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NaNoWriMo Saga: Days 3 and 4 November 4, 2010

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I read somewhere, from some famous author (it was very likely Diana Wynne Jones) that sometimes the things you write about “come true” in a very surprising way. It can be big details or small details. While you’re in the thick of writing, you could see a person walking down the street that looks exactly like one of your characters, or something happens that ressembles part of your plot.

I know that there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this:

  1. You’re more open-minded than usual
  2. Your sense of detail is heightened
  3. You’re thinking about your story so when you see something ressembling on it you notice it more
  4. Since you’re writing about things you know (presumably) you’re bound to sooner or later come across what you write

I know all that. But I also like to think of it as a sort of magical element. And a NaNoWriMo novel is doubly magical because you’re writing it too fast too think almost. And whatever comes out comes out. And there’s nothing you can do about it, except try to steer the plot in a reasonable direction. When the novel comes into its stride (which I hope will be soon) I intend to sit back and enjoy the ride.

To give you an example of the magical NaNoWriMo element, I have already seen things popping out of my novel. And I smile a little every time I notice it. My heroine has a beat-up white Camry. And no sooner do I add this, than what do I see but a beat-up white Camry on my morning commute! I write about the Boston clothing-type, which is dusty jeans and a jean jacket over a grey hoodie. And, lo and behold! while I’m waiting in line at a store, the man in front of me is wearing that exact style. And just as I’m typing up a character who is starting to ressemble a person I know who likes tennis, the real person pops up on my AIM chat.

Pretty spooky, but pretty cool all the same. So all you WriMos, get out there and notice the magic in the making ūüôā

How to Make Easy Money: 5,389 words and counting…


The NaNoWriMo Saga: Days 1 and 2 November 2, 2010

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Cover of 2000 release

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Well, hello. I’m back from a long blogging hiatus…And it’s November! One of the most exciting noveling months of the year!

And that’s because it’s National Novel Writing Month, Chris Baty’s lovely little brainchild. Because I needed to put some more pressure on making sure that this month is the first month that I’ll win, I planned on writing a blog post for every noveling day as well as roughly 1667 words of fiction ūüôā (However, today will be two days in one).

Day 1: After spending two exciting weeks arduously planning my novel (one in August and on the last week in October when I suddenly remembered that it would be November soon) I started the morning of November 1st in high hopes. This would finally be my year! I wouldn’t have to worry about homework, or finishing my thesis, or the allure of pub¬†quizzes abroad. And I couldn’t wait to start writing, so I began right at lunchtime writing on a spare pad of paper. Pen in one hand and sandwich in the other.

But a strange thing happened. I suddenly decided that I wanted to change around the whole plot completely. And the little page that I had just written sounded nothing like my original idea. It might have been simmering around somewhere the night before when I was watching part of “Tomorrow Never Dies” and thinking that I could never write a spy novel as well as that…even Ian Flemming couldn’t write a spy novel as good as the movie. But that meant that meant that I had to cut out a large chunk of my characters. Goodbye New Zeland spies, goodbye Kremlin! I decided to limit myself to only two spies: one MI-5 and one CIA…and of course a cameo by that Russian family from Cambridge.

And I also found that I had not planned ahead as well as I had thought. I had forgotten to think up names for any of my characters. So I pulled anything that sounded interesting within my field of vision and if I actually put in someone’s real name, I apologize in advance…but at least I thought your name was interesting.

At the end of the day…late at the end of the day, I went OVER my word quota and have a proper mess of everything on my hands!

Day 2: Today started out bright and chilly. And when I say chilly, I mean FREEZING. I listened to my Sherlock Holmes book on tape on my way to work as per my usual habit, and put my novel out of my mind. It was there, calling to me, but I ignored its pleas.

Novel: “Why won’t you try to think about me on your way to work?”

Me: “Because I don’t like the way you’ve started. The first person narration is a mess and there were characters who just popped up out of nowhere. I don’t need them and I’m not going to use them.”

