Getting to an ending – Whatever it takes

At the end of August I attended an online workshop, Short Story Intensive with Mary Robinette Kowal. The ultimate assignment for the class was to write a short story based on all the previous work we’d done. We had ninety minutes.

I was pretty proud of my first draft, and the only real issue my readers (Mary and two of my classmates) had with it was the ending wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been – the bad guy went down without a fight (and off screen).

The ending I had worked, wrapped up the plot and character arc, but didn’t have the same emotional punch as an actual drag-down fight at the conclusion would have. Of course I knocked out that last scene (~450 words) in the last fifteen minutes before I had to submit, so overall I was happy.


The many endings my story went through

Yesterday I sat down to revise my ending. It took me an hour, and here’s what I did.

  • Original Draft Length:  2,885 words
  • Cut original ending(1): Removed 196 words
  • Started new ending(2): wrote 94 words
    • New ending(2) didn’t have the feeling I wanted – cut it
  • Started ending again (3), splitting part of it into a separate scene: wrote 263 words,
    • stopped mid-sentence, second part of ending(3) not working: cut 157 words out
  • Finished story with modified ending (3a) – a total of 456 new words
  • Draft ready for beta readers: 3,152 words

So my story, which got it’s working title (Whatever It Takes) after I got the ending squared away, is a tad longer than I hoped. I was aiming for 3,000 words, but at this point I’m going ahead to send it for feedback, and will worry about trimming it once I get some reader reactions, and perhaps find a potential home for it (or at lest identify potential submission options).

Writing with 7 point story structure

I am currently working on a short story. I started it at the beginning of June, and have been working on it off and on since then. There were some days that I had what felt like productive writing sessions, even if I did have to literally start with “once upon a time” in order to trick myself into starting on the concept I’d had in my head for weeks.

I say “off and on”, though that mostly means “off”. Granted, I did take some time in there to work at a writing retreat (more on that later), and to edit and polish a separate short story for submission (ditto), but some days when I sat to write on the current fairy-tale based WIP, I only got about 50 words before getting stuck again.

Fortunately, in my life, I have had the opportunity to surround myself with like-minded people, and over a series of conversations with other writers, I identified several problems with my story.

  • the beginning I wrote didn’t match the ending I had envisioned
  • I was hesitant to bring back the narrative POV after diving into a closer 3rd person POV, even though the story called for it
  • I had the power balance between the protagonist and the villain wrong
  • The villain didn’t have motivation beyond “working against the protagonist”

Once the problem areas were identified, I realized I’m going to have to start over. I will probably be able to use some of what I’ve written (about 2000 words on paper so far), but will have to change it to accommodate new idea.

Time is running out if I want to submit this story to the anthology I had my eye on, especially since I want to run it by a critique group first. So I decided to pull out one of the new tools from my writing toolbox, and see if I could figure out how it worked.

The tool is the 7 Point Story Structure, as presented by Dan Wells. (I have added my notes and a link to the video series on my Writing Resources Page.)

I’ve had intense discussions with my critique group around this tool – using it to flesh out the various threads for novels – but I had never tried to apply it to an uncompleted work. Honestly, it took me a bit of time, and I’m not sure what I came up with is perfect, but I can say that by following the steps, I got ideas. I knew the ending, and by looking at the beginning next, I realized that some of the new elements I’d discussed with my writer friends needed to be applied in the very first scene.

I had the most trouble with the pinch points, but in looking at them, I realized that I could call back a character from the first draft, and use this person not only as an aid in the pinch point, but also to make the relationship between the protagonist and the villain more dynamic.

Overall, I am pleased with the results, even if what I came up with doesn’t exactly match the 7 point story structure as it was taught (I think I’ve got one or two subthreads, that maybe deserve their own 7 points, mixed in), it helped me to come up with an outline for a story that has been broken for several weeks. The 7 point structure is providing support for the story I wanted to tell, making it whole. And even if the results from the exercise aren’t what I expected/ hoped – I have a story I can move ahead with, and that’s what really matters.