Write your Closing Scene
Let me ask you this. If you were to say okay, that's the one I like. I'm gonna start with her showing up and the house is gone. And what's great about that is now we have a really clear suggestion of what's gonna happen next, right? So we talked before. We want the character to have agency. This character's gotta do something. Like what do you do when your house burns down says a lot about who you are. Do you go check into the Four Seasons? Do you go sleep on the street? Do you go to your mom's house? The what you do, so we talked about agency, it doesn't always have to be big, dramatic decisions. She's just gotta choose something, and that's gonna tell us something about who she is. So it suggests the next step in the cause-and-effect trajectory. Because her house burned down, she has to do something. We're gonna see what that is. Then it also suggests where you might end the scene. So when you did the start and end points did you come up with an end point?
I had two. Well, one I ha...
ve her flying back to San Francisco, kind of closing it all up. Start on the flight, ending on a flight.
That was it? (laughing) That's okay, you know what? You start with something and that's what this exercise does, is it helps us flesh it out and think it through. And so the way you wanna think it through is like okay, what I liked, your instinct is, okay we start on a plane, maybe will end with her on a plane. But if you pull back and you think about what your point is, or what your message is, probably not about flying on a plane. So, it's kind of similar to when we were talking to Jenny about the starting and end points with the pregnancy. You wanna make the end be about what it's about. So, if it's about change, and the nature of change itself, we would want to see somehow ... Why are you guys smiling? And she's like, that's what I told you. (laughter)
Because I think she's actually revised to be about the search for love, and overcoming abandonment.
No, I got rid of that.
Oh, you got rid of that. (laughter) Okay. So I might have misspoke.
No, but see what I love about this conversation is do you see how malleable a story is? It's so malleable, and if you take away nothing from this, I want you to take that away, that you can make it this, you can make it that, you can make it the other thing, and the choices that you make are profound. That's the story. That's, where you end it, is gonna say so much about what it's about. And you could make it a story about the missing husband, and the abandonment, and the search for love, and now you don't have a home. You could totally make it about that. Or you could make it about the nature of this have and have not thing. And maybe she, something with the house. She owned a house, now she doesn't own a house, maybe. Or, we don't know, but you wanna put that bookend on the end to frame it out, to resolve this thing at the start. So the reason that we ask, well which of these three scenes works the best, is so that we can look at the whole. You don't wanna look at your scene in isolation, because then it's just like, oh well I think this one is kind of cool. Or I like this. Or I wrote this one better. Or I really like ... This is what so many writers do is, ooh, I love this line. Like the line about the ... If she were to choose ... If she were to choose the woman arrives and her house has burned down, she would lose that great line that I talked about, of Jaba spying on the people who eeked out a living making comfortable people more comfortable. She would lose that. And that would be sad. And she might choose to keep that scene, only because of that line, which would be a mistake. When we talk about killing our darlings, this is what we mean. It's like, okay, that whole scene doesn't work. We're gonna scrap it. But hey I really like that line, maybe I can bring that line in somewhere else. And pick the scene that works for the story. So that's how we wanna make the analysis about which one works the best. So once you do this, and you choose, then the next step is to work on the scene itself. So, you sketched it out really fast. Maybe it's got a bunch of TK's, or something somethings in there. You wanna revise it to make it the strongest that you can, so that when you turn it into your book coach, you're bringing the best version of that that you can, and then they're gonna try to poke those logic holes in it, ask you all the why questions. Well what does this mean? Well is that what you really meant? And you're gonna get the best feedback when you take the time to do that revision, before you turn it in. So then what we do, is we do the exact same thing for the closing scene. And we do the three part exercise for the closing scene. And for this, you go back to your pairings, your starting and ending pairings, and you pick the one that resolves that start. Now you've got more of a fleshed out starting scene, so you really can anchor with that, and you wanna write the ending scene that works. And you do the exact same thing. You have a moment where, okay, you have her flying back to San Francisco. But again, what does that mean? Is it on a plane? Is it stepping out of the plane again? Is it, what exactly is happening in that moment. There could be so many choices for that closing scene. So, you wanna give that framework and that bookend. And, you wanna again take the same period of time that you did to do those three exercises. And then again, you wanna ask, which works the best? And then with the closing scene, we don't have those to go over today, but the thing that you really wanna do is ask yourself, does this closing scene resolve this thing that