Novel: “But don’t think of that, just continue on. Write some more.”

Me: “I’ll think about it…”

So here I am, nearing the end of the second day and we’ll see how things go. I’m planning to add some more setting description to the first few pages and then I’m going to try to push on.

Sam the Profiteer September 12, 2010

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New York City Serenade

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This was something that I tried out a while ago. I love writing games, and this one was relatively simple to do. All you need is a dictionary and a pen and paper (or laptop as the case may be) and *POOF* your writer’s block is gone!

Disclaimer: Results may vary

The rules that I used are negotiable but once you make your own, you have to follow them to the letter:

Step 1: Obtain a dictionary…the bigger the better.

Step 2: Decide how many words you want to pick (I chose 16 as a nice, even number)

Step 3: Flip through the dictionary, stopping every so often and pointing to a random word (using words at the beginning, middle, and end of the alphabet. If you want, you can make a rule saying that every word you point to MUST be used…but sometimes this rule can be bent).

Step 4: Write down your words in the order that you found them.

Step 5: Stare at the words that you’ve written for as long as you need to in order to create a germ of an idea (no matter how weird)

Step 6: Create a story (with no editing allowed while writing it) with a beginning, middle, and end. Make sure that you use ALL the words.

When I did this, I didn’t have a particular number of words in mind but decided that I had all the tools to create a proper story when I reached 16. And these are the words I found:

Profiteer, Retch, Tariff, Misguide, Hail, Rapier, Dew, Sight, Tolerance, Diddle, Rappel, Convent, Furor, Rajah, Sought, and Vying. (This is also a very interesting way to learn new vocabulary).

And scrounging around in my pile of very¬†messily post-it-labeled, beaten-up¬†collection of spiral-bound notebooks, I finally dusted off the story that came out of these 16 words.¬†I’ll give you the abridged and slightly edited version (I didn’t remember it, but it has a slightly sappy moral too):

Sam the Profiteer

Sam, the profiteer, lived in a grand mansion directly on the Southeast expressway to New York City. Misguided though he was, he was at least punctual, and came out every morning at 6 AM in his decadent white bathrobe and expensive leather loafers to visit his little booth, which automatically collected the tariff from all the vehicles that passed by. Sam considered himself to have a pleasant and, despite the noise of the expressway, a quiet life and had planned to retire to a nice beach house in the Caribbean with his butler and 29 other servants. Sam had no doubt in his mind that he was going to be a bachelor, until that fateful Wednesday morning when he met a woman who would change his life forever.

On Wednesday morning, exactly at 6 AM, Sam opened his door to the week sunshine and exhaust fumes, and started his descent towards the Southeast expressway to collect his daily stipend. His loafers squeaked on the newly polished pavement, and his white, luxurious bathrobe gleamed in the sun. [blah, blah, blah and more description]

Suddenly, he caught sight of an exotically dressed girl repelling¬†herself down from the top of a Wonderbread truck. She jumped down neatly when the truck stopped at the tollbooth and proceeded to make her way into Sam’s front yard.

“Hey, get off my lawn!” Sam yelled. He had no tolerance¬†for trespassers. To his chagrin, the girl ran towards him.

“Oh kind man,” the girl said, her voice trembling on the verge of tears, “please hide me from my cruel fiance. I have come to America to start a new life!” The girl looked up at Sam with large, tragic-looking eyes and managed to have what sunlight there was glint off of her long, shiny hair. Sam was struck by her beauty.

“Without paying?” He retched.

“You heartless pig!” The girl spat. “Have you no heart?” She burst into sobs. Sam felt a new magnanimity in his heart for this poor fugitive and decided to help her after all. [blah, blah, blah] And he fell instantly in love with her. This blind devotion was long forgotten the next day, however, when Sam walked down his path at his usual hour and saw who the beautiful girl’s fiance was.¬†

Coming slowly but steadily out of the hazy horizon came the most stately train that Sam had ever seen in all of his profiteering days. It was colorful and decked out in gold and silver. The tusks of the elephants were encrusted with diamonds and rubies, though how they managed to get an elephant over here in an ocean liner was beyond his comprehension.

