Thursday, June 21, 2012

Transformative Writing or Getting to the End

 Author S.B. Lerner is guest posting today on Straight From Hel while I'm over on Alberta Ross' blog. Lerner is the author of In The Middle of Almost and Other Stories and A Suitable Husband. She's also included in the short story anthology, The Corner Café. She grew up in and around New York City and has worked in law, business and teaching. Her passion, though, is writing.

Please welcome S.B. Lerner.

Transformative Writing or Getting to the End

I've always loved losing myself in a good novel. For me 'good' means flawed but likable characters engaged in a struggle of some kind. It means an unfamiliar setting, with enough historical accuracy that I feel I have learned something about another place or time. And I've always liked rebels. Oftentimes young rebels, although as I get older I like to see characters of any age fight their demons and grow and change.

I began writing my own novel a few years ago, after years of writing and publishing short stories. The stories were like explorations of a feeling or a moment in time, but a novel is a more complicated, plot-driven best. It required research, editing, and thinking on a grander scale. And I discovered that the act of writing a novel was equally, if not more transformative than reading those written by others. All the clichéd comments in writers’ circles about getting so lost in the story that it seems to write itself, about characters taking over and refusing to do what you tell them to do, were true, at least they were for me.

This became most clear to me when I wrote the ending.

In my first draft there was a "Lady and the Tiger" ending. My protagonist had her final chance to choose between responsibility and passion, and the reader was left (after some musing on the pros and cons)with only an ambiguous hint as to what she decides. While that ending engendered some feisty discussions among my early readers, the bottom line was that they hated it.

So I decided to write a more decisive ending and set out, fingers on keyboard, to bring my heroine to the decision I thought she should make. That was when it got strange. She didn't want to do it. As I typed, the plot moved forward in ways I hadn't anticipated, turning and twisting and ending up with her making the opposite decision. I was so perplexed that I forced myself to write it again with my ending, but when I read it over, I realized it was wooden and flat and not at all organic to my character.

So her ending won. Go figure.

Thank you, S.B.

Have your characters ever talked to you or taken control of telling their story? Did you listen to them?
(I hope you'll link over and say "hi" to me while I'm posting on  Alberta Ross' blog. I'm talking about joining forces with other writers. See you there.)


  1. Thanks for hosting me, Helen! Good luck with your new book, which sounds very interesting.

  2. Great blog piece, and I love the covers of your books. Also love the title of your collection "In the Middle of Almost" makes me want to read it.

    My characters talk to me all the time, and I do listen. It is so exciting when they come up with something that I never expected, but it works for the story. That is the thrill of writing for me.

  3. Great post! We need to have you come guest over at the Blood-Red Pencil where we talk about all things writing. Thanks, you two!

  4. I usually have some kind of idea about the ending, but the path to get can change quite a bit the more I write.
    It's fun letting it be a surprise.

    Morgan Mandel

    1. Missed a word . should be there after path.
      I hate using the iPhone for messages

  5. I wish my characters DID do the writing for me. Mine tend to sit around eating their heads off and doing their nails and, when I ask if they'd do this or that, they go, "Why are you asking ME? YOU'RE the writer." ~sigh~

    Marian Allen
    Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

  6. I love it when my characters talk in my head, although they don't often reveal the ending until it's time to write it.

  7. Sorry but my comment wouldn't take earlier. Characters take control, and I love it. Thanks for the post and for the reminder, Helen.


  8. Thanks, all! Maryann I hope you do read In he Middle of Almost and it lives up to its title!
    I'd love to visit Blood Red Pencil, Dani.
    Marian, you are too funny!
    Thanks again, Helen!

  9. Hi, S.B. I've had characters wrestle with me but I don't put up much of a fight. They always win anyway. :)
    Thanks for the post!

  10. This is great! I love reading about characters who lead you down the other path!!


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