A lot of people I know have been getting good news, which of course makes me SUPER EXCITED for them. But also kind of depressed for myself.
And that’s stupid, I know. But hearing about book deals, and internships, and contests while I’m just sitting here, trying to get through my homework, is, you know, depressing. (Or, less depressing as much as an anti-motivator. Like, “Why even bother when everyone else is clearly So Much More Talented and Hardworking Than Me?”)
Then this afternoon a writing friend linked to an old post from these writing forums we used to use, and we ended up spending the next three hours just going through the posts and laughing at how stupid we were (are) and being nostalgic.
And for the first time in a while, I not only want to work on all the projects I’m in the middle of because I know I need to, but because I actually, truly want to.
Looking at those old stories, and life updates, and post after post of inside jokes reminded me why I’ve kept at the writing thing for so long anyway. It’s fun, it’s an escape from real life, and I’ve gotten to know some really awesome friends because of it.
I’d forgotten what this feels like: wanting to work. Too much energy in my hands and stomach, and not being able to hold back a smile, and wanting nothing more than to curl up with my laptop and write.
It feels nice.
PS. I’ve drawn and contacted the winner of the Falling into Place giveaway! Thanks for entering. I wish I could give copies to all of you!
This weekend was fall break for my university, so Hannah, a friend from Oxford, and I just got back from being outdoorsy up north for a couple days.
We went horseback riding on trails surrounded by trees showing off their orange and red (with a guide who potentially was a murderous gang member hiding out in northern Michigan based on his teardrop tattoo, BUT WE’RE STILL ALIVE SO WE’RE GOOD), hiked to a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, and made s’mores over a camp fire that lasted approximately two minutes before rain drowned it.
We watched many movies, and played Jenga, and sang through Spotify’s Disney station like four thousand and one times.
We made blueberry bread, and drank lots of apple cider, and spent the entire trip in crewnecks and sweatpants/leggings.
So, all in all, a really nice break.
But now we’re back home and I’ve got a midterm in a few hours that I’m terrified for and yeah. (Don’t’cha love school?)
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a chapter from my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, The End Where I Begin. As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.
“I don’t understand. Collapse? Collapse of the reality?”
Dr. O’Brien nods. He uses his lab coat to pat the sweat gathered on his brow.
Dr. Reede’s voice is uncharacteristically thick and she concentrates on a spot above my head. “Not just the Fourth Reality, either. The actions of the Second Origin have led to the collapse of every reality before ours within the Quantum. The fact that the Fourth Reality version of Miss Carp has essentially hijacked the Fifth Reality version of her is just the first of the atrocities the Second Origin is likely to cause now that they are here.” She focuses her gaze right on me. “One of the reasons we brought you here today is because we need your help.”
Dr. O’Brien nods. “It is difficult to hear, we know, but we have no way of stopping the Second Origin from within the Fifth Reality, because they are already here. It is too late for us.”
I look between them. “What do you mean ‘too late’?” My voice raises an octave. “They’ve caused the collapse of the realities before ours. The major events that happen in one reality bleed into the next, and somehow that’s led to the Second Origin existing within our reality—which means we’re doomed? The Fifth Reality is going to collapse the way the Fourth did?”
“Not necessarily.” Dr. O’Brien says the words slowly, like this is a point he has been hoping to reach. “We do have a chance to save the Fifth Reality, and stop the Second Origin all together before they spread like a plague throughout the rest of the Quantum. That’s why we need your help.”
“Help?” I scoff. “How can I help?” The hopelessness is building inside me—a hollowness in my stomach; my heart pounding too hard against my ribcage.
“The Fourth Reality attempted to warn us about the threat of the Second Origin by messaging us. Evidently that did not work.” The barest of grins flickers across his lips. “We plan to send a person to the Sixth Reality, instead.”
“A person. To another reality.” My mouth falls open. “That’s possible?”
“More than possible.” Dr. O’Brien’s grin widens. “It’s been done before.”
Dr. Reede interrupts. “That is not relevant to the task at hand.”