Sam hailed the majestic train coming down the Southeast expressway. His first impulse was to turn over the girl and milk this rajah for all he was worth.

“Hey, over here. I think I’ve got your fianc√©e.”

At that, the rajah, covered with rubies and fine silks, held up his decorated hand and the train and all of the people, who barely fit onto Sam’s manicured lawn, pulled over, ignoring the obscene shouts and honking of the cars whizzing past them. At the same time, the rajah’s fianc√©e came running out of the house, followed by Sam’s butler and his 29 other servants.

“How dare you!” She stormed. “I thought you loved me. I shall never marry you now!”

“My darling future wife, come back to the palace and stop this foolishness,” the rajah pleaded.

“Never. I shall stay here and marry him!” the girl grabbed Sam’s arm possessively.

Sam turned to the rajah. “How much will I get if I hand this girl over?”

“Whatever your heart desires. You will receive enough to retire to a palace filled with riches beyond your wildest dreams.”

“Richer than you?”

“Well, of course not, naturally,” the rajah stammered, “but I see that you are already something of a prince yourself.”

“Don’t listen to him!” the girl said, “He will give you nothing. His plan is to kill me and inherit the richest kingdom in the world. He is blinded by greed, like you are.”

“Like I am?” Sam echoed feebly. Despite his millions, grand estate, and 29 servants, no one had ever told him that he was greedy.

“If you’re going to kill her, I won’t give her to you,” Sam challenged the rajah.

“Are you vying for her hand, then?” the rajah laughed. He jumped nimbly off his elephant, as much as jumping off an elephant can ever be called nimble, and handed his colorfully decorated coat to one of his many servants. […] Of course, Sam wasn’t planning on dying. He had a year of wrestling under his belt, and did not consider himself half bad.

“Okay, you’re on,” he said to the rajah and handed his bathrobe to his butler.

“Here is your rapier,” the rajah said as one of his servants handed Sam something that he had only seen in museums. While the rajah held his own jewel-encrusted sword at the ready, Sam caught sight¬†of another knife in his sash, glinting in the sunlight. “Ready?” [details of sword fight].

Finally, the rajah’s sharp rapier reached Sam’s hand and Sam’s sword fell into the dew of his manicured lawn […].

“Please,” Sam pleaded while the rajah’s sword inched closer to his neck. “I–“

Before Sam could say more, the rajah fell senseless beside his sword. The butler was standing over him, holding a glass vase. Everyone fell silent and Sam let out a sigh of relief.

“That’s what he gets for diddling!” Sam said. One of Sam’s 29 servants had called the police and the rajah was taken away in a police squad car, followed by the hundreds of people and elephants, and later deported. The princess, despite Sam’s protest, decided that she would choose to give up her title and join a convent [or, in a more feminist ending, become the CEO of a very successful business].

Sam, being a changed man, decided to give away his house and retire early to that little beach house on the Caribbean. He finally took the long-since-paid-off toll off of the Southeast Expressway forever.

The End.


To Mary Sue or Not to Mary Sue (that is the question) September 6, 2010

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I learned about this term from one of my friends who knows more about the world of fan fiction than I do. And as soon as she explained what it was, I knew that I had heard about it before (albeit not referred to as a “Mary Sue“). New writers are often accused of putting in Mary Sues into their new fiction. And a “new writer” can either be an adult who is publishing their first book, or a young adult writer who is taking a creative writing class or publishing their fiction. And even when they’re not accused of it directly, a reader or critic can always tell. Take Lauren Willig for example. Her books are wonderful, but of course there were the to-be-expected questions from the critics: “So, did you base your main character on yourself?” And when she protested that there was no connection, they pressed her and said something along the lines of “You have to admit, it’s a huge coincidence, isn’t it. You were a grad student at Harvard, your character is a grad student at Harvard…you do the math.” (On that note, Harvard seems to be a tenuous and overly publicized place to begin your creative writing career).

