Thursday, October 14, 2010

Guest Post: Fabulous Janice Hardy and a Giveaway!!

Exciting stuff today!!

Welcome special guest, Janice Hardy, MG author of THE SHIFTER (my review here) and its recently released sequel, BLUE FIRE! She has a great post for us today, and if you haven't checked out the awesomeness that is her blog, what are you waiting for? Her posts are always informative and entertaining. :) Also, I'm announcing a giveaway at the end, so stick around.

The End is Near

Some writers have troubles with beginnings, or more commonly, middles, but for me, it’s endings. I tend to rush them once I get close, summarizing instead of letting things build to the big bang. I always have to rewrite them, usually several times before I get them right. I’ve given up trying to figure out why I do this, and have just accepted it as part of my process. Maybe one day I’ll solve this riddle, but for now, I just follow the same revision plan each time. Which are really things I ought to do on the first draft, but it never seems to work out that way.

What makes a good ending?
Tastes will vary of course, but generally, readers want to see the problem the book has been exploring all along resolved in a satisfying way. They want to be surprised by something they didn’t see coming, but a surprise that still fits with the story – not something out of the blue they couldn’t have figured out on their own. They want to see the protag grow or change in some way that made everything they went through in the book matter in a personal and meaningful way.

Yeah, but how do you do that?
For me, endings start long before the actual climax, because that’s when you start laying the groundwork for them. You probably have some idea of how you want your story to end. There’s a good chance it’s part of your one-sentence “this is what my book is about” line. Everything in the story has been building to this moment. If it hasn’t? Then that might be why your ending is giving you trouble. Try looking back and asking:

What constitutes a win for your protag?
If you’re not sure, look at your beginning. What major thing happened that set your protag on their journey? What have they been trying to accomplish all along? That’s what you’ll need to resolve in some way in your ending.

What constitutes a win for your reader?
You’ve set up certain expectations throughout the book and your reader is going to want to see those expectations satisfied. What promises did you make? What problems did you dangle? What risks were taken that hinted at greater consequences?

Are you escalating the stakes?
The first draft of The Shifter had this problem. The ending was exciting, but it didn’t raise the stakes any from the major event at the end of the third act. Because of that, the ending was just kinda there. My agent had me revise it, and she gave me some advice that really changed my thinking. She said to go deeper, not wider, with the story, and to tie it in thematically to Nya’s struggle. At first, I didn’t understand what she meant, but then I figured out that it’s easy to add more stuff to make things harder on your protag, but the stakes aren’t really higher. More lives in jeopardy isn’t high stakes because readers don’t know those people. They care about the characters.

Look at what the protag has at stake on a personal level. Look at how that ties into the story from a thematic aspect, so the ending has more poignancy. For The Shifter, it was about being trapped, so feeling trapped factored into the climax. Same with the sequel, Blue Fire, but this time it was all about escape. Those ideas influenced what was done so it tied into the rest of the story.

What inner conflict has your protag been struggling with all along? How can you make that inner conflict butt heads with the outer problem in your climax? How might that inner conflict influence what the protag needs to do to solve the final problem? How might the theme be used to make the ending more powerful, and thus raise the stakes? What can you do to make the risk more personal for your protag?

You were saying something about a surprise?
Endings we can see coming a mile away bore us, but the fact is, we pretty much know the hero is going to win in any book we pick up. There is only so much mystery you can squeeze out of “will she win or not?” The tension and wonder will come from how they do it and what it might cost them. This is why personal stakes are so critical. But we also need to have our protag act in a way that is unexpected, so the way they solve their problem is a surprise.

One thing I like to do is look at the moral beliefs of my protag and have her do something she’d never consider doing otherwise. But the trick is, she still has to be true to herself. She can’t just throw out all she believes in. She has to make that choice, hard as it is, for reasons that fit who she is. Maybe it was a line she refused to cross before, or a risk she was never willing to take. Something that might even have been suggested earlier in the novel and rejected. But the stakes are higher now, and not doing it will result in something far worse than doing it. It’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make, even though it’s going to cost her a lot.

