C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

#NaNoWriMo: 50,000 words isn’t the end. Learn from my mistake.

Free to you Nov. 26 – 30, 2012

Crack the Indie Author Code is free to you as an ebook, Monday to Friday, Nov. 26 – Nov 30 at midnight. As National Novel Writing Month draws to a close this week, please consider picking up the book and its  follow-up, Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. Both books are packed with information and inspiration for what lies ahead, no matter where you are in your writing and publishing journey. That’s the ad, but there’s more you need to know. Learn from my mistake: Don’t stop there.

Some say there are too many books. I’m a huge fan of choice, so I say there are too many books still in drawers and forgotten on thumb drives after NaNoWriMo is complete. Sure, let it sit in a drawer so you can be realistic when you get back to it. (Have a rest and relearn your children’s names.) However, please don’t let your trip to publication end at 50,000 words.

I believe many of the books that languish after NaNoWriMo can be salvaged with revisions and editing. Okay, maybe not all of them, but many. NaNoWriMo is a fun challenge to begin the process, like a hard swim in the ocean. In braving the waves and heading straight out to sea, you complete 50,000 words or more. That’s certainly an achievement, but it’s not the finish line. You have to swim back and make it to shore. Otherwise, all your hard work is written on water. 

An incomplete manuscript niggles, doesn’t it? I know. I have several manuscripts waiting for me. I wrote for years before I began writing full-time, so I built a bank of manuscripts to return to. It’s easier to keep your head in the game when you see one manuscript through to completion. Those big books I’ve written are awfully intimidating when I go back to them to tinker. I’m afraid to lose the thread. It helps my process to be in media res, not just for the characters but for me as I write and rewrite. I will get to those books, of course. I’ll immerse myself again and get back into it, but at first it sure feels like trying to do the butterfly stroke after a long absence from swim practice. I’m always most excited about the newest project, so those books, as worthy as they will be, get pushed farther back in the drawer.

In stopping and starting, I’ve lost energy, time and money. Please learn from my mistake and see NaNoWriMo through to its logical conclusion. Keep swimming.

UPDATES

When I wrote Crack the Indie Author Code, there was a Big Six. Now, with the merger of Penguin and Random House, it’s the Big Five. As

Find tons of tips and inspiration here.

I wrote Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, Kindlegraph was the tool to autograph ebooks. Now authors can write inscriptions across publishing platforms using the update, Authorgraph. I mention these two updates not just because I want you to know the latest. I mention it because I published those two books on writing and publishing very recently. Publishing’s landscape is changing so fast, even ebooks updating before anyone can click the “Publish” button. Bookmark ChazzWrites, hit follow and keep coming back for the latest.

Speaking of the latest on changes in the publishing industry, you will certainly want to hear: the latest episode of the podcast, On The Media, from NPR. It’s called Adapt or Die. It’s an excellent summation about the year in publishing. Topics include: The myth of piracy, Amazon versus everyone, getting around Amazon, knockoff books, the bookstore battle over the Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Chef and the future of the industry.

~ Robert Chazz Chute was a martial artist when his life was still ruled by macho BS. He writes about writing and publishing, suspense and escape while making jokes to distract readers from the existential abyss that will consume us all. He likes puppies. See his author page and listen to his podcast at AllThatChazz.com.

 

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#NaNoWriMo:The mission is simple. We are not.

Find tons of tips and inspiration here.

During National Novel Writing Month, you will focus on word counts. It’s about chewing up time by filling up paper. That’s okay. That’s fine. The critics of NaNoWriMo underestimate you. They think you don’t know that this is just the first step. Strange. They know that. Why would they think you don’t know that?

Sure, there are dabblers and dilettantes and outliers who will fire off their manuscript as soon as they’ve written 50,000 lousy words. Any time a lot of people do something, there will always be those misguided people who do it very badly. But they aren’t the majority. Most of us know that first drafts aren’t our best work and we have to try harder than that. You get to make it your best, bravest stab through the work of rewriting. You have to have something to start with, on paper, to have something to revise. We know. We get it. Please don’t condemn us all.

Let’s all lighten up and know the joy of Creation. That’s the closest to godhood I’ll ever get (besides Saturday mornings when I go yell at frogs, proclaiming how much smarter I am than they could hope to be. Uh…long story. Stupid frogs.)

When you’re done, you probably share my mission: 

I want to make people laugh and think. I want to create beauty. That is all I want to do. That is all

High goals. We know it takes more than one draft to get there.

Enjoy the process.

