Saturday, 15 September 2012

How do you like your endings?

Kate Hanney

Guest Blog by Kate Hanney, author of SAFE.

So, this is the dilemma: you try to write about life, reality, what actually happens. You try to present characters and settings that you could find anywhere; anywhere you’re curious enough to look. And although you might allow yourself a little poetic licence with the plot, you’re never going to let it turn into James Bond.

But then you get to the end. And you have to draw it to some kind of a conclusion; a resolution, a denouement. You have to finish it somewhere. But does it, unequivocally, have to be a happy ending? Even if it’s tainted with tragic realism, must there always be at least a chink of light?

People in the trade will say, unequivocally, yes, for Young Adult fiction at least (which is my only experience of this). And because they’re the professionals, they know what they’re talking about, so you have to think they’re probably right. But what about life? What about all the stories that don’t end happily?

You spend 70,000 words or so creating empathy and engagement for your characters, you try to portray them and their situations as honestly as possible; complex, real, authentic - so shouldn’t the ending be all of these things as well?

Because if it should, then we have to accept that some endings will be tragic; they’ll be sad, distressing, unfair. Because that’s what happens to some people; they go through awful things, and sometimes they don’t make it out into a blazon of light on the other side.

So in the pursuit of honesty, should we all be throwing off the shackles of convention, and running away to write hard-hitting, realistic endings because we owe it to our readers, and our characters and ourselves? Well, it’s what I did, in the beginning at least, when I wrote Safe. I wasn’t going to be governed by convention, I was going to tell it how it is.

But my journey down ‘Learning to Become a Writer Street’ brought me very quickly to a stop sign, and what is said is, ‘this is fiction; it’s different.’  And what it meant is, readers have expectations, they expect their hero to be proactive in saving his mate/his girlfriend/the world. Even if we all know it’s probably not what would actually happen in real life.

And my conclusion after to speaking to various readers? The signage is correct.

A friend of mine read one of my stories in manuscript form once, then I told her what the original (tragic, and much more realistic) ending had been in a previous draft. ‘Oh, no!’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t have liked that at all.’

So what I’ve learned is, on the whole, readers don’t want sad, they want hope, even if it’s not realistic hope. And even if we as writers stop short of offering complete triumph, un-dying love and the ultimate happily ever after, we must always offer at least a glimmer to cling on to, no matter how tenuous, if it’s there, then good things are possible ... unlikely maybe ... but possible.

And I think that’s what my strategy has become now; to try and strike a balance. To tell it how it is, inject hard reality into a story, but to always offer at least a slither of optimism at the end. However, as in life, it’s vital that slither is tenuous, a flicker, and there must always be harsh reminders that it could, and still might, end very differently.

What do you think?

For over thirteen years she has worked as an English teacher in South Yorkshire, and has had the privilege of meeting hundreds of fantastic kids. Some are comedians and some are geniuses. At times some of them are desperately unhappy, and one or two of them are just plain scary! 

Find out more about Kate on her website

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Big Fat Publishing Rejection Quiz

Derek Shiftly knew more about
rejection than most men.
Have you experienced rejection? Once or twice? More than a dozen times? Possibly more than a hundred…? Well, psychologists from a University near Yale have come up with the ultimate quiz to help you understand a little more about the process of rejection, how you deal with it and what it says about you. 

Answer the questions, make a note of your answers and read the results to find out your score.

  1. When you get a rejection, do you:
a)       Feel like your life is over?
b)       Hire a hit man to ‘take out’ the rejecter?
c)       Feel bad for a day or two, and then move on?

  1. When your family or friends offer criticism of your work, do you:
a)       Ignore it. What do they know anyway?
b)       Unfriend them on Facebook?
c)       Say thank you, and give their comments some serious consideration?

  1. When your story doesn’t win/get short listed for that writing competition, does it mean:
a)       Your story sucks?
b)       The competition is rigged?
c)       Your story isn't quite ready?

  1. When an agent says they don’t want to represent you, does it mean:
a)       You are a lousy writer?
b)       You are a worthless pile of poop who will never amount to anything?
c)       They don’t want to represent you?

  1. When a publisher says your book is not right for their list, does it mean:
a)       Your book is rubbish?
b)       Your book  is a worthless pile of poop and will never amount to anything?
c)       Your book is not right for their list?

  1. When an Editor asks for changes in your manuscript, does it mean:
a)       Your manuscript is full of holes?
b)       Your manuscript might just as well go straight into the shredder?
c)       Your manuscript might be improved with a few changes?

  1. When you get a bad review on Amazon, do you believe:
a)       Your sales will take a nose dive?
b)       The world is against you?
c)       Everyone is entitled to an opinion?

  1. What have you learned from rejection:
a)       Some people are idiots?
b)       It’s not worth trying when everybody hates you?
c)       Learning to deal with rejection is just another step towards being a writer?

  1. When you finally find success, do you:
a)       Get well and truly blootered?
b)       Believe you are a literary genius?
c)       Enjoy it while you can?

"Darling, I have something to tell you."
"Tell me, Leonard, tell me."
"Your manuscript, it... it's..."
"It... it's... in a class of it's own."

Mostly As
You take rejection personally, but then again who doesn’t? You are a great/terrible* writer, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool/genius.* The longer you are writer, the easier/harder* it will be to let go of upsets and move on. So why not give it one more shot; you know you can/can't do it. 
*delete as applicable

Mostly Bs
You are on the publication roller coaster and going downhill fast. You completely lack perspective and balance. When you get rejected, your world falls apart and so do you. On the plus side, when you get accepted you score top marks on the happinessometer, and boy does that feel good? You are human.

Mostly Cs
 Eileen Shrimp was ready to
explode at the merest
whiff of rejection.
By some small miracle, emotions bypass you. You are totally rational and you take everything in your stride. No heights of ecstasy or depths of depression for you. You are self-aware and have a level-headed approach to publication. You are almost certainly an alien.