Putting yourself into your fiction is only natural to the beginning writer. With all those people and books telling you to “write what you know” who better do you know than yourself with all of your dreams, ambitions, quirks, and experiences? And the main criticisms of Mary Sue characters is that it is yourself, only a better you. It is a braver, prettier, smarter, more courageous you having all the adventures that you would want for this alpha-version of you. But there are problems with the alpha-you character:

  1.  the wish-fulfillment controversy
  2. the 2D character quandary
  3. the darling-of-the-characters stereotype
  4. and the invincibility paradox

¬†These are the obvious downfalls that a Mary Sue character can exhibit. However, a very clever writer (or a¬†very normal writer) can avoid these traps. Some people do a splendid job of the Mary Sue. Take Elizabeth¬†Kostova, for example. Her first¬†novel, The Historian, had a main character¬†who is a citizen without a country. Her father was a professor and they would travel from country to country. This has obvious parallels to Kostova’s own life. However, this doesn’t at all detract from the depth of her characters and the parallel, though present, does not dominate the novel. This is an example of someone writing fiction based on what they know, rather than writing their lives into their novels.

Many good writers of young adult fiction do this admirably. Of course, a writer of teen fiction wants to really identify with their audience which often means channeling their experiences as a teenager. However, when channeling, authors need to remember both their faults and their virtues in order to create a likable character. In The Princess Diaries series, Meg Cabot (who looked through her own diary to channel her character)¬†portrays a teenage girl¬†who is clumsy, unpopular, imperfect, and, as a result, utterly likable. The more problems they encounter and the more imperfect your character is, the more readers won’t try to accuse you of Mary Sue-ing. And no one likes a character who faints every other page but still manages to somehow attract every male character in the book (and I’m referring to Evelina here), or even Evelina‘s modern equivalent in terms of character–Twilight.

And although Mary Sues are most commonly attributed to and criticized of women/girls writing novels, no one has really noticed the trend in “Male” novels that is rampant even on today’s New York Times Bestseller List. The 40-something man who is either unattached or has a loving wife, a high sense of the moral/ethical, the courage to speak up against the “system”, and almost superhuman survival powers when the “system” tries to take¬†revenge. I’m particularly referring to Tom Clancy, Ian Flemming, Robert Ludlum, and yes, even Dan Brown. I’m not saying that these books do not have value, but I am simply pointing out that male Mary Sues are ever-present in today’s literary world as well. Everyone can fall into this trap.

So, if you do Mary Sue, do it responsibly:

Surgeon General’s Warning: Mary Sue-ing may lead to two-dimensional characters and bad publicity.

As a general rule, a good writer should be able to create characters that are inherently interesting. And interesting people make mistakes, and are imperfect. I like to think about it in these terms: would you want to meet your characters, even the baddies? Would they make interesting dinner conversations? Or would they drive you up a wall?

Spot the Villain! September 2, 2010

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Warehouse 13

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So, you may be wondering what place TV shows have on a writing blog? Well, because, as I learned one cold January at Hampshire College, screenwriting takes just as much creativity and skill as novel-writing. And, quite frankly, uses the same techniques (which Jasper Fforde takes rather literally). So, in the latest episodes of one of my favorite shows–Warehouse 13–they have presented a plot-based quandary. They got rid of the “bad guy” from the last season and have now introduced a new villain–H.G. Wells. This H.G. Wells is portrayed a bit differently in that he’s a she and has been in “hibernation” in bronze until the 21st century when the¬†old Warehouse 13 villain ceremoniously passed the torch off to her. However, these past¬†couple of episodes, she’s become helpful and decent and the past episode seemed a bit transparent…

In¬†fact, there was such a lack of a conflict that they had to put in a temporary villain who, I must say, was a bit of a clich√©. The conflict was that the son of a Russian cold war contact went after¬†a character’s whole extended family in Russia. He really looked like he was in the Russian mob and, actually, that would have been an interesting twist. It was what they seemed to imply in the previews–that the Russian mob had magical artifacts (a terrifying thought). However, it was only one quintessential made-for-movies Russian mob member with slicked back hair and no identifiable personality. And Artie’s family was in no real danger. The whole episode seemed like more of a plot device to kill off the nosy, inquisitive CIA characters.