starts at the end? Does it show that arc of change? Do I have that trajectory built in there? And if you can get that, I am a huge advocate of writing the last scene, even if it's really weak, and unstable, and crumbly, and small, because it's the difference between shooting at something and shooting at nothing. And if you shoot at something, you can keep those iterations going, and end up in a much better place than if you just sort of say, "Well I don't know. We're just gonna write and see what happens to this woman." That's a bad way to go. And it doesn't usually turn out well. So, I would suggest that you try this, even if it feels impossible. And it often does feel impossible to people, because they think, I don't even know what happens in scene two. How can I possibly know where it ends? But you just wanna think in terms of ... Lisa Cron, who is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius, and she's my friend and colleague and client, she uses a term that I love for this. She calls it the eyes clo- wait, the eyes closed shut test, which means you have to be able to see it. You have to be able to see that ending. It's not a vague, well now she feels better about herself. Or now she embraces change. Or now she's a person who's able to love. That's all way too abstract. You wanna be able to close your eyes, see this scene, and then you can write it. And write a bad version of it. That's so fine, but at least you have something. And then that allows us to, again, you can revise it as best you can, and turn it into your coach. And it allows us to see that whole shape, and if you do the three versions, what we like is to see all six of the sketches. So if I'm doing feedback on this workbook, and I were to get Laura's scenes, I'd get the one, two, three we just did, and I'd get the one, two, three ending possibilities, and I'd be able to look at her two tier outline, at her book jacket copy, and really get a 3D vision of what this book is, and what it's really about, and what point it's making. We can really see everything, and wrap our minds around what this is, and is it working, and is it what she wanted to write, and does it all hold together? So it's such a powerful process, and if you think about it, when we started talking about all of these fundamental elements that we're building, this is what we were working toward. Is the ability to kind of hold it in our arms. Here's the story. Here's what this writer is writing. Here's what it's about. Here's what it means. Here's how it looks. Here's the framework. Here's the shape of it. And just these little tools let us really see the whole thing. And it's so incredible how powerful it is to get feedback on these elements, because then you can think, yeah, I totally have this. I totally can see this. I can envision it. And now I can write forward. Or, you find the holes like we did with poor Jocelyn, on her two tier outline, but at least she knows what to do now. At least she knows, okay, I gotta go bake in this cause and effect trajectory. I've gotta go make these scenes lock in. I've gotta give my character agency. Now I know what to do, and that's why it's so powerful. So do we have any questions, either from you guys, or we could go out to the audience watching on the internet, if we have a couple minutes?
Yeah. Anybody in house have any questions for now?
Any questions? Have we answered them all? We voted on your story. (laughter) Yes.
I had one question. I've heard it said before that the first paragraph of your story is your promise to the reader of what the story's about, and then your last paragraph of your story resolves that promise. Like you're saying yes I did it.
Do you have any sorts of tools for making sure that we tie those together? Is there any big picture look that helps you figure out how to do that?
Yeah, it's a great question. And I like that. I think it's very difficult on a paragraph level to promise everything. That's a very sophisticated skill, and you can certainly do it. Really, really brilliant writers certainly do it. It's hard, from my experience, to get that all into one par- it's hard enough to get it into one scene, when you're just trying to start out, or one chapter, but I do really like that idea of yeah, it's promise, resolution. Question, answer. If you notice that pattern reappears all the time in writing. It's actually, this class has nothing to do with writing dialogue, but writing dialogue is, that's exactly what it is. It's question, answer. It's promise, resolution. It's rising, falling. Positive, negative. It's that rhythmic nature. If we're looking at pacing and flow of the whole novel, of how it moves and goes, and how time goes, it's that same thing. There's that, it's that yin and that yang, and that back and that forth, and so absolutely, just getting it in the opening scene and the closing scene, if you can just get a sense of change, an arc of change. We've come to this place. If you can just get that, then you can go back and fill in on the graph, and the two tier outline, and start filling in the middle. I just think it's a much more holistic way of looking at your story than, you know, we talked before, a chronological approach is you start at the beginning, and you march forward, and it's not until you get to the end ... I'll tell you a story that happened to me that's absolutely true, and it's one of the reasons that I came up with the methods and philosophies that I teach, which is I was writing a book called The Only True Genius in the Family. A novel. It was my second novel, and I had a two book deal with Penguin. So, my editor, who I loved, had given me this two book deal, and