How do we get her to that point?
This is where the thrill building comes in. It takes time to heap enough horrible onto your protag so that she’s willing to throw it all away for the win. I like to start around the end of the third act, when your protag has just hit a wall or found a problem that seems insurmountable. She’s trying to solve it, really feels that she’s not going to be able to, but knowing she has no choice but to try.

Pacing is critical here, because speeding things up helps build that breathless on the edge of your seat feeling. Let your characters worry a bit more, think a bit less. Things start going wrong and cascade into more and more trouble. Everything tried fails or makes things worse. Put your protag on that slippery slope, and don’t give her a lot of time to catch her breath. Let her struggle, let things get worse and worse but she still manages to squeak by. Then hit her with the climax, and the start of the end.

Let her lose. Not “lose” lose, but force her into a position where she really has to think outside the box, find something unexpected and crazy that no one will see coming. For this to work, she has to be pushed beyond anything you’ve done to her so far. Feeling like it’s all of nothing, do or die, will put her right where she needs to be. And let you think up over the top, last ditch efforts for her to succeed.

Whatever your ending, remember that it’s only as good as what’s come before it. The entire story builds to this moment, and everything your protag has done will be put to the test in some way to solve this final problem. Look back and find things you can pull forward: stakes you can raise again, failures you can revisit, problems you can exacerbate. The ending is the climax of all of this, so it makes sense that all of this will provide the tools – and fodder – for your protag to save the day. Or not, if that’s the kind of ending you want.

Blue Fire
Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

Janice's Bio
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins.  She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.

And now... The Giveaway!!
Enter to win a copy of BLUE FIRE! Just leave a comment on this post (1+), following is not required but it'll get you extra points (2+). Extra points for tweeting (1+), facebooking (1+), blogging (5+), and sidebar link (1+). Please leave me links with your comment. Ends Oct 31st, midnight PST.

So, what about all of you? What do you think is important in a great ending? What do you struggle with?


  1. Great Post!! Endings that tie things up are nice, but those that stay with me when I put the book down are the ones that gives me a total surprise at the end. I struggle with endings because I really don't want it to end.

    Great contest! and I'm following.

  2. God bless you for this one, Janice. You just helped me solidify my ending. I owe you a box o' chocolates!

    p.s. Thank YOU Abby for having her here!

  3. Most welcome, glad I could help. It was a good reminder for me, too, since I'm sure I'll be rewriting the ending of Shifter 3 as soon as I hear back from my editor :)

  4. You can put me down for 3! Yay!

    I think a good ending ties up loose ends or at least ends in a satisfactory way plot wise. I don't mind an unhappy ending as long as it satisfying.

    Great post!

  5. Great article Janice, thank you! I tend to rush my endings too--so I really appreciated your suggestions! Thanks Abby!

  6. Thanks! I don't mind unhappy endings either, as long as they fit the story. They just need to be good endings :)

  7. Would love to read Blue Fire!

    I like an ending with punch, something that keeps me up 'till 2 AM to finish. Doesn't have to be happy, just a satisfying conclusion to story arc.


  8. I also struggle with endings lately, I feel - thanks for all these great thoughts!

  9. Endings can be tough. I always have to rewrite mine, even though I KNOW I shouldn't be doing what I always do in a first draft. I think I rush them because I'm so glad to be at the end and I want to start revisions.

  10. Hey, I can't view your site properly within Opera, I actually hope you look into fixing this.

  11. Anon: I don't have any problem viewing it in Opera, so I'm not really sure what needs fixing. It did require me to download Adobe Flashplayer, but that's just to view the slide shows (bottom left). Everything else was fine. Sorry for any inconvenience. :)

  12. Lovely interview!

    Sounds like a great book; count me in for the contest. I'm a follower, I've got you linked on my blogroll and I'm going to go Tweet and Facebook about this right now! :D