And they brought back this kid who I thought they were going to bump off after two episodes. Well, apparently, they decided to have him back on one last episode as really being (drumroll please) in the witness protection program. Since the screenwriter so far has not let me down, I’m inclined to wait it out and see what the next episode brings. And for now, it will be fun to try to spot the villain!

If I were to predict what might happen, I would say that H.G. Wells would still act as the villan and slowly betray the organization from the inside out. And maybe the kid hacker who’s in the witness protection agency will be chased by¬†a mob with magical artifacts and be forced to stay in the Warehouse, or at least pass through again. And there might also be trouble coming from higher up authorities as well. Really, this is a great excercise to test your plotting skills. Just take your favorite tv show and think up what plot twists you would put in.

Plot *sometimes* happens July 30, 2010

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I don’t know if many writers experience this but it is very difficult for me to both write compelling characters and a¬†good plot-line. I’ve heard from different sources that all you need to do is choose whether your novel should be plot centered or character centered. It’s the difference between an Ian Flemming novel and an Ernest Hemingway short story. But shouldn’t your story really have both to make it a ripping read?

And it isn’t true that once you’ve fully developed your characters, the plot will fall into place. I’ve tried to find a good plot to put some of my better characters in but I keep starting and stopping. Maybe I’m trying too hard, maybe I just need to start writing and see where the story goes. But I know that a successful story takes at least a little planning. If you are writing and then suddenly hit a road block, you need to know at least a little of what’s going to happen at the end in order to overcome it.

And some writers have different strengths. Some can hatch fantastic plots (the Ian Flemmings and Dan Browns of the writing world) and others realistic characters (the Ernest Hemingways and Wilkie Collinses…though Wilkie Collins does an amazing job with both). What I’m thinking of doing is putting my ideas into two categories. 1) Plot ideas and 2) character sketches. Would it be easier to match the character to the plot separately, or¬†would it be more consistent if ¬†the two were created at the same time? In any case, there must be a writing excercise to strengthen the bond between character and plot. Sometimes plot happens naturally and sometimes it doesn’t.

Go Figure! July 26, 2010

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¬†¬† We might not realize it, but numbers rule our lives. Whether it’s creating a budget,¬†calculating discounts, or even looking at¬†the time, we inevitably incorporate them into our day (a little like the¬†book Math Curse¬†by Jon Scieszka). But what, might you ask, does this have to do with creative writing?

Well, recently, I’ve been putting a little star on my calendar for every day that I excercise. Simple enough. Theoretically, if I excercise frequently, my calendar will be awash with little stars giving me the elementary-school satisfaction of a job well done. But I wasn’t¬†quite sure¬†if this was enough to motivate me.¬†¬†What if I created a chart tracking my weekly progress? The possibilities for calculation and reward whirred in my head. Because it always pays to do the numbers. Instead of vaguely saying “Well, I jogged a lot this month,” isn’t it more satisfying to say “This month, I went jogging, on average, 4 days a week”?

This inevitably reminds me of NaNoWriMo (which I am eagerly awaiting). Chris Baty has ingeniously equiped writers who sign up with a word count bar graph. In November, a writer has their goals and graphs practically handed to them. And when your word count goes up, even by a little, your graph does too! But why does this have to be limited to November? Why can’t writers use a¬†tool like this all year long?

Writers need excercise too–as far¬†as their¬†writing skills are concerned. However, tracking every word might be the kind of pressure-cooker extreme only to be used in November. If someone were to, say, track how often they fit an hour or half-hour of writing into their¬†daily schedule, they might find they write more instead of writing whenever the mood hits them.¬†

Because the only magic pill you can take to improve your writing is a long-term goal coated with layers of practice. And surprisingly, to make this pill less bitter, it might be nice to have a chaser of graphs, stars, and numbers.

