This is the start of my "stop thinking, start writing" series. I was on Facebook a while back (okay, I'm always on Facebook) when a friend of mine posted about thinking about stories. So I commented "stop thinking! Start writing!" Now you might think this is a counterintuitive piece of advice, but I disagree. Yes, we need to think while we write, but the thinking I'm referring to is being stuck in a rut of thinking, thinking, thinking and never really writing your story.
I take the stop thinking, start writing approach in my own writing. I do what I call mind mapping to get a general sense of the story, and then, once I have an outline, I start writing. I don't allow myself to sit and think anymore. The story just needs to get out on paper and I'll revise after it's all done.
And that brings me to endings, or 'The End' as I call it in the title of this blog post.
Endings are particularly hard for me. I know where the story has to go for it to end, but I tend to just keep writing and writing and writing until finally I hit that point. The problem is, there is a lot of fluff. This isn't necessarily bad for a rough draft, though. It enables me to write every nuance of the story, close up every loose end, and answer every question. But it can't stay that way; it's rambling and doesn't leave the readers with any conclusions to draw on their own.
This falls under the "Stop thinking, start writing" idea. To finish a story, you need to stop thinking about that perfect ending and just start writing every nuance of the story. Once that's all done, then you can really look at it, really think about it, and figure out what needs to stay and what needs to go. I call this "going surgical". But that's a topic for another day.
In Heart Like an Ocean, I cut out 10,000 words from the ending in the final draft.
In Unforgiving Plains I cut out nearly 5,000 words.
Obviously this approach isn't going to be right for everyone. Some people plot everything out and think out the entire story, some people are going to be more like me. The point of me sharing this process is to let you know that you don't always have to plot out the perfect story before finishing it. Finishing is the most important step, perfecting it comes second.
And as an example of a first draft ending and a second draft ending, here's a short story. Now both of these are rough, but the first one is the "stop thinking, start writing" approach, and the second is "going surgical". These aren't two different approaches to writing an editing, rather think of it as step 1 and step 2.
Pain shoots through my head, and it feels like it's going to split open. But pain is good, right? It means I'm alive.
I open my eyes to the blinding desert sun.
"Don't sit up."
I turn my head and my vision goes white. Too fast. I close my eyes and stretch my eyebrows up as I open them again to see Alex sitting there.
I know her name!
Alex, my girlfriend.
"I reach up, touching the bandage on my head where she'd shot me.
"Care to explain?"
"We were caught breaking into the facility."
I nod slowly. "Yes, I remember now."
"You let them take you so that I could get away. I kept an eye on you though, Jim. I needed to make sure you were okay."
"What did they do? It's like I lived two lives..." I trail off.
"You did. They implanted you with the very software we were trying to get rid of. They gave you a new name, new life, and new memories."
"Bob, 30 years old, single, pet dog," I rattle off. I know these facts all too well. I've been living them.
"But I'm not Bob."
Alex shook her head.
"I'm Jim. So how did I end up here?"
"I think you've known, for a while now. The visions of the hall. They were haunting you. I've heard you call out at night, call my name. It's like you could remember while you were sleeping, like your memories were fighting to come free."
"You watched me sleep?"
"I monitored you." she reaches out and takes my hand. "Well, I hacked into their monitors. They know everything about you. Your pulse every second, your brain activity, everything you say or do. They know it all, and so I knew it all."
“They knew I was dreaming about the hall, about the night they took me,” I breathe out.
She nods. “I tried to get you out, but I couldn’t get to you fast enough. They must have drugged your food or something. Next thing I know, you’re in the desert of banishment and they’re putting out a call for hunters.”
“You shot me.”
“I had to! I had to destroy the part of the brain that was Bob. He needed to die so that you could live.”
“it’s not over though, is it?”
She shook her head.
“They’ll know I didn’t die. They’ll know you failed.”
“There must be others, like me.”
“I think so.”
I sit up, supporting myself with my hands pressed against the sand. “We have to go.”
“Go where? We need to run, Jim. We need to get out of here. There’s places we can go, places we’ll be safe.”
“We’ll be safe, and how many others like me, with fake memories and a past that the government doesn’t want remembered?”
“It’s not our problem.”
I smile, standing up. “It is now.”
I turn around, looking up into the sky. Arcadia is to the east, and the sun is just rising to my left. I place one foot in front of the other and begin to walk.
The second pass, the surgical approach, is much shorter, but it also doesn't tell the reader so much. It has more oomph to it and leaves the reader thinking about the story, and who this Jim/Bob person is.
Pain thuds through my head in sync with the beating of my pulse. But pain is good, right? It means I'm alive.
Memories seem to flash before my eyes like a movie in fast forward. I see the hall, the hunter, people from a past life. I’ve been in this desert before… I’ve been banished before…
I blink a few times, the bright morning sun binding me. As my vision clears, the Hunter comes into focus. She stands over me, holding out her hand. My heartrate remains steady.
"Are you ready?"
I nod, accepting her hand and letting her pull me to my feet.
Gone is the fear and confusion. I'm left with calm and determination. I know who I am, and I know what I must do.
We turn in the direction of the rising sun, the Hunter and I, and I place one foot in front of the other.
* * *
I stand in the hall, the hall that has haunted my dreams, both waking and asleep. It stretches before me, white and sterile. The lights flicker overhead just as I remember, giving the place an eerie feel; like it’s not quite in this worlds, but not quite out of it either.
I look over to the Hunter and she gives me a nod. My hand grips the cool metal of the gun on my hand and raises it.
No one will ever take my memory again. No one will ever change who I am.
Footsteps echo through the corridor, approaching us, but we stand our ground, feet planted hip width apart, firm and unmoving.
The footsteps come closer, until a body appears around the corner. He seems to stop at the sight of me.
“Bob is dead,” I grind out, my finger squeezing the trigger. “Jim has been resurrected.”
“And I’m coming for you. I’m coming for you all.”
So, which one do you like better?
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Thanks for reading,