 

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#NaNoWriMo: Evolving a series from one book

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

Readers love books in a series. Maybe when you’re done your NaNoWriMo manuscript, you may consider turning one book into several. I’m having an interesting experience with my crime novel series I thought I should share with you because it’s a new thing for me and it may be helpful to pull back the curtain on the process as it’s evolving.

Last year, I wrote a short story about Jesus Diaz, a hit man I included in my suspense collection Self-help for Stoners. The assassin I wrote about was a mature and experienced, cold-blooded sort of guy who, at the request of their soon-to-be ex wives, killed men going through divorce. Jesus (pronounced Hay-soose) knew what he was doing and was very slick. Still, things went awry in an interesting way. That was the beginning of the Hit Man Series, but I didn’t know that then.

The revelation came when I thought, I want to write a Coen brothers’ movie! Self-help for Stoners has a lot of funny stuff in it (my favorite is the funny erotica) but I wanted to write a whole novel that played with one character in a quirky way. I thought about what origins a guy like Jesus might have to make him more sympathetic. Despite what he does as an enforcer, he does not see himself as the bad guy. No bad guy does. He’s a victim and a vigilante caught in the gears of New York’s Machine (the Spanish mob).  Think of all those Coen brothers’ movies and you’ll get some of the flavor: The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing. Death always waits on the wide and easy road out of town. Perfect fit. I write about Escape. All my books and every one of my stories is ultimately about Escape. Along the way, I try to find a balance between realism and funny. People don’t get knocked out too easily in my stories, for instance. There are some bad guys who are entertainingly dumb, but nobody’s dumb just to make the plot work. Everyone has a goal that conflicts with everyone else’s motives and perspective.

“Worthy of Elmore Leonard with shades of Thomas Harris…”

The first book in the series is Bigger Than Jesus. I wanted to start the action off with a bang, so when we meet Jesus Diaz, he’s hanging off the side of a building in New York. The book reads like one long chase scene with a few sparse flashbacks to give depth to the character. Dexter is driven by psychological issues. Jesus is driven by circumstance and a need for money and delusions of grandeur. He’s obsessed with movies and wants the life he see in them. In the first book, there’s no sex but lots of violence and funny dialogue. I’d call it more gritty than gory. The story often plunges the reader into a web of deception and, because everything is seen from Jesus’ limited perspective, we only uncover the mystery of what waits in locker #408 as the Cuban hit man discovers the truth. Jesus begins his story arc as a guy who can lie well and has some skills he learned in the military, but he’s certainly no master assassin.

I watched and listened carefully for feedback before and after publication. People loved the jokes and surprises. Some thought there should be more sex and less swearing. I kept that in mind as I got into writing the second book in the series, Higher Than Jesus. I put in more jokes and surprises and yes, more sex. We discover new things about Jesus Diaz’s history. (That’s kind of a fun tip of the hat, playing with readers as they find out that Jesus has been lying to himself as well as others.)

Higher Than Jesus has a fast pace, but not quite as fast as Bigger Than Jesus. We slow down long enough for a funny and somewhat poignant chapter in which my hit man is failing at group therapy. We get into issues around addiction, too. From the first chapter, the tension slides in like a knife between ribs with a quarter twist as Jesus kills a bad guy on Christmas Day. Complications ensue around an arms deal that has national and historic ramifications. He’s learning and getting better at his job, but things still go awry.

Free on Amazon until November 23: A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

Through each book I used research and consulted with friends, one who’s ex-military and another who is a SWAT trainer. Some clever aspects of the plot turned on technical details my research supplied. As I write Hollywood Jesus, my hit man is still on the run from the mob and the FBI. The events from the first two books are by no means erased. What’s different as I write the third book in the series is Jesus’s confidence and competence. He’s still at the mercy of Murphy’s Law, but now the book includes the latest technology and techniques in espionage and counter-espionage. Jesus is a troubleshooter for a security firm, specializing in dealing with celebrity stalkers. He deals with them in very unorthodox ways, often using their own tactics against them. None of the tactics or tech is too far out there, so it’s not like a Bond movie, with Roger Moore. However, there’s a lot of very cool spy tech that’s available to anyone commercially. 

What’s the arc of the series so far?:

#1 was a pure crime adventure with dark childhood secrets driving the character and a mystery leading to escape. That whipped the action across the finish line.

#2 goes deeper into the character, but at its heart it’s hardboiled action with a chapter that drips with sex and a lot of violent action broken up by fast, witty dialogue. There’s less swearing, especially since one bad guy hardly says a word and the other sees himself as quite pure and above all that. I’m proudest of the psychological gameplay throughout, the funny chaos, the clever kills and a fight scene that actually reveals something about the character and his past instead of fighting for action’s sale alone.