A Fly on the 19th century Wall July 18, 2010

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George Eliot

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While looking over my last plinky prompt (the product of a burst of late night energy) I began to wonder what perspective I had been writing from. I was too tired to think up any names, so both of the characters remained nameless. However, I also wrote some of what the characters were thinking. This led me to ask the question: Where would you put this sort of dialogue in a novel?

An interesting thing that I’ve noticed about novels (and yes,¬†the 19th century novels in particular) is that there is not always a consistent perspective. The author sometimes switches from third person limited to omniscient without another thought and sometimes¬†even switches from first person to third person!

A dramatic example of this is in George Eliot‘s Mill on the Floss. She starts the novel with this totally ambiguous narrator in the first chapter. It’s written in the first person and someone can spend ages deciding if its Maggie, or her brother, or one of her two lovers. This is because the¬†second chapter begins in the third person suddenly, and the reader asks the question: is the narrator really referring to his/herself in the third person? Weird. Where did the narrator go?

This is, of course, not playing by the rules. And while the students of modern literature scoff at straight-laced Victorian writing, these so-called conservative Victorians did, indeed, break all the rules of perspective that we now hold in high regard. When someone asks you what you wrote your story in, a budding novelist of today will tell you readily “Oh, third person limited” or maybe “First person, of course.” They probably won’t say: “Well, I started in third person omniscient, but then I switched to third person limited, and ended it¬†in first person.”

Since the Victorian writers are no longer with us, the conventions/rules are that your perspective should be consistent. If you start changing it in the middle, ¬†your readers will¬†(supposedly) be¬†confused and it shows amateurish writing…But not if you do it purposefully.

Let’s take the example above. How do you write a novel in third person omniscient, third person limited, AND first person?

Well, first you would start with a very¬†sparse third person omniscient. Like a fly on the wall only with partial access to characters’ thoughts. Maybe it’s a dialogue between two henchmen:

Henchman 1: “If the boss says we take care of him, then we’d better take care of him.”

Henchman 2 shrugged as he took two guns out of the locked cabinet labeled “Cadbury Eggs.” It was time they changed the label to something classier, he just didn’t know what. He wasn’t looking forward to the job either. He had finally gotten tickets to the big game and now this¬†would eaten into his schedule.

Henchman 2 nudged him and gestured to the fly on the fall, suspiciously listening to their conversation. “Hey, what’s that fly doing there?”

Then, it switches to third person limited surrounding the main character.

Joe Walker, successful businessman, philanthropist, and secret organizer of Project 51, sauntered across the street. He checked his watch demurely. He was already twenty minutes late to work thanks to a faulty alarm clock. But he didn’t worry about that too much seeing as he owned the company. His morning appointments would have to wait. As he waited at the next intersection, he saw two dubious characters lurking in front of his office building.

And finally, near the end of the novel, the first person narrative.

As Joe opened up his mailbox, a mysterious and very hefty letter fell out. Not wanting to stay long in the lobby of the apartment complex, Joe dashed up to his penthouse suite where he could read the letter without an attempt on his life. He had a feeling that this was going to be important and perhaps explain the events that had happened. It was from Sylvia, the maid at number 27 and a secret agent:

In these pages, I am enclosing the details of what happened on September 18th. If you are reading this, something has happened.

Then, there is a narrative from¬†Sylvia’s¬†perspective. Usually during this narrative, the reader forgets about Joe and¬†for a¬†few chapters¬†it is essentially a¬†first person narrative with dialogue, plot, and characters. Some of this account might even overlap with events that have already¬†happened in Joe’s third person limited account.

This switching of perspectives always keeps¬†a reader on their¬†toes and is also a nice addition to a mystery novel, or even any novel. And if someone tells you that this is “just not done!”¬†simply tell them: “You see it all the time in 19th century literature.”

