Tips on Strong Endings

Endings can make or break a novel. A lot of attention is placed on openings in novels, especially for those entering contests like Pitch Wars. This results is many novels having kick ass openings that lose something along the way.

Namely the ending.

I’m going to focus on romance novels here, because that is what I know. A romance novel ending has two important features, sometimes interwoven, sometimes separate: climax and black moment.

A novel’s climax is the most intense point, where everything the plot has been working towards unfolds in one way or another.

A novel’s black moment is the instance where all is lost between the romantic couple, and HEA (Happy Every After) appears unattainable.

Getting these two points right is no easy task. It’s an area I’ve worked at and reworked at over and over as my craft has grown. An area I will continue to work at.

In order to get them right, there are a few things to be mindful of. The first of which is lag. Often times, a climax/black moment happens too soon, before the ultimate resolution of all plot points. So the story continues as loose ends are tied up, and the reader slowly loses interest. Conversely, if the build up to the climax/black moment doesn’t have the right impact, the ending will hum along, without the urgency to get to the end, and the HEA.

So the climax/black moment has to be intense, and lead to a satisfying resolution. I know some authors that I love their voice, but the endings always leave me not quite satisfied. In this case I think things are wrapped up too quickly, without enough time to truly appreciate the couple coming together and everything they’ve overcome.

Which leads into personal preferences, of course, but what I might see as too quick for me, might be really too quick for all if not executed correctly.

So be mindful of your beats, of where certain events are occurring in the novel. Use beta readers and critique partners. Listen if they tell you the ending isn’t quite right. Think of your ending as the LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. The entire book, he “thinks he’s can” get up that hill, all the toys help him in that pursuit, until, finally, he’s over the hill and all the boys and girls get their toys. Your story is climbing a hill. Make sure there’s that peak, and drop off the reader just on the other side, not all the way back to the base.

Black moment. Ahh, black moment, it needs to be kick ass. My editor pushed me to do better in my novel, which involved torturing my characters. Oh, yes, torturing characters is a real thing! A romance thrives on that ultimate conflict that rips the characters apart, and the more intense this moment is, the more satisfying the eventual resolution becomes. A black moment needs to be believable, based on the characters situations and personalities. But not too harsh that the reader doesn’t wonder why s/he forgave him/her!

There can be some lag after the black moment, but only if the momentum holds. At this point a reader wants them together, desperately so, each scene needs to be of outmost importance—but, hey, what scene doesn’t?—and plot strung out just enough to get whichever character needs to get their head on straight fixed. Then, make up, kiss, HEA!

It’s the darkest part of the novel, when the reader wants to hug the characters and mush them together. This can be a second peak from the climax. In this case the reader has made it over that initial hump, thinks they are climbing down the hill, but, bam, nope, there’s the incline again! The rollercoaster is not over yet!

And, it really should be a rollercoaster at the end. Full of ups and down, speed and adrenalin. I love a HEA, love seeing characters together and living their lives. That’s not for the ending.

When you work on your novels, don’t just pay attention to the beginning. Yes, those first few words are super important. But so is chapter two, and the middle, and the ending. Once that first chapter sings, take that magic and sprinkle it throughout the rest. Create something that a reader can’t put down.

Oh, and give your characters hell. They won’t thank you, but your readers will.

Why Pitch Wars?

If you follow me on twitter at all, or saw last week’s blog post, you’ll know that I’m a mentor in this year’s Pitch Wars. Don’t know Pitch Wars? It’s a contest where mentors pick a mentee and help them revise their manuscript.

In reality, it’s much more than this.

I see Pitch Wars as kind of the holy grail of writing contests. At the outset, there are about 130 writers/writer teams involved. These are authors who are agented, published, and/or editors. These are authors who have been through the trenches. We have knowledge and experience to pass on.

And we do.

Just take a look at the hashtag and you’ll see any number of mentors offering up advice. Check out all the bios, each mentor will have some tidbit to share.

I’ve mentioned this many times before, and I’ll mention it again: I’ve learned most of what I know about writing from contests.