I fall back in my chair. My Identiband flashes back and forth, back and forth, but I ignore it. “I’m sorry. Right.” I shake my head, but my pulse is no longer pounding out of fear. Adrenaline shoots through me, and I want to move—excited. The Fifth Reality does not need to collapse. “You want to send me? Why?”
“You are young, and although you did not choose to be, you are connected to the activities of the Second Origin, because of Miss Carp. This combination of factors makes you the most practical candidate.”
A smile finds its way onto my face. The idea of traveling to the Sixth Reality is daunting, but I will do it no questions asked if it means saving my dad and Calvin, Amelia and Eric. “What will I have to do once there?”
Dr. Reede returns my smile, although hers does not appear natural. “Do not worry about that now. We will provide further directions when you arrive.”
Dr. O’Brien clears his throat and we turn to him. Dr. Reede’s lips twitch, but she does not speak.
“We must let you know,” Dr. O’Brien says, “once you leave the Fifth Reality, because of the linear nature of the Quantum, you will have no way to return. You can only travel between realities in one direction. But know that you will be saving countless lives by leaving.”
“I realize that.” I feel as if I am standing at the top of a building, about to fall. “I’ll do it.”
“Thank you.” They stand and walk for the door. With shaking legs, I get to my feet.
Their backs are to me as I ask, “When?”
Dr. Reede does not look back as she opens the door. “This evening. Before things have a chance of getting any more out of hand. We had hoped to give you more time, but the actions of the Second Origin yesterday, by kidnapping you, have proven that we must do this as soon as possible.” She exits.
Dr. O’Brien turns to me, one foot in the conference room and the other in the hall. “You have an hour to say your goodbyes. We will meet you in the building lobby at 1600.”
He dips his head, then is gone.
I don’t leave the conference room at first. Its elegance is far less intimidating now that I am alone. Or maybe it’s just that I am preoccupied by the enormity of what I have agreed to do.
I don’t want to lose Daddy and Calvin. I can’t imagine a life without Amelia and Eric and even the other students at New Capital High who I dislike or do not know as well. Even Ramsey.
But they will all die—I will die—if I do not do it. So that is why I said I would.
The actual act of doing it, however, will be more difficult than the initial decision, and I don’t know how I am supposed to say goodbye to the only people I have ever known. I don’t even know what the Sixth Reality is like.
Is it as healthy as the Fifth Reality? As clean, with our bicycles and electric trains? Our nice, structured neighborhoods and yearly Recruitment Assemblies?
We have had our problems—the wars from when I was little prove that—but we are strong. How could a single terrorist cell pull us apart? How have they destroyed so many realities already? The realities in the Quantum are held together by the Thread of Reality. As long as that Thread exists within a reality, it is connected to the rest of us. It cannot be destroyed.
The Quantum is in a state of constant expansion. To destroy a part of it is like dividing by zero—it shouldn’t be possible.
Yet the Second Origin has found a way to do it.
Heat spreads through me. Anger. I step towards the door, and my knees no longer tremble beneath my weight.
I glance at my Identiband. Moisture has gathered beneath it and it slips, loose, around my wrist. I don’t want to have to worry about whatever’s happening with my eyes right now, not when so much more is at stake, but the bracelet is fine. Just a brilliant, bright, solid green.
I leave the conference room and the door automatically slides shut behind me.
Just under an hour. I have just under one hour to say goodbye—forever.
I open the door to the stairwell and a low, sharp click echoes off the walls. Then the entire thing explodes.
So, something I’ve never really discussed on the blog before is the fact that I really like to cook.
I know. Totally unexpected based on how a) lazy and b) busy I am. But I generally make at least a little time for it each day and the rhythm of chopping and mixing and stirring can be a great de-stressor.
Because I’m in an apartment this year, I’ve been cooking a lot more for myself than I did the first couple years of college. Fortunately, this is really fun. Unfortunately, the “a little time” I can make for it each day isn’t a ton. So I’ve taken to making a few meals that use the same core ingredients most days, with a little more variety on the days I’m less busy.
One of my favorite things to make for dinner is black bean nachos. The black beans taste good and pack a lot of protein, while the red bell pepper adds a little sweetness which the baby arugula leaves counter with their peppery flavor. Also: it involves cheese. (Need I say more?)
Black bean nachos are a super easy and fairly cheap dish (yay). Let’s get started.
Frying pan (and something to keep the grease from attacking your kitchen)
A love for all things edible
The Road to El Deliciousness
1. Pour about a quarter of the can of black beans in your sauce pan (making sure the beans have enough of their black bean sauce stuff with them in the pan to cover them) and put on the stove, medium temperature. Once this reaches a low boil, set to the side.
2. This is where the sink comes in: wash your red bell pepper and about a handful of baby arugula leaves. (I know. Craziness.) Once that nifty step is done, chop up about a third of the red bell pepper so the pieces are about the size of your pinky nail. (Cooking with Julia is an exact science.) Either cut or tear off the stems of your baby arugula, then cut or tear the leaves in half.
3. Prepare your frying pan by pouring in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Put on the stove at high temperature. Add the red bell pepper and place the arugula in a layer atop it. Add seasoned salt as desired. Cover the pan with your grease catcher thingy until the olive oil begins to pop and snap. Then, add your black beans (making sure not to bring much of the black bean sauce stuff with them) and stir with the spatula. Turn down the burner to medium temperature and, stirring occasionally, let this all fry together with the grease catcher on top until the black beans start to look slightly shriveled. (But not burned! DO NOT BURN THE BLACK BEANS, WHATEVER YOU DO. YOU WILL HATE YOURSELF FOR ALL ETERNITY IF YOU DO.) While this is frying, place a layer of the tortilla chips on your microwave-safe plate.
4. Pour your frying pan mixture over the tortilla chips. Be careful not to add the olive oil. Cover the black beans and veggies and tortilla chips with a thick layer of the shredded cheese mix, so that you can barely see what’s below it.
5. Pop this in the microwave on high for approximately one minute. (If you can hear the cheese sizzling, you are doing your job right. But also make sure not to burn it. Of the three microwaves I’ve regularly made nachos with over the course of the past few years, they’ve all required different amounts of time for the cheese to melt, so this’ll probably take a little experimentation.) Let the nachos sit in the microwave for a minute or two more, for maximum cheese meltage, then:
6. Enjoy those delicious black bean nachos!
(Protip: usually when I make these, I eat them with a bowl of green grapes and a glass of water.)
It’s currently 2:15 PM on Wednesday and–WAIT. LOOK AT THAT. IT’S ACTUALLY WEDNESDAY. (I think I deserve an award.)
Things are crazy right now, but what else is new? I’m kind of in love with this semester. It’s hard keeping up with everything, and it’s about to get harder, but “everything” consists of really awesome classes, and projects I’m super excited about, and people I love, so it’s worth it, you know? (Now if only I had time to sleep for more than six hours a night.)
Things that have happened since last week:
The first Ch1Con Chat!
Members of the Chapter One Young Writers Conference team and our friends got together to talk about writing and books for our first ever Ch1Con Chat. We’re going to be doing a Ch1Con Chat the first Thursday of every month at 8:00 PM eastern. Want to help us choose the topic for the next chat? Vote here! And you can watch this month’s chat below. [Beware the numerous technical difficulties.]
Hannah and Julia’s Vlog is back!
Check it out! Hannah and I talk about what we did this summer.
I’m giving away a copy of Amy Zhang’s Falling into Place!
You read that right. I’m giving away a copy of Amy Zhang’s debut YA contemporary novel Falling into Place. You can learn about the book and giveaway here and enter to win here. (It’ll run until October 17th, so you’ve got about a week left to try to get your hands on this amazing book!)
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a lullaby-ish-thing I wrote last week. I felt like playing guitar, but I was really tired and the sun was all warm, so I basically ended up putting myself to sleep.
Turn the lights down low
Lay your head down now
It’s okay to sleep
When the rain is coming down
Tell me all your dreams
They’ll be less scary
Once you set them free
Feel free to talk to me
This is all a fever dream
It’s so much less than it seems
You’re falling, but it’s only to sleep
Tell me, are you counting sheep today
This is all going to disappear
When you wake up from here
Close your eyes and you will see the sunrise,
what’s left of me
I’m just a whisper in your ear
You’ll wake up far away from here
You will dream of the sea
On a warm summer day
With the water so blue
Flowers blooming like in May
And you will dance in the sand
Holding my hand
Don’t you look at me
Or I’ll be sea glass beneath your feet
This is all a fever dream
Faster than it seems
You’re flying, but it’s only towards
A door opening to a better day
I know today is hard
Like burning out the stars
But there’s always more,
You will find your way
Just not today
So close your eyes and sleep
These dreams are yours to keep
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you’ve been up to, in the comments!
So I’ve been promising to do a giveaway for approximately forever, but as I’m sure we’ve already established a thousand times, I am the laziest human being alive. Sorry about how long it’s taken to get this up. (I ran out of ways to procrastinate today. It’s a sad life.)
Anyway: Amy Zhang was the keynote speaker at the 2014 Chapter One Young Writers Conference, and we absolutely loved having her! Amy is hilarious and smart and seriously so talented oh my gosh. (I want to be her when I grow up.) Her debut novel, a YA contemporary called Falling into Place, came out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in September and is just as incredible as you’d expect.
On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road.
Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? Amy Zhang’s haunting and universal story will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher.
Sounds great, right? Well, now it’s your chance to win a copy of Falling into Place!
You have two weeks to enter using one or more of the options in the Rafflecopter giveaway linked below. The giveaway will end at midnight Friday, October 17.
I swear, someday I’ll begin posting Wordy Wednesdays before midnight again. (In my defense this week, I spent the entire day either in class or doing homework, then tonight friends came over and we all watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and ate funfetti cake Hannah had made in honor of the occasion, so I was kind of busy.)
Anyway. The past week’s been pretty uneventful. I walked a 5K Sunday with my parents, then spent Monday barely being able to move because I am actually SO OUT OF SHAPE that walking three miles in a row destroyed my muscles. (You don’t need to make fun of me. I did enough of it myself between winces as I walked to class.) Monday night, I turned in my final research paper for Oxford and very melodramatically drank Sainsbury’s peppermint tea out of my Magdalen mug while missing England.
Long story short: I’ve gone to a ton of classes and done a ton of homework and eaten a ton of cookies.
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post that takes form in an essay I turned in for my YA lit class recently, discussing the idea of the unreliable narrator. [Update: I got a very deserving B on this, primarily for a flawed representation of the unreliable narrator, due to not expounding enough on my argument, and the multitude of typos that occur when you finish a paper fifteen minutes before it's due. So. Keep that in mind while you read. Hopefully I can do a post actually discussing the unreliable narrator from a writing perspective at some point, to clear up the issues posed by this essay. But in the meantime, enjoy!]
The unreliable narrator is a trope that pops up again and again in fiction. It involves, most commonly, a protagonist written from a first person perspective that asserts one idea to be true when this idea is actually false. The idea directly relates to the narrator in some way, to the point of defining him or her. However, all narrators are unreliable to an extent, due to their age, position in the world, personal ideology, etc. Hazel in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars tells her story after the fact, which means readers will never know for sure who Augustus Waters was as a person, because what they only know him through Hazel’s eyes. What arguably makes a protagonist not just commonly unreliable, but definable as an unreliable narrator, is the fact that it is possible for him or her to understand, with effort, his or her idea to be false. Maybe he or she knew the truth at a time but chose to believe it wasn’t true or forget it, or has known the truth the entire time and simply chosen to knowingly lie. Which is to say, what makes a protagonist an unreliable narrator is his or her decision, whether conscious or not, to lie. Within fiction, a category the unreliable narrator is especially prevalent in is young adult. From the way teenagers often relate more easily to the unreliable narrator than other age groups do, to the way stories utilizing this type of perspective are more likely to be twisty and fast-paced, the unreliable narrator trope finds its home in young adult fiction.
The teenage years, as presented in young adult fiction, are generally spent sneaking around with boyfriends and pulling one over on authority figures. In E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, the title character spends the majority of her story lying to her friends and playing elaborate pranks on the administration of her elite boarding school. Even if teens don’t personally take part in these types of activities, they’re fun to read and demonstrate sentiments teens are likely to relate with: hating how adults and peers underestimate them; wanting to be special but feel normal at the same time; needing a wild adventure to stay sane amidst of midterms and soccer practice. While a story with a straightforward narration style and normal characters can accomplish these things, like in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, an unreliable narrator pulls them one step further. In the S.E. Hinton classic The Outsiders, narrator Ponyboy is an accessory to a murder, but after the friend who actually commits it dies, he can’t stand the idea of remembering his friend this way—as a murderer—so he chooses to believe he is the one who murdered, instead, so that at least in his mind, Johnny might still be alive. He knew “Johnny was dead [and knew] it all the time … [but] just thought that maybe if [he] played like Johnny wasn’t dead it wouldn’t hurt so much” (Hinton 177). This adds another layer to Ponyboy’s story and actions. Perhaps one of the reasons the unreliable narrator appears more frequently in young adult fiction than other categories is because teenagers connect more with the narrator who chooses to believe one thing when another might be true. After all, they’re figuring out what they believe and don’t believe too; sometimes they lie about things happening in order to make life easier to live too. Maybe for a teen reader the distraction is a lie about the state of her geometry grade, rather than about whether or not her friend is dead. But details don’t resonate as loudly as overall actions. As unreliable narrators allow themselves to grow and admit their truth, so do their readers about their own.
On top of this, the unreliable narrator automatically adds another layer to how interesting the story is and involves the reader more. Not only must the reader try to figure out what’s going to happen, but also how much of what has already and is currently happening to believe. Also, unreliable narrators lend themselves to the sorts of stories in which it would be more logical to have a character who cannot handle what’s going on around them. While The Fault in Our Stars’s Hazel can choose to direct the reader’s opinion in one way or another, the fairly ordinary circumstances of her life would make it difficult for to be believable as an unreliable narrator. Ponyboy, on the other hand, lives with the constant threat of getting “jumped by the Socs” (Hinton 2) or the authorities tearing his family apart. His best friend dies from injuries incurred in a fire after murdering a boy who attacked Ponyboy. These extreme circumstances merit the mind shutting the truth out. Stories like these, with an abundance of plot twists and action, tend to be shorter and snappier, which keep readers on the edges of their seats and are more likely to keep teens turning pages, rather than putting the book down to check Facebook. With the way young adult fiction itself generally runs shorter and more to the point that other categories of fiction, it has a reciprocal relationship with the unreliable narrator: the unreliable narrator helps the novel move along, and the novel has no choice but to move in such a way that backs the interest created by the unreliable narrator.
From the way teens are more likely to be able to relate to a story featuring an unreliable narrator, due to the circumstances of the period of life they’re in, to how the unreliable narrator supports the form of the young adult novel and leads to stories with more inherent interest in them, this literary trope finds its home in young adult fiction. Together, as Ponyboy’s friend Johnny would say, they “[s]tay gold” (Hinton 148).
Thanks for reading! (Now: Off to sleep. SO TIRED.)
I should be finishing a research paper right now. Or reading in prep for a quiz I have tomorrow, or doing a film project, or working on Ch1Con stuff, or revising, or at the least putting up the giveaway post I’ve been promising for the past month.
Instead, I’m lying in bed with a mug of Lipton going cold beside me and I’m staring at my blog like it’s a monster I need to slay.
When I began blogging two and a half years ago, it was with no clue what I was doing and arguably too much enthusiasm. I did it because it was something agents looked for when considering representing a writer and, honestly, I was in need of somewhere I could talk and talk and talk as much as I wanted, because it was my space, so no one could make me shut up. (Although someone really should have made me shut up. Like oh my gosh, CAN WE DISCUSS HOW MANY CLICHES ARE IN THIS POST? I should not be allowed to look at my old writing.)
Although sometimes it was difficult to keep up with blogging, I loved doing it. I relished the challenge. It was fun to put together new posts, exciting to see readers’ reactions. I loved meeting and getting to know new people through each others’ blogs.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped being an aspiring author who happened to blog and became an aspiring author + blogger.
But slowly, blogging has become a chore more than a reprieve. Slowly, I’ve stopped being excited about sharing things and begun wondering each time if it’s truly worth it. Especially with Twitter and Facebook as other mediums to share information that maybe doesn’t merit super long blog posts.
And I’ve begun blogging less. And less.
I guess what it comes down to is that I no longer know what this blog should be about. And I’m no longer sure how much of myself I want to share on it.
I don’t know if sharing goofy selfies is funny or self-absorbed (or annoying). I don’t know if writing Wordy Wednesdays is a good idea, when the only writing I’ve shared in forever is the stuff that’s not good enough to bother submitting elsewhere. I don’t know if I should go back to writing Fashion Fridays, or share more How To and Story Time posts, or what.
Is this blog about me or my writing or my opinions or my travels or none of the above? I don’t know.
What I do know is I miss enjoying blogging. And I’m going to do my best to make it something I like to spend my time on again.
So here is a mission statement as we move into October 2014:
I will continue to blog every Wednesday, because it’s what I’ve been doing since the beginning, but I will also blog at least one other time a week. It could be about clothes or a current issue or a movie or a book or something weird that happened to me or anything. Or nothing. The point is that it will be a post and it will be on this blog, no matter the quality or length. (Blogging every day last November was one of the best times I’ve had and I think it was because I honestly didn’t. care. about making the posts good.)
I will set time aside to write these posts, rather than grumbling about having to do them with time that would be better spent on homework or work or with friends.
I will stop worrying about annoying people by posting too much or on topics they’re not interested in. I’m here and this is what I’m doing and they can deal.
Lastly, I will stop wondering what readers think of me (at least actively) and focus on having fun writing. Because that is what this blog should be about: Me having fun.
Now, for your part of the deal: Put up with the bad posts. Let me know if there’s something you want to see more or less of. And hang in here with me, because I’ve got lots of stuff planned for the next few months.
I began this post yesterday, but I somehow managed to fall asleep at 9:30, so I didn’t get a chance to finish. (#Oops #YOLO #CollegeLyfe ?)
I’ve spent the past week and a half doing really intense revision work (like: Spend Every Free Moment Not in Class Revising kind of revision work), so I’ve been tired and not sleeping well (haven’t had time to exercise, so my legs are really restless), and… yeah. I guess it finally caught up with me last night.
Anyway: please forgive this terrible transgression against you, oh dear Wordy Wednesday reader. This makeup blog post is going to have to be a quick one, because besides not finishing writing it last night, I also slept through time I was supposed to spend on a lit paper due in a few hours. And I, ya know, still haven’t chosen a topic or anything. (I am ROCKING that life thing right now.)
This week’s (belated) Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.
As mentioned above, I’m currently in the middle of some really intense revisions.
Mostly this has involved something along the lines of what I talk about in this post (restructuring by scene) and *cough* this post (strengthening character development in the supporting cast).
(Spoiler: all these blog posts have to do with the single round of revisions I’ve been working on since, like, March. It’s all just been culminating in the mad dash at the end these past couple weeks.)
I’ve finally reached the point at which I need to actually read the manuscript, to make sure my changes work and make other changes that are difficult out of context. For example: strengthening the line-by-line writing. And although I’m only on, like, Chapter Nine right now, I’ve already found several chapters that go on too long.
Not like, “Woe is me, this chapter is 2,576 words long and I wanted it to be 2,574!” but like, “What is the point of this paragraph at the end? This solidifies the end of the chapter too much. This is too comfortable of an ending. DELETE, DELETE, DELETE.”
Chapter endings should not be comfortable. If they’re comfortable, what’s the point of continuing reading? They should be ominous. They should be uneasy. They should be surprising.
It’s called a cliffhanger for a reason.
You always want to leave something unresolved at the end of a chapter. Whether your protagonist is being accused of cheating on his math test or she’s literally hanging off a cliff, this situation needs to be unresolved so that the reader will turn immediately to the next chapter.
Take it one step further: don’t give all the info in a cliffhanger. Make the reader have to turn the page not only to learn how the situation ends, but the rest of the details of what’s even going on.
Are you more likely to read on from, “The haunted house creaked. I searched the room for a way out, but the only exit was through the door I’d come. I stepped towards it and the knob jiggled. It turned. In stepped the butler.”
Ooor: “The haunted house creaked. I searched the room for a way out, but the only exit was through the door I’d come. I stepped towards it and the knob jiggled. It turned.”
If you leave off in what feels like it could still be the middle of a scene, or end the chapter with your protagonist not quite learning all the information you led the reader to believe they were supposed to, etc., etc.–that is more likely to keep your reader going.
The SURPRISE! chapter ending requires you to pull a one-eighty at the very end of your chapter. Like the very end. Like in the very last sentence.
While the protagonist (and reader) have been concerned about something else–like someone accusing him of cheating on the math test–an entirely different problem has snuck up on him. Or maybe this problem literally does come out of nowhere and it’s not that the protag has been misleading his audience by focusing on something else, but that BOOM! This is an entirely new and not expectable problem!
A classmate drops dead in front of him. The super villain shoots him with a freeze ray from behind. The possibilities of a SURPRISE! ending are endless. They’re there to shock.
Make the reader think.
I don’t really suggest using this one, because it’s hard to make it seem not Super Written (and to make it an ending that keeps the reader from turning the light out for the night), but I have seen it done well in a few novels, so I figured I should include it.
When your protagonist spends time thinking, so does your reader. When you end a chapter with a character thinking (whether with a statement or an outright question), that leaves the reader really thinking, as they turn to the next chapter.
This can be dangerous. It can give the reader time to figure out something you don’t want them to figure out yet or, more commonly, it can leave the reader not feeling invested enough to keep reading.
Because when a reader sits back to ponder a statement or question the protagonist just asked, the reader disconnects from the story to do that. They evaluate the story as a whole, rather than staying right there, right then with the protagonist, like you want them to. And this easily leads to it not feeling like an urgent enough necessity to start the next chapter that night.
Be careful with this.
Reveal new information.
This is similar to both a cliffhanger or SURPRISE! ending, but less in-your-face and really only useful for chapters towards the beginning of your novel. It doesn’t build a ton of tension, but is just intriguing enough to keep the reader going.
This is information your protagonist probably already knows, but only now chooses to reveal to the reader. Some juicy bit of character development or world-building. It doesn’t do as much to build tension, because if the protag already knows it, the reader knows it’s not going to be some shocking revelation that guides the plot. But it does leave the reader curious.
Most importantly: leave the reader wanting more.
No matter how you end your chapter, the one thing you NEED to do is leave your reader wanting more.
Like I said: chapter endings should not be c0mfortable.
If the end of Chapter Eight is comfortable, then–like me–you’ve got some deleting to do.
Lots of classes. (Still in love with my classes this semester, although also still kind of terrified of them.) (So it goes.)
Lots of working on writing and Ch1Con stuff.
And, oh yeah, I PERFORMED AT HALFTIME ON SATURDAY (with approximately a thousand of my closest friends).
In honor of the two hundredth anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner, the Michigan Marching Band invited the university’s choirs and our opponent’s marching band to perform at halftime with them. It was an INCREDIBLE experience. Also: after being at a couple of the marching band rehearsals, can I just say that DAAANG THE MARCHING BAND KIDS ARE FREAKING HARDCORE. While us choir students stood huddled together, freezing in our five layers of sweatshirts, the marching band practiced wearing as little as possible while sweating gallons despite this. We were at the Big House for four hours Friday night and they spent most of them literally SPRINTING ACROSS THE FIELD. IN FORMATION. POINTING THEIR TOES PERFECTLY IN UNISON. WHILE PLAYING THEIR INSTRUMENTS.
Within the choir formation, I stood towards the top of the S, and the very kind marching band reserve girl who was standing by me to help us stay within the boundaries of the letter wasn’t marching at the game because she got a stress fracture in her ankle FROM MARCHING TOO MUCH.
I’ve always thought marching band people were pretty cool, but I have SOOO much respect for them now. What the heck. They rock.
Anyway, that’s the end of my marching band hero worship for this post. If you’re interested, the halftime show is below!
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem I wrote towards the end of my time at Oxford.
I don’t want to leave
I am not ready to go
It’s not that I have so so so much more
But that I don’t want to stop
doing the things
that I already am
with these lovely people
in this lovely place
in this lovely time
We have been eternal
in these fleeting moments
and I am not yet ready
for that glow to fade
Please let me
in this moment
in this place
with these people
First off, the Chapter One Young Writers Conference‘s 2014 keynote speaker Amy Zhang’s YA contemporary debut FALLING INTO PLACE came out yesterday!! (That was such a mouthful, wow.) It’s SO GOOD, and I’m not just saying that because I know Amy. You need to read this book. I couldn’t put it down all day and was basically walking around in a fog whenever classes forced me to.
Also, make sure to stop by Amy’s website, because she’s giving away some cool FALLING INTO PLACE swag on her blog right now!
Second off, Ch1Con‘s about to kick it into high gear with about a thousand announcements in the next few weeks, so BE PREPARED for the onslaught.
Third off, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. [Trigger warning: I'm talking about triggers today.]
I woke up this morning to an email from the police that there was a man with a gun in the chemistry building and the campus was going into lockdown. This didn’t affect me much since I was, you know, still in bed and live off campus. And almost instantaneous to me seeing the original Emergency Alert email, they sent out the All Clear, anyway. So everything was fine. Just a fun little disruption to our day. (That’s sarcasm on the “fun” front, my friend.)
It turns out the “gunman” was just a Navy ROTC member with non-weaponized equipment (aka: a gun filled with concrete so it isn’t dangerous), returning said equipment to the ROTC office. In the comment section of an article about the incident, someone groused about everyone needlessly freaking out because someone carried a gun through a class building without their knowing whether it was a working gun or the man had an intention of shooting anyone with it.
I’m not going to go into my stance on whether or not people should be allowed to own guns right now, but this comment really bothered me, because after everything that’s been happening on campuses across the United States, I think the general assumption (and the one that helps keep students safer) is that if someone has a gun with them in a place guns are not meant to be fired, there’s a good chance it’s not good.
After all, the purpose of a gun is not to humbly sit there, bullets within it, not touching the world around it. The purpose of a gun is to shoot things.
And if it’s not shooting something, it’s not fulfilling its purpose.
Thus, by this definition: an unconcealed weapon in the chem building is something we should react to first and ask the carrier questions about second. (Seriously. Who’s going to walk up to a guy with a gun outside a college classroom and be like, “Yo. What’cha got there? You planning on shooting anyone with that today?” NOT ME.)
This inherent (and what I believe to be intelligent) response to seeing someone with a gun (you know–reacting by assuming s/he’s going to shoot it) is also really important in stories.
If someone carries a weapon of some sort into a scene–be it a gun, or a knife, or some really juicy gossip–it can’t just Be There. It has to be there for a purpose. A gun in a scene is a promise that someone is going to shoot it. And if someone doesn’t, that becomes a broken promise to the reader. And when you break promises to the reader, bad things happen. (I’m not going to go into the bad things. The first rule of Reader Club is you do not talk about Reader Club.)
This rule about weapons applies to more in fiction than only things characters can use to hurt each other. It applies to everything. Did your protagonist just comment on a pretty picture? That’s great for the moment, but for it to be great for the story, you need the fact that you’ve drawn attention to the picture to mean something in the long run. Maybe there’s a clue to the mystery hidden in the picture. Or the picture has some sort of symbolic resonance that you come back to during the climax.
What matters is that it matters.
I was thinking about this today, not just because of our non-weaponized “gunman” (poor, poor Navy ROTC member), but because yesterday I had this opposite-of-an-epiphany moment in which, for no apparent reason in the middle of one of my film classes, I realized I have this paragraph in the middle of the climax of the novel I’m revising that makes no sense within the scene.
It’s information I need to share, and it comes out in a realistic way, but it isn’t important to the scene it’s in.
So while that scene is important to that information, that information is not important to that scene. And it can’t work,that way.
It’s a reciprocal relationship. Everything needs to make context in a scene (your reason for bringing a gun) and everything in a scene must be important to the scene (shooting the gun). And all of this, ultimately, needs to be important to the overall story (the results of shooting the gun).
Every word you write is a promise to the reader. Like a real gun, the purpose of your fictional (or metaphorical) gun is to shoot it.