I've finally finished my short story that I've been working on since halfway through March: it still needs a bit of tidying up but I've got a beginning, middle and end and the storyline makes sense. I'm excited that I've actually completed something at last; it's been a long time coming and it's a good feeling to have seen something all the way through from beginning to end.
As always, I found the hardest bit to be the ending. I started off with an idea born of a writing prompt and quickly discovered characters that fitted but I had no actual idea of where it was going. And in the past, when I've got stuck, I've been too quick to give up. The unfinished story gets abandoned and filed away in the folder marked 'What's going on here, then?'.
But this time I refused to let this one rot away, unloved. I knew I had a good plot and I desperately want to move forward as a writer so I persevered and kept writing. I've lost count of how many different storylines I tried until I finally found the one that I thought worked but each one produced valuable sentences, phrases and dialogue that I could carry forward and build into the final (or at least, what I thought at the time was the final) draft.
(I also recently found this useful post detailing 6 Clever Ways to Achieve The Perfect Ending to Your Story on the Writer's Edit website.)
Then I took a deep breath and passed it to five people, whose opinions I trust, to see what they thought of it.
It's taken me a long time to realise that criticism can be a good thing when it comes to writing. Constructive criticism, I mean: being told 'that's rubbish' and nothing more isn't going to help you but 'that didn't really work for me, have you thought about trying x?' is much better. There is a blog post in the pipeline about this very subject.
(I know the above photo has nothing to do with constructive criticism for a short story but they do look like they are judging us all.)
The responses I got back were, on the whole, positive: the story was good, the characters believable but had I not noticed that there was a gaping hole in the plot towards the end? Well, obviously I hadn't. But it was so gaping that it was a surprise that I hadn't actually fallen down it. HOW hadn't I noticed??
So, I went back to it and wrote, rewrote, deleted, edited and deleted some more until I was sure that the hole was completely filled in. I'm now leaving it alone for a few days before going back to polish and primp and then finally, submit it. Eek!
Now, completing one teeny-weeny short story hardly makes me an expert in my field but I really have learnt a lot during the process. So, as this is another milestone in my writing journey I'd like to share the following with you all:
Top Tips for Finishing a Story
1) Pick the type of ending you want
As I mentioned earlier, there are different kinds of story ending so you need to think about how you want to wrap it up. Do you want a final 'so that's why it all happened' kind of ending? An abstract, open to interpretation 'so do you think she really did kill him?' one? A big, twisty 'I NEVER saw that coming?' one? Think about how you want your readers to feel when they finish reading it: satisfied? Intrigued? Confused? Breathless?
2) Try lots of different endings
You don't have to find the right ending first time. Play about with different ones and see how your characters react to each situation. Which ones feel believable? (Keep those.) Which ones leave you feeling a bit flat and disappointed? (Discard those!)
3) Take a break
Although it sounds counter-intuitive, thinking about it too much can often make it harder to write. Your thoughts get stuck in a loop and it seems impossible to break away from them and come up with anything fresh. Take a break. Go for a walk or a coffee (I know some great places!) and let your mind refocus. You'll probably find that as soon as you are occupied with something else, the idea you have been looking for will appear unexpectedly!
I find both running and gardening perfect for clearing my head of jumble and then refilling it creatively!
4) Don't be afraid to ask others for their opinion
If you're still not sure of the best way to finish, rope in some trusted friends and family - particularly ones who regularly read the genre you are writing in. Get them to go through the endings you've come up with and give their (honest) views on them. Brace yourself though: when I did this it was the ending I liked the most that my readers felt didn't ring true! You don't have to agree with them, of course but if they all come back saying the same thing, you'd be wise to listen.
I hope the above has been helpful for you. My fingers are tightly crossed that by submitting my story to the competition it will break open the barriers I've been held back by and I'll be able to finish every future bit of writing that I start - definitely something to celebrate!
My blog next week will be Part 5 in my Freelancer's Guide to Getting Out of the House - and I have to admit that I can't wait to go and try this place out again, it's lovely!
Have a great week and happy writing!