Homestretch

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I’m just about there. That line every writer dreams of typing. The End. Fin. When all the work is done (insert laughs with occasional sobbing) and you can sit back and let the piece breathe. It’s like when a base runner in baseball rounds third. The third base coaches’ arm is windmilling like crazy and the runner take a wide path to round off the sharp corner – all in hopes of hitting home plate. That’s where I am. It has been a long slog to get past first and into second, and all I have left is a whipsaw hellride before I collide with the catcher and slap home plate to score. The end of any book should be an exclamation point. As a writer you should want to pound the plate in defiance because you’ve done something amazing. You’ve written a book.

I remember when I finished Origins. I leaned back in my office chair (at my day job no less) and exhaled. It felt like a marathon for my fingers and brain. In truth, it was one character and a minor foil for about 54K words. That was 2013 and I wish everything felt that simple. It isn’t anymore and that’s not a bad thing. It just means I’m better (maybe) at running this marathon. This book will be the longest I’ve written to date, but that doesn’t make it better. You can write a ton of words down on the page, and more doesn’t mean better, in fact it’s usually quite the opposite.

This year for me has been about process analysis. Not just the way I write, but also what I can do to improve that writing. For this piece to be ready for prime time, it has to be great, and I’m not sure it’s there yet. What it needs now is a killer ending, which is easier said than done. The payoff for any piece has to give two things; satisfaction and an indelible mark on the reader which makes them think. If you can’t accomplish that you have to go back until you get it right, because there’s nothing worse than a book that falls apart in the third act.

The last act has to ramp up the pressure too. It has to reach a boiling point where you force characters to make certain decisions that leave marks as well. I like to think of it like a vise, and each scene cranks the handle over one more time until something breaks. Take Return of the Jedi for example – Luke Faces off the Vader on the second Death Star, finally confronting his father, all in the hopes of saving the man who became a Sith. Han and Leia fight on Endor in hopes of giving the Rebel fleet a chance to get beyond the protective shield and destroy a planet killer. There are multiple plot lines that weave in and out, each one with its own nuances if you pay attention. In the end, the Rebel forces win (spoiler alert I know) and Luke saves Vader yet loses him because of his choice to sacrifice himself for his son. It’s a tale as old as time, but it’s also one that has become a trope that people mock. The protagonist doesn’t always have such a direct path to winning, or that win might come with a series of losses interwoven in them. Either way, you’d better be able to hear the timpani drums rolling in the background before the cymbals crash.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that part of the inspiration for this piece has been the current climate we face in America. I think it’s important to stay planted in the present while writing about the future. Circumstances change, but if history has taught me anything, it’s that people don’t. We are still ruled by the same external forces that existed hundreds (if not thousands) of years ago, and we juxtapose those with our own internal forces. Our personal wants versus the things we need. This friction causes people to do strange things and justify to themselves and others. This is the difference the characters must come to grips with in the final act. They must face the lie and live the truth, or deny the truth and live the lie (depending on the character) 

Hold onto your hats kids, because this ride is going to get bumpy.

 

Addendum:

I just finished Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig. I could say a ton about the book and what it taught me, but I want to zero in on one specific lesson. There’s a part of his craft book that talks about rhythm of Fire and Oxygen. The purpose of oxygen is to give your pieces time to breathe, the oxygen they need to grow, the fire is there once you have enough oxygen to set everything ablaze. Readers need both, and I know I’ve been guilty in the past of not paying attention to that rhythm. It’s not easy. Writing in general isn’t and it’s not supposed to be. Chuck gave me a ton to think about after finishing it, like a piece of sweet ribs that gets stuck in your teeth and you have to tongue it for awhile to remove it. Good stuff. 

I’m now reading Apex Magazine’s January 2018 collection. First of all, it’s a great payoff to get a magazine through Patreon. If you dig on short stories and poetry that swell with character and churn through your brain after you read them, I highly recommend securing your copy as well.