A Chase in Alaska July 17, 2010

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Svalbard, tundra landscape

The tundra was cold and desolate. As the cops looked across the barren field, they noticed that there were no houses or buildings in sight. Nothing but snow and the occasional shrub. The endless sky was already beginning to darken.

“I think we lost him,” one of the cops remarked dryly. She brushed some snow off of her special issue uniform. As an animal rights activist, nothing but synthetic fur would do. Her partner looked at her incredulously.

“How’d we lose him? There’s nothing here for miles!”

“Beats me. I wasn’t the one who fled the scene. Now I guess we’re lost, thanks to your clever pursuit.” The sarcasm was lost on the second cop, however. He went back to the squad car and looked around. There was, indeed, no sign of the road they had left nearly a half hour ago. He started to miserably hunch back into the driver’s seat.

“Oh no,” the other cop started for the car, “I’m driving this time. Back to the station.”

“But he couldn’t have gotten far,” he protested.

“In a white car? At dusk? In the middle of the tundra?”

The car was white, he had to admit. And not a grungy white either, like the car had been around the block a couple of times. No, it was a white as pure as the driven snow, like it had just been driven out of the dealers’. Probably hot, he thought to himself. He couldn’t remember seeing the license plate. But, he reflected as he grudgingly scooted over to the passenger’s side, even combining the two crimes it wasn’t worth pursuit at night. It had been ages since they had seen a gas station. In fact, when was the last time he had filled the tank up?

The car gave a few grumbles as she tried to start the engine.

“Not working?” he asked.

“No…” the other cop answered absently. Then she caught a glance at the fuel gauge. “We’re out of gas! I thought you were going to fill this up.”

“I thought you were. You said you were going to the convenience store so I just thought…”

“Not the store at the gas station!”

“Phone the station. They could send over a truck.”

The other cop nodded as she picked up the handset. “This is car 14 requesting assistance. We’re out of gas, over.”

A static-filled voice answered on the other side. “What’s your position?”

The cop in the passenger side turned on the gps, scrutinizing the small, glowing screen carefully “Uh…” The other cop leaned over his shoulder.

“We’re in Canada?! We just crossed the boarder! He’s way out of our jurisdiction now!”

“Assistance might take a while,” the static voice at the station replied. “If you see a polar bear, try to keep a low profile, over.”

The cop in the driver’s seat pulled on her heavier jacket, “That’s not funny.”

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Wait for it… July 16, 2010

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It dawned on me as I was watching Psych the other day that the epilogue is one of the most overlooked parts of the story arc, yet also one of the most important. In writing, I often forget about what should come after the climax and resolution of the novel. What else is there? So my characters are often left holding the trophy without a plan for the future at the end.

For a past NaNoWriMo novel, I even jumped the gun–putting the climax/resolution in the middle of my novel and then having to make up a whole other plot…which didn’t work out too well. Heavy on Russian spies and short on sense.

But I think that crafting your epilogue¬†is¬†one of those things¬†that novelists can learn from the structure of TV shows. I used to think that novels, TV, and movies were very separate things, but in reality, they’re all fruit of the same tree. Everything (except maybe the modern novel) follows the mythic structure. In Joseph Campbell’s journey of the hero, you have the home-away-home cycle. The hero (or heroine) always needs to return to the starting point even after solving the mystery, or succeeding on the quest.

And after they come back, it’s important that there is a take-away message at the end. How did the quest benefit the hero or their home town? This is where the epilogue comes in. In a TV show, the crime is solved, the journey is done, but there’s a commercial break and you are ten minutes away from the end. Wait for it…wait for it…there’s more!

Why do we stick around to see the rest of the show and suffer through the ever-increasing stream of mindless commercials? Because the tag-line of the show contains some real gems:

  1. It wraps up all the loose ends
  2. It continues or begins a subplot that is usually character-centered
  3. It encourages you to watch the next episode

And that, in a nutshell, is your epilogue right there. Because a good novel always leaves readers wanting more.

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