Through contests I’ve gained valuable information. Through contests I’ve met my CPs. Almost all my writer friends I can trace back to a contest, directly or indirectly. Here’s a way to strengthen your writing and fine tune your skills.

Even if you don’t get in.

In 2014 I entered Pitch Wars for the first time. I didn’t get any requests. I wasn’t chosen. But I learned and made connections. In 2015 I entered again. I had a recently revised manuscript and I felt like something major was still wrong, but I had no clue what to do with it. Last year we could sub to five mentors, and I did. I got requests from four that totally made my day.

I didn’t get in.

I did, however, receive some very encouraging feedback. A few weeks later I landed my agent through the slush. Which means one big thing: I didn’t get in because I didn’t need it.

Now, I’m not patting myself on the back here. If I hadn’t done my revision yet? I might have needed that mentoring. But after the revision it was ready to go.

Keep this in mind, potential mentees. Some of you won’t get in simply because you are ready. Your story is ready. And a mentor can’t see how to take your amazing story to the next level, because it doesn’t need to be brought there.

Others will not get in for a variety of reasons, the main one being: we can each only pick one. I’m going to want a novel I can read over, and over, and over again. I’m going to want something that while I read, a little lightbulb goes off and I see how to bring that magic up a notch. I’m also going to want a writer who is ready to roll up his or her sleeves and do the work.

If you participate on the hashtag feed, if you listen to the mentors and make friends, you’ve already won. There’s so much information out there, but if you are not open minded enough to check yourself and learn how to change, you won’t get anywhere.

Writing is hard. It’s blood, sweat, and tears. I’ve killed parts of my story that I love, I’ve put a beloved project aside to collect dust. I’m also very willing to change and alter or remove parts. The first thing I always ask myself: does this change affect the overall plot? If the answer is no, bye-bye.

So take from this contest whatever you can. Last year I did. Last year I had no clue my writing life was about to change. I know there are potential mentees in the same boat. Be it through getting picked or not, many of you will look back a year from now and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Need it spelled out more? Last year at this time I had one R&R I was working on, no other requests out. I had been collecting rejection after rejection. This year I have an agent and a publisher—not only a publisher, but a traditionally published book.

Where are you going to be next year?

PitchWars Mentor Bio

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I am SO excited to be a PitchWars Mentor this year! It has been a dream to be part of a contest that has helped so many and I can’t wait to create some magic!

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First, a little about me: If you know me at all, you’ll know I’m a bit of a contest junkie. I’ve participated in quite a few as a hopeful, and always walk away with new knowledge, new friends, or both! Two years ago I entered with only a honorable mention and making the semifinals in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write. Last year I made it through to the agent round in three contests: NestPitch, Writer’s Voice, and Write Inclusively. This year I’ve been a reader for PitchMadness, a judge for QueryKombat, and a mentor for FicFest. So I know contests inside and out, and even wrote an article on it for #RWChat!

I’m a NA/A Contemporary Romance writer represented by Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency. For how I landed my agent (I’m a slush success) check out this post. My debut NA came out in June with Avon books, SIGNS OF ATTRACTION. I’m Hard of Hearing and I write about hearing loss. I also have a degree in Deaf Studies from Boston University, which I used in my former career as a social worker, before burning out and turning to the family business (need window treatments? I’m your gal!). I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic: I married my high school sweetheart and we live with our son and three cats.

And if this doesn’t give you a hint about what I’m looking for…I want all the romance!

