It’s so easy to come up with story ideas. The hard part about writing is, quite honestly, finishing.
One of the hardest things I had to learn is that, if I keep flitting from one idea to the next as my whimsy takes me, I’ll never finish anything. I spent umpteen years never finishing a story, too tempted by the shiny new idea that came into my head. I’d come back, I always told myself. I’ll finish it as soon as I exorcise this new idea out of my head, as soon as I’m done with this new project.
Countless stories piled up on my hard drive, on 3.5″ floppy disks (remember those?), in my journals. I’d be so excited by the new shiny that, when the inevitable NEW new idea came along, I’d forget my pledge to move back to the other and instead become seduced by this shiny, beautiful set of characters. This, surely, would be the one, the story that would finally keep my attention long enough to get to those words “The End.”
One of the hardest things for me to learn is that writing a story, like any other kind of responsibility in our lives, takes dedication. Writing was always a hobby for me, something fun. But the longer I did it (and considering I started in preschool – seriously, my mother still has those “books”), the longer I went on, the more it rankled that I never saw “The End” at the back of my stories. Part of that was my fault: the story always continued, life went on for my characters. I didn’t understand about character arcs, or plot climaxes, or things like that. Heck, in the beginning, I didn’t even PLOT: I wrote characters living out their interesting lives, and if a baddie did show up it was almost an afterthought. Invariably, however, I’d switch stories at this point.
It took me doing something so far out of my comfort zone that I never thought I’d accomplish: I wrote a short story.
For someone who was used to long and rambling storylines, this seemed impossible for me. I’d tried for a long time to do one, just to think outside the box, but they always seemed to continue, always seemed to keep on going. It was annoying, to be honest: all I wanted was to put down “The End” on something, anything, and I couldn’t even succeed in that small but essential task. But finally, when I did it, when I wrote my short story, I realized something.
Just because there’s an ending to the story, that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t continue.
Think about our lives. We have milestones, we have adventures. At the birth of a baby, one life ends and another begins. Marriage is the same way; when you join your life with somebody, the one you had solo is changed forever. Not OVER, certainly, but now there’s someone else by your side. Traveling to another country; meeting someone who opens doors for your future; divorce. All these are things that imply endings and/or new beginnings.
But life goes on.
When I finally figured that out, when I finally figured out that writing “The End” didn’t mean some kind of final death knell to a story or its characters, it was like a lightbulb clicked on in my mind. Suddenly the things I’d always known about but hadn’t fully understood – arcs – made sense. These tales I wove weren’t the be-all, end-all of the characters in my head – they were a small slice of life, a sliver of a life lived. Certainly there was action, and romance, and evil to be defeated. But when the foe was vanquished, when the Big Misunderstanding keeping the H/h apart was resolved, there could be, if not an end, then a finishing point. A place to stop where all was well, and life could begin anew. (Sometimes in the readers’ heads, sometimes with future books in a series)
There wasn’t any hope sadly for the unfinished stories inside my floppy disks (can anyone’s computer even USE those anymore?), but it gave me something to, finally, strive toward with my writing. I did short stories that felt like single scenes, but got my “The End” anyway. Looking back, they WERE simple scenes, something that could have been inserted inside a much larger story encompassing those characters. That’s all stories are anyway: most books don’t begin when the character is born, and ends when they die. They are a sliver of life, a snapshot of a much longer tale. That’s why I love focusing on characters, love shaping them into something new and shiny. Coming of age stories appeal to me, as do reformed antiheroes and folks struggling to change themselves. Character tales are just so FUN to write.
Each scene in our lives is a leaf on a tree, the whole of which makes up us. Each book, each short story, constitutes only a part of those characters’ lives. If we the authors can make you love those characters in one novel, then we’re doing it right. It’s only when we love our characters too that we can make our readers love them too.
But that’s a post for another day. 😉
Don’t miss the new release by Sara Fawkes “Breathe Into Me” coming out Tuesday, April 8 2014, in ebook stores near you!