25 April, 2012

The End Is Nigh

So I had a really painful minor epiphany the other day, when I realized that my ending sucks and I need to redo it. From scratch. Yeah. A lot of work went into the current ending, but unfortunately the whole thing was predicated on something that wasn't true: Turns out, people like happy endings, as long as there's some pain along the way. The old ending was a goddamn disaster, for both the protagonists and for me.

Simple, safe happy endings are fine for a particular group of people (children), but I am (hopefully) not writing for children. On the other hand, not everything has to be a brutal catastrophe like Game of Thrones, which, although popular, is statistically speaking an anomaly. The good guys usually should win in the end, even if they get pretty beat-up along the way. Why did I think I could successfully go rogue my first time out?

A lot of writers—particularly new writers—try to go way overboard in their first works. A new, untested chef wouldn't think that he has the skills to make a nine-course French-Mongolian-Hualapi fusion dinner and get it perfectly right the first time, but someone writing their first novel thinks, "Hey, I can string words together in a way that doesn't make people's eyeballs bleed. Therefore, I can write a five-novel series that not only will dispense with traditional story structure, it will have nine separate protagonists alternating between first- and third-person POV chapters, and all the characters will die halfway through book one!"

This pervasive delusion is partially reinforced by the occasional first-time writer who does manage to pull off something ridiculously complex. Then he gets famous, and then other writers say, "Well damn, if Bob Peckermeyer can do it his first time out, why can't I?"

No. Flukes happen, but depending on them is madness. Most people take years to get good at a discipline—that's why they call it a discipline—and you're better served by starting out simple. Write a straightforward story with one protagonist, one major villain, some supporting characters, and a setting that is not an utterly radical invention. Master the basics; then you can ignore the rules and start doing wacky things.

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