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Okay, not all, I can’t have them all. Specifically I’m mentoring NA/A and what I’m looking for is pretty universal across the two categories. Here are a few things high on my wish list:

  • Diversity. Whatever that means to you: race, sexuality, gender, religion, disability, etc. I especially would love some own voices as I’m super sensitive to authentic portrayals. Note that I’m white/cis/straight, so I’m counting on you to bring a respectful and accurate diverse element across. Also note that I want diversity to be an is, part of the make up of the character not a plot point (own voice issue books the exception). If a disabled character is “cured,” I’m not your mentor.
  • I’m a sucker for a second chance romance, or friends to lovers. Show me either of these and you’ll have my attention. Secret babies also strike a cord, but must stand out from the crowd.
  • I like a story with meat to the plot, that is more than the romance. A story that knows the rules and breaks them just enough to be unique.
  • I like characters who are real. Sure, we all love the tattooed bad boy, but the hot guy who reads a book at the coffee shop is just as hero worthy!
  • While I tend to fall in love with a little of everything, I’m a best match for contemporary stories.
  • For Adult I prefer deep third person, for New Adult I prefer first. In both cases I love dual. There are exceptions to this preference, and it boils down to voice.
  • I want amazing chemistry between the two main characters. That can be off the charts or a slow burn.
  • In regards to chemistry…I prefer my sex on page, please. You may able to tease me with no sex but good build up, however full on BDSM makes me blush far too much!
  • Ultimately, it’s voice that will seal the deal for me. And that’s not something I can explain beyond: I’ll know it when I see it.
  • Give me a ms that makes me go: gceg85qcd(Psst, scavenger hunters, here’s your letter!)

So why should you choose me? I intern for a publisher and have learned a lot from this experience. I’m a plot hunter. I love nothing more than to find plot issues and point them out. And I will go back and forth happily over issues until they shine! I love seeing how things can be made better and stronger. I’m a revision nut. Some of my best work has come from revisions and I’m not afraid to rip things apart and put them back together. And, thanks to my editor, I have a soft spot for kick-ass romance black moments. I may have also developed a fondness for torturing characters.

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As for grammar: if I had a time machine I would go back and re-assign my English teachers, as I got the easy one every year. It took until middle school Spanish for me to understand verbs enough to play MadLibs (hangs head in shame). I’ve come a long way, but after having commas added, removed, added, removed by my agent, editor, and copy editor, I’m not your gal if you need help placing them! That being said, I will hunt down all instances of tell, search for passive language, and absolutely mark up what I’m confident in.

I communicate mostly via email or messaging due to my hearing loss. However, I’m happy to work with what form is best for you!

I love to watch romantic comedies (::cough, cough:: points above ::cough, cough::) and a romantic plot or subplot has addicted me to more than one sitcom (Frasier, How I Met Your Mother). In books, I range from sweet to angsty. On the sweet side: I love me some steam. On the angsty side: too much can be too much, I like my happy moments! My favorite author list is seriously lacking in diversity, and I’ve been branching out over the last few years. But my tried and true authors include: Jennifer Crusie, Jill Shalvis, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Briggs, and Colleen Hoover.

Any questions? Tweet me! @AuthorLBrown or comment below!

 

Thoughts from a PitchMadness Reader

This past week I got to participate in my first contest, #PitchMadness, behind the scenes. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, as anyone who follows me on twitter can tell. Let’s just say, I’ve been a bit “chatty” in my excitement.

I got the privilege of reading many wonderful entries, of having many hopeful authors hang their dreams on what several readers would pick out of the slush.

To all the entrants: thank you. I know how hard it is to share your babies. I know the excitement and nerves from participating in a contest. I wish you all the best of luck and hope you have at least learned a few things and made a few friends.

The first thing I noticed when going through the submissions, was the ones that jumped out at me were not what I expected. I thought I’d have to work hard to embrace all categories and genres equally. I didn’t. Entries from across the board grabbed my attention. They made me want to read more, regardless of if this was the type of book I would normally pick up. What was true amongst these stellar entries was voice and concept. Both made me sit up in my seat and squeal in delight.

Many entries were good. Some are ready and won’t make it through in the contest. That’s the nature of the beast. We can’t choose all the entries, and ultimately we’re trying to match what the participating agents are looking for. Others need some work and we all hope you’ll get some new readers and try for some of the mentor contests coming up (I’ll be a NA Team Lead mentor in #FicFest this April).

