Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writers Write, But What?

I read a book several years ago that I hated. It was really long, the characters were mostly unlikable, and it didn't have an ending. Not "didn't have the ending I wanted" but actually didn't have an ending. Instead it just stopped. It was as if the author said "So, I've gotten you invested in these people, but I'm kinda bored now so that's it." Of course, the author did it on purpose, not because he was bored (I hope), but because he wanted to write a book that made a statement, even if it was a risk. It worked. I have read hundreds of books, most of which were very entertaining and had completely satisfying endings. I don't remember most of them. But I remember this book.

As a writer, I keep coming back to that. What type of book do I want to write? Do I want to make a statement and be remembered? Do I want to be fun but forgettable? The answer is "no" to both. I am not a statement writer, and if I ever have a statement to make it's usually sarcastic. I have stories to tell, and they are fun and quirky and not epic in the least. Heck, my motto is "Don't be like Dickens" because I can't stand his style. It's like I'm begging to be forgotten.

But those aren't the only stories. There are stories out there that compel, that make you think, that make you laugh, and make their statements quietly. Those are the stories I want to tell. The novel I'm revising may be one of those, or it may be a lesson in writing to prepare me for the next one. I don't know yet, and I can't know at this stage. I am afraid that I'll be one of the forgettable ones, but not too afraid to try anyway.

I've been pondering if I'm really a writer at all, fueled by that fear. I wrote a book. I could rest on that accomplishment, shove it in a drawer, and move on to a new 'hobby'. Every time I consider that, though, I feel an immense sadness. When I'm 90 I won't look back and say "oh, my house was super clean and I was a great digiscrapper!" I'll look back and say "why didn't I ever send out a query letter for that novel? Why did I ignore all those other characters and stories that came into my mind?"  There's another answer. I am a writer. I'll write.

And I promise that even when I take risks and make statements, you'll always get an actual ending. So, what stories stick with you? What stories do you have to tell? Will you always give me an ending? I certainly hope so, but if you don't, that's okay. It's your book. *grins*


J. L. Jackson said...

I plan on having an ending. I can't imagine a story without one.

Crystal said...

When it comes to big things I have always asked myself the same question, "When I'm 80 sitting on my porch swing thinking back on life, will this be one of those things that I wish I had done?" If my answer is anything other than a solid "no" then I try to do it.

Better to try and even fail than to have that regret later in life.

Heidi Windmiller said...

One of my novels doesn't have an ending. I hate it. I'm currently editing it, and it needs to have a feeling of completion at the end. But every ending I write feels contrived. Oh well--the wonderful thing about writing is that there is no limit to the amount of times you can edit/rewrite. I will find an ending!

On a happier note--the stories that stick with me have nothing to do with plotlines. What I always remember in the end are characters. Those vivid characters that, love 'em or hate 'em, are unforgettable.

Tommy from Story of a Girl, Cal from Middlsex, Dexter from This Lullaby, Tyler from Fight Club--I could have a conversation in my head with any of them.

Leigh said...

Heidi, you're right. It's really the characters more than anything that make the journey worthwhile, isn't it? (But I still want to see those characters get an ending. ;) ) I often find myself wishing I could hang out with all the ones who really make me laugh. Sophie from Hex Hall, for example. Or Trillian from HHGTTG.

Stacie @ Whimsical Ficery said...

Oh, you didn't tell me this post was all inspirational! I, for one, will not allow your WIP to be shoved in a drawer. As I've said before, your MC's story deserves to be told. And? I'd love to hang out with her, actually.

As to the endings... I cannot stand when writers leave us with too much ambiguity. A little is fine, but when 5 storylines are left unfinished... I'm not a happy reader.

Sophie said...

*sigh* Yes, ending. It's part of the process after all, right?

Cheryl said...

I love this post so much, Leigh. You ARE a writer, and I know you will not have regrets at 90 because you are following your dream. <3

Jillian said...

Great post! I'm currently reading a collection of (otherwise amazing) short stories, NONE of which have solid endings. It's mildly infuriating, and it would be majorly infuriating if they were novels. It's at least good motivation to make sure that my currently ending-less book gets a stellar one...eventually...I hope.

Mindee Arnett said...

Hey Leigh, I've tagged you in an 8 question MEME blog. It's pretty fun and definitely an easy blog idea. You can read mine here:

Ashes said...

SO I HAD TO COME OVER HERE---because of your not-so-veiled FB reference. I love this post. I am multi-personality when it comes to writing aspirations, and this blog hits me right in the face with that aspect - and it's great - because now I think that is true perhaps for all writers?

I want to be profound.
I want to be fun.
I want to be make-you-sob.
I want to be forgettable popcorn that satisfies completely the popcornic urge in all readers.
I want to be literary.
I want to be popular.
I want to be contemporary.
I want to be timeless.

Etc. etc. etc. Rinse, repeat.

At the end of the day - here's what I want ----I want to be read.
Er, I want to be published and READ.
Er, I want to be paid for what I write, then published, then READ. Maybe well reviewed.
Er, I want to be.........


-PS: Literary fiction (adult) now not only lacking endings, lacking PLOT AS WELL!!!! (I won't name names....)
-PSS: I don't get that, either, except I know GENRE is looked down upon. It's almost like adult literary fiction is reductionist. What is the essential thing? What can we take away? etc etc. If I could, I would write it myself. then I'd win major prizes. Or, you know, get a time mag cover) But, alas, I love story too much. Oh yeah, and don't have the talent to write that. This is not a self-slam. this is a fact. I am not wired that way.

pss: Incidentally, what I love about YA literary fiction....beautifully executed STORY.

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