I was to turn in a manuscript in a year, which is really fast. I had just written my first novel. We sold it, we got it out in the world, and it was all of the sudden, okay, in a year you're gonna do another one. And I was extremely nervous about being able to achieve that, because what it really meant was finishing the entire thing in about six months, and then working on revisions and such. So, I did this thing based on John Irving's philosophy that you should know exactly where it ends when you start. He's a huge believer in that, and so I, based on that, I thought, okay, and I did this exercise for my own self. This three part exercise about where the scene ends. I mean, the whole book ends, those three scenes. And I did it, and I was working on that one day, and it just so happened that a friend of mine came and knocked on the door when I was just finishing up the third iteration of that ending, and I was crying. Tears were running down my face while I was writing this scene. I went to the door, and it was my friend, and she was like, are you okay? What's going on? And I said, "I don't know. I can't explain to you why I'm crying." And I told her what I had done. And she's not a writer, and she said, "Well it sounds like you know where your last scene should be. The one where you were crying." And I was like, I guess. So then I wrote the whole novel. Wrote all the way forward to that last scene. Turned the whole thing into my editor. And my editor gave me incredibly detailed feedback on the whole book, up until that last scene. And then she said, "Okay, the whole thing falls apart at this last scene." I was like, what do you mean the whole thing falls apart? That's the one. I picked it, and I wrote toward that, and whatever. And she said, "Tell me what you think is happening in this scene." And I was like, blah blah blah, this happens. All plot based, just like it resolves the plot, and whatever. And she was like, that's not what's happening in this scene. And I was like, tell me what's happening in this scene. And this is one of the reasons why I believe so much in the power of an editor, because sometimes, well like you just did for your friend, you just can't see your own thing, you know? So, she finally told me what she saw was happening in this scene, and in my ... I was on the phone with her. We'd been on the phone for four straight hours. And I started to cry again. And I was like, I don't understand why I'm so emotional about this scene. And she was the one who said to me, because it's about X. And what X was, was this father daughter thing, and this child not having her father's love, which was just a total thing in my heart, and I had no idea that that was what it had been about. I had no idea. And so, the sad news was she said, "Yeah actually, you gotta go back to the beginning and write the book that gets to that scene." (laughter) And I was like, yeah. So, I didn't know what it was until she told me what it was, and it was the only piece of the whole thing that was that. So then I had to go back and make the story fit that. And it wasn't as horrible as it sounds, because somewhere in my brain, I knew that this was what it was about. I just didn't know what it was about. And sometimes you can't know. You can only do the best you can. But I think it's just a really good example of the power of letting yourself not know. Letting yourself try, and put that target out there, and something good is gonna come from it. It usually always does. That's my story. The Only True Genius in the Family. Who knew? I had another example of a novel where the same editor, at the 11th hour, told me I had to add 100 pages. I was like, that was hard. There's so many bonus documents that come with this class. So you get the workbook, which is about 25 pages of questions. All the questions we've been going through in the course, and room to answer them. And that's what you would turn in to your coach if you purchase the feedback. It ends up being more like about 40 or 50 pages, with all these scene sketches and things baked into it. So the workbook is all the questions from this course. There's a world building template, which we spoke about a little bit earlier. All the genres that need that. And it walks you through all the questions you need to make sure you understand about your world. There are genre cheat sheets for eight major genres including memoir, sci-fi, romance, fantasy, middle grade, YA, mystery thriller, and one other. I can't remember what it is. But those genre cheat sheets give you a quick definition of the genre, the word count range, and resources for learning more. Then I included a document that I call, taking your first chapter from good to great. And it's about 30 pages of lessons on once you have a scene, and you've sketched it out, the way we talked with Laura, she's got these scenes sketched out, how do you then revise that to take it from good to great? What elements do you need to look at? What does an editor see? How can you improve that? And it walks you through all the steps to do that, so that when you do the revisions, and turn it into your coach, it's the best that you can do with that material. So, there's some very meaty, juicy downloads for this class that I hope will really help everybody. Even if you're not choosing to do the coaching, the workbook is just a great way to organize your thoughts, to get everything down on paper, to step back and look at it, to be able to analyze what you've done, to have all that in one place. When you're doing your scene, you can look back at your why, and your point, and your protagonist. So it's just a way to organize all these ideas.