A few things I noticed:

  • Lots of diverse entries! This makes me so, so, very happy.
  • A lot of dark, demon stories.
  • Some pitches didn’t really tell the reader about the plot. Pitches are hard, so very hard, I get it. But they need to sell the novel.
  • When the pitch and 250 words had the same voice, the whole entry sang!
  • Some entries I had no idea what the name was of the main character.
  • Other entries I had no idea how to pronounce the main character’s name.
  • Some entries involved a subject I have skill and knowledge on and I couldn’t help but wonder how the author handled the subject area. Make sure you do your homework!
  • Some entries I wanted to see a few more pages, because they don’t appear to start in the right place.
  • Some entries had an entire section in under 250 words, before getting into the story.
  • I found one that I wanted to mentor so, so badly, and I really hope this author goes for one of the mentor contests.
  • Check your word count! So many were on the high side, to the point where this will hurt your chances. Trimming will only strengthen your novel.
  • Have a question? Best not to have one in your pitches.

Being behind the scenes is a lot of fun, but a lot of work! I spent HOURS reading, taking over three entire days, plus some, pushing off my own edits. I’ll do this again, in a heartbeat. But right now, I think I’ll take a nap.

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Why Writers Need Contests

One of the things I absolutely love about the writing community are all the contests. In general, a contest presents an opportunity for a writer to connect with an agent/editor/publisher. The real reward of such an experience is much, much deeper.

I wrote in my own isolated bubble for years. I first stepped out of the bubble to participate in Amazon’s Breakthrough contest (sadly this contest didn’t run this year). More important than throwing my writing out into the world: I joined the forums. I made friends. I LEARNED.

I cannot stress this enough. I learned. I was very green in my writing at this point. Other writers took me under their wings. They shared information and resources. They gave me feedback. Without this contest, without those forums and writers, I would not be where I am today.

I then joined twitter and started participating in the contests there. I hung out on the hashtag feeds, soaking up all the tips and tricks tweeted during contests. I learned again.

Many unpublished writers will call themselves “aspiring writers.” Many others say to remove the aspiring once you’ve written and polished. These contests removed the “aspiring” for me. It gave me the tools to learn, to improve my craft, to become the writer I was destined to be.

This is not about entering a contest and gaining an agent/publisher. That is the goal, always the goal, with writing. If you enter a contest, participate. Open your eyes and heart. Learn. There is so much information, absorb it. Grow as a writer. I’ve participated in many and while some of the information becomes old hat, there’s always something new to learn and a new friend to make.

Contests are about learning and growing as a writer. Jump in with both feet, absorb all you can. And regardless of the outcome: you’ve won.

So You Think You Can Write Semi-Finalist!

There are many opportunities for writers, including contests to enter. I personally love entering contests. Each contest I’ve entered I’ve learned something, either from following the twitter feeds discussing the contest, following the contest organizers, or in meeting other writers and building connections.

A few weeks back I entered Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest. This is a contest I had heard about last year and was so excited to give it a try when I had a manuscript ready. This year I almost didn’t enter. I hemmed and hawed and then finally sucked it up and tossed my hat in the ring, what did I have to lose from trying? The only thing that can be lost is not trying.

Last Monday I got a call on my cell phone from a strange number. With my hearing loss I couldn’t quite hear the voice message that was left, but I thought I made out: So You Think You Can Write. The rest was blocked out by my heart hammering louder than any other sounds. I listened to the message two more times, still couldn’t make it out, but was pretty sure it was the contest. Once I calmed down I called the number back and was able to confirm I was in the top 25 moving on to the semi-finals round!

I’ve entered a decent amount of contests, this is the first time I’ve moved forward. Anything can happen from here but I’m taking it as a sign that my story is heading in the right direction. Above all, I’m thrilled. Thrilled for the opportunity, thrilled to see my writing, my story, being enjoyed.

The top 25 were chosen based on our entire first chapters, which was uploaded to the site. Here’s my entry: http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts-sytycw-2014/perfect-together/ Take a look and let me know what you think!

And now I’m going to go back to reading the other first chapters of the semi-finalists. I’m honored to be up there with this group and am truly going to be thrilled for the 10 who advance to the next level.