#3: I’m still writing Hollywood Jesus, but I think that, though the story starts fast, the tension cranks up with more range of emotion. Yesterday, for instance, Jesus confronted a very deadly and powerful stalker to make Jesus (and the reader) understand the enormity of the danger he faces. That night, Jesus scans the audience at a comedy club for the celeb stalker as the client does her act onstage. We got a sense of why this celebrity is so special and worth protecting. I loved writing that scene because every line is from the stand up act I’ve had in my head for a while and I think it’s pretty hilarious. (I’ve been thinking about doing an open mic at Yuk Yuks sometime, so maybe I’ll try my material onstage myself before publication to see if I get the same laughs as Legs Gabrielle.)

The tech stuff in Hollywood Jesus fascinates me and always has. I’m drawing on a large library of dirty tricks, revenge fantasies and bad guy techniques I’ve researched for years. This is an amazing time to be a crime novelist. There’s so much information to draw on.

What’s stays the same among all three books so far?

The humor. One thing I share with Jesus is smart-assery, especially when in danger. Reversals and bad fortune plague Jesus, often because his plans and my plots are so elaborate and my hit man is not as smart as he thinks he is. The assassin’s character does change through the books. By the third, he’s wary of falling in love too quickly, which is a fatal flaw with him. He begins to see himself differently by the end of the second book so, though he’s always been clever, by the opening of Hollywood, he’s more proactive and in control…or so he thinks.

Things are rarely as they appear in the Hit Man Series. I have an outline, but I’m not sure of all the details of what’s coming. For Jesus, I’m more of a pantser than a plotter. I can’t wait to see what he does about what I throw at him tomorrow.

Grab Higher Than Jesus before midnight, Friday, November 23rd

and it’s free!

(There’s an intriguing offer for more free ebooks inside and, fair warning, all the prices will be going up soon.)

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes hardboiled suspense with quirky twists. He’s also written two books about writing and publishing: Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire.

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#NaNoWriMo: You’re tired. Dream some more.

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks.

Writers are a tribe bound together in loose nomadic groups travelling in the same direction along parallel lines. We are  slathered in poverty and fear and unrealistic hopes. But we are also sharers and people pleasers. We are the dreamers.

If you are a writer, someone in your life is trying to wake you from your dream: You are a child lost and frantic in a busy marketplace and that chasing frenzy will pull you from sleep’s safety. Readers are beautiful objects of desire but your love is unrequited. You have disappointed yourself and fallen into the gap between the great vision you saw from far away and the lesser book you crafted with your hands. Everyone falls short, but nomads keep moving. Writers continue to stretch and reach. Sometimes you will curse your blessing and you will wake, startled and disoriented and blocked. Go back to sleep.

Stay asleep and dream. Burrow down under the blankets. Pull the quilt over your head. Some people — busy but still somehow accomplishing little or nothing — can’t bear to see someone warm and comfortable. Busy people in busyness are blind to your mind. They can’t see that you are happily occupied in Creation, elsewhere and elsewhen. We are Zen masters, actively doing nothing for a larger cause that awaits us in paper and pixels. New futures demand that you be different.

Write and, when you run out of space in your dreams, read to make more room for the next night’s escape. You have the creative virus. Those who would wake you from your dreams can’t understand the compulsion your disease insists upon.

Write and make worlds. Your dreams are important. Never doubt that. Your night work is important because we are the creators of escapes from the waking world and busyness.

Writing, above all, is a kind thing to do.

 

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#NaNoWriMo: Tools to get you back on track & stay inspired

Right about now, if you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, you’re feeling a little tired and you have two complaints: Where do I take my story from here and how can I better manage my time to meet my writing goals?

I can help. First, here’s a link to my guest post on Masquerade Crew today. This excerpt from my book, Crack the Indie Author Code, is an easy, fun and  genuinely intuitive exercise that will turbocharge your NaNoWriMo efforts and make your manuscript fresh. I call the strategy my Trio approach to story creation. You’ll love it and your readers will, too.

And now your free time management tool: The SlimTimer. I found it through The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick. (With all those Star Wars jokes and references in my books, you must have guessed my nerd secret, huh?) This tool will help you track your activities and find time. Only what is measured can be improved. Measure your day with this timer.  Then make time you didn’t know you had, get back on track and stay on track.

Crack the Indie Author Code is Book One. Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire is Book Two in my series on writing and publishing. For fresh inspiration, I offer this uber cool image to motivate you to persist with writing your book so you, too, can have a cool ad like this!

