressed down from five days to four; my workload will remain the same, but I will have one less day to do it in. I will have to find the time, because I have customers who are paying me to do work for them. And if I want to do creative writing, I have time to do it, and any excuse I use for not writing is just that, an excuse.
Cancer patients . . . clinically depressed people . . . they have excuses. The rest of us need to learn time-management and prioritize our to-do list. I know that doesn’t sound too terribly sympathetic, but it’s the way I was raised. I tried that line on my dad once, that I didn’t have time to get my chores done. You can imagine how well that excuse worked with him.
Looking for Authenticity
From Pete: “I’m a twenty-year old college student, just starting out in the writing business. I know I have a lot to learn, and I know I have to practice my craft, but my concern is authenticity. How do I write with an air of authenticity, like I’ve really experienced what I’m writing about? Does that make sense?”
Pete, I wrote once, in one of my novels, or in a short story, I don’t remember which, about a hanging tree I saw in New Iberia Parish, Louisiana. A black man had been hung from that tree ten years prior to my seeing it, and the locals simply referred to that tree as “the hanging tree.” Mind you, I never witnessed the hanging, but that tree had a profound effect on me, and I remember crying when I stood in its shadow.
You have two choices as a creative writer: you can either get out there and experience as much of life as possible in the time you have on this spinning orb, or you can call upon your five senses, your mind, and your heart, and use those things to “feel” a situation. The longer I live . . . the longer I am a writer . . . the more I realize two things: we humans all feel, and we are very, very similar to one another. I think in acting they call it method acting, the art of experiencing. Put yourself in a hypothetical situation and experience that situation in your mind and with your senses. You might be surprised how effective this is.
What would I feel if I saw a black man lynched? I don’t know, never having seen it, but I do know how I felt when I held my dying father, and I do know how I felt when I saw a mob beating a man on the streets of L.A. in 1969. That shit doesn’t go away, my friend, and it is always there for me to draw upon when I need it for a story or a novel.
Pete, it’s in you. Find it!
And you might want to read a couple books about method acting. I believe Lee Strasberg wrote a good one, as did that Russian dude whose name escapes me at the moment.
Back to the Country Song
I don’t know who that guy with a song was, but I do remember being dumped, several times, by women who wanted another man not named Bill, so I can relate to any song about heartbreak.
I’ll leave the rest of the lyrics to all of you. I’m not much of a songwriter or a poet.
Have a great day, unless you’ve made other plans.
2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”