Aug 08 2008
This short article will help beginning novelists avoid another five common mistakes that will usually cause publishers to throw out a manuscript.
46. Ambiguous endings are perilous and should not be undertaken lightly. After your audience has read 300 pages, they will feel they deserve to know whether the hero has succeeded or failed. If you’d like to write an ambiguous ending, prepare to explain the decision to your editor. Will your reasoning sound remotely like “I couldn’t come up with anything better”?
If you’d like an ending more complicated than the hero accomplishing his goal and living happily ever after, please consider an ending that suggests the hero’s starting quest is not as important as the one he picks up along the way. For example, Casino Royale leads viewers to believe that the main plot is whether James Bond can stop a terrorist financier or not. [spoiler] But it’s actually a red herring. Even though James Bond stops the terrorist financier, he fails to save the only woman he’s ever loved. What does it say about Bond if he can finish the job his boss gives him but not the one that matters? [end spoiler]
47. Exhaustively mapping out your plot is probably not necessary unless you want to use a twist ending. A good twist is almost never a last-minute addition by the author. Pulling off a twist requires methodical preparation and careful attention to details. Consequently, it will probably be easiest to write a twist if you still have a substantial chunk of the story (perhaps 25%) left to go. Alternatively, you could write the story and then retroactively add the twist, but you would probably give yourself away by failing to edit every relevant detail. For example, in Casino Royale, a government accountant refuses to give Bond the money he needs to buy back into a poker tournament. [spoiler] But we later learn the accountant was attempting to steal the prize money all along when Bond won. So she had absolutely no reason to refuse Bond. [end spoiler] The more surprising your twist ending is, the more you will have to work to remove continuity errors.
48. Please do not include a copyright notice with your manuscript. It is not legally necessary and will suggest that you are a paranoid amateur. If you are dealing with a remotely professional publisher, you are in more danger from falling coconuts than plagiarist editors. If a publisher liked your work, they would publish it; there is no reason to steal it. If they did steal it, you could prove your authorship with your notes, drafts and previous submissions.
(However, if anyone produces artwork for your website, you may wish to include a copyright notice or the artist’s signature. Your artist will appreciate that).
49. You can break any “rule” of writing, but you may have defend your decision to a publisher. Try to justify yourself in terms of the benefits your choice would add to the reading experience. What will your readers think? Will they feel that they’re getting a story that really clicks or will they just scratch their heads?
50. Writers make mistakes. Lots of them. If you expect a magically smooth path from here to Authorial Greatness, I invite you to play the Superhero Nation drinking game by reading a chapter and taking a sip whenever I disregard my own writing guidelines. Like writing, this game is not for the faint of heart.
I will leave you with this: writing is like trying to beat a hole in a wall with your head. It is painful, daunting and you will never know if you are one more head-bang from glory.
This article was the tenth part of a series. If you’d like to read about how to avoid other common writing mistakes, please read the other articles.