Click the image to get Higher Than Jesus

Often when we think of graphic designers, we only think about book covers. Kit Foster from KitFosterDesign.com sent me this ad this morning. I’m using the white variation above in the Orangeberry book tour. Pretty cool, huh? Kit is not only an author and the sponsor of the All That Chazz podcast, he’s also an amazing designer. He does book covers, web banners, Quote Art and much more. If you have a podcast, you need art. If you need an ad, check out Kit’s portfolio and go get help. Great images grab eyeballs.

Graphic designers can do more than just book covers. Kit is a great consultant. For instance, it was he who suggested that I add a tag line to my covers using the ten commandments to reflect some aspect of the plots through the series. In Bigger Than Jesus, it was “Thou shalt not steal.” In Higher Than Jesus, it’s “Thou shalt not kill.” In the next book, Hollywood Jesus, it’s “Thou shalt not covet.” That tweak added a lot to the look and tone I wanted to achieve. Tweak your covers. Don’t let them lie there, weak and ugly.

I’m so excited about how my books are turning out (which explains how linktastic I am today), I want you to be excited about your books, too. Go write one.

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#NaNoWriMo Tip: How to blast out of the gate

Find tons more tips and inspiration here.

As you write your manuscript, grab your readers by the eyeballs right away. Here’s how:

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

1. Start late and bait the hook. When writing guides say, “Come in late,” they mean to bring the reader into the action quickly without throat clearing. Stick your media in the res.

2. “Throat clearing” means  focussing the back story and distractions more than the action. (Usually weak first draft paragraphs tarry too long over the weather, flora and fauna.)

3. Instead of taking too long to set the scene, let character be revealed through action and dialogue.

4. Look for the unusual and strong verbs in to give your hook strong bait.

5. Preserve mystery to pull readers in. Don’t give it all away at once. For instance, if your protagonist is chasing someone through a dark warehouse in your opening paragraph, don’t tell me she is FBI right away. Focus on the pursuit and the danger around the next corner. Let the details leak through. It’s much more intriguing to have a woman chasing a bad guy when you don’t know right away that she’s on the righteous side of justice, has a ton of training and resources and her back up is on the way.

Free to download Nov 5 to Nov 9, 2012.

Here’s my opening to Bigger Than Jesus (which, ahem, happens to be free to download here from Monday, November 5 to Friday Nov. 9.)

Water drips from the soot-black gargoyle’s tongue like thin saliva, as if the grotesque statue is mocking you and eager for blood. Panama Bob Lima clings to the gargoyle, using it as a shield. You are on a thin ledge on the side of a very high building and for once you wish you wore your Nikes instead of twelve-hundred dollar Tanino Crisci shoes. So far, this job is not going at all as planned.

Rationale: A mood is set in an unusual situation. Weather (the water through the gargoyle) is mentioned because it’s relevant to the danger the protagonist faces and we get a taste of the crazy to come. The second-person, present tense brings the reader into the middle of the action and provides immediacy. The second-person present tense and reference to the ominous gargoyle is purposely disorienting in the first sentence, just as the threat of the long fall is dizzying. It’s an opening that poses questions: What is the job and why the pricey shoes? The protagonist is probably not there to help since Panama Bob uses the gargoyle as a “shield”. The opening tells the reader they can expect a fast pace and the ironic last line is a clue that the story won’t be told straight. Dry humor is ahead.

6. Open every chapter with a baited hook and action. Give readers action that propels and compels and you’re on your way to a better book.

Higher Than Jesus, the follow-up to Bigger Than Jesus, is available here.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of five books of suspense and two writing guides that, if you’re reading this far into this blog, you obviously need. They are Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. Check out all of Chazz’s books here.

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#NaNoWriMo: The key tip to write a much better book

When we plunge into writing a book, there’s lots of enthusiasm on the front end of the challenge. But how will we fill all those pages, especially in that saggy middle where we really don’t know exactly what’s going to happen? How will we give our story verisimilitude? How will we make readers care about our characters and give the book depth? Where will all the conflict come from? How will we sustain our enthusiasm all the way to the end of NaNoWriMo?

There is a solution that many writers shy away from to their detriment. They want their protagonists to be likeable so they make them Christlike figures. This saps a lot of juice from your book. Here’s why you must make your characters more flawed:

1. With flawed characters, there’s much more to write about. A former writer on Seinfeld said recently that stories that focussed on Jerry were always the hardest to write because he had the fewest flaws. George and Kramer and Elaine had plenty of neuroses and quirks, so that allowed the writers plenty of material with which to play. Give your detective an obsession or a hobby that doesn’t help him. Nero Wolfe had the orchids upstairs. Monk has OCD. Everybody has a blind spot or maybe even a fatal flaw that your plot can turn on.

2. Flawed characters have an interesting past that has a bearing on the present and future. My hit man in Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Then Jesus was abducted and abused as a child. Those scars interfere with his love life now. He wears very expensive suits and can’t stand to have sex without his clothes on because he has emotional scars. He also doesn’t want a lover to see the physical scars across his chest. His psychological quirks go deep, dealing with PTSD, addiction and his relationships with women. He falls in love too quickly always searching for a woman he can idolize and worship. Or is he really looking for mom?One of my favorite chapters in Higher Than Jesus is the one in which my hit man goes to group therapy (and fails miserably at it.)

You don’t want to stop your narrative cold with flashbacks too often, but if you can weave those flashbacks into the story well — and if those flashbacks are compelling enough — you’ve got a tool to give your readers a much richer story.

3. Flawed characters create tension. Your plot should spring from character. For instance, Jesus Diaz is prideful. If there’s a problem, he feels he has to handle it. Other circumstances conspire to make him feel he can’t simply call the police to handle his issues, but his resolve is key to that plot point. Higher Than Jesus would be at least a third shorter if Jesus solved problems the same way normal people solve problems.

4. Flawed characters have more conflict with their world. Jesus has a hard time relating to anyone else as a “boss”, for instance. He’s not a guy who is meant for the 9 – 5 world, especially with his limited skill sets in finding people, his inability to work in law enforcement because of his shady history and the creative uses he finds for super glue. Tension and heat increase from friction so be mean to your protagonist and make at least some of his problems his own damn fault.

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

5. Readers relate to flawed characters. A novice writer asked me to read a chapter from her paranormal romance. The hero was very heroic — blandly so — and had an impossibly heroic name. The heroine was everything you’d expect from a heroine and more. They’d never done anything wrong and never would. They were always right, always predictable and always relatively safe because they were amazingly capable. Meanwhile, most readers think they should get to the gym today and most of us won’t make it. When you write your hero as if he’s Superman, he’s boring and you have a book the length of a comic book with just as much believability. Go Batman. In the ’60s comics, he was written as The World’s Greatest Detective, kind of Sherlock Holmes in a cowl with a cool car. The character’s real surge came when writer Frank Miller tuned into the underlying subtext of Batman’s vibe: He’s a billionaire with Daddy issues who trains himself to become a psychotic badass vigilante who won’t kill, but he’s no boy scout, either. That’s much more interesting than relentless virtue.

My hit man is obsessed with movies (just like me). Movies are our society’s touchstone, so Jesus has seen the same movies you’ve seen and sees the world through that Hollywood prism. He not only wants the Happily Ever After ending; he thinks he deserves it. Through movies, I make readers share a common interest and knowledge base with a hit man.

Consider Elmore Leonard’s characters: They’re often a bunch of criminals doing crazy things you’d never do, but some of their traits remind you of your crazy, racist Uncle Larry or that nutty girl you shared a room with in second semester before she dropped out to go to Art School. Flawed characters are people we know and believe because we’re surrounded by people who are flawed.

Resist the urge to make your characters better than human. In fact, we’ll like and believe them more if they aren’t perfect.

For more tips, inspiration and motivation for National Novel Writing Month, check out Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, on sale now.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Crack the Indie Author Code, Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, Self-help for Stoners, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit).

BONUS:

A fresh podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com which explains how you can get free ebooks. 

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#NanoWriMo Tip: How to finish with a flourish

Jodi McMaster asked a great question: Got any tips on how to approach endings? As a matter of fact, I do! I talk about story arcs and related whatnot in the writing guides, but here’s my take:

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

1. Some people think you have to have happy endings. I prefer satisfying endings. A satisfying ending isn’t necessarily a happy one, but it should be generally perceived as an inevitable ending in retrospect. Surprising, yet logical and inevitable when you look back on it. That’s the ticket to reader happiness. It’s a tough order to fill, but it works every time when you do it right.

2. I love surprise endings. Twist endings are shunned in some literary circles, but the readers in those circles are squares. I once read a literary critic sneer at surprise endings as “too, too O. Henry.” Oh, please. “Too” O. Henry? As in the guy who wrote some of the most memorable, popular and enjoyed fiction of his time and beyond? It’s not a cheap ending if it’s logical and entertaining. Do that and nobody minds a surprise ending.

3. No cheap tricks, such as “And then the little girl fell out of bed and realized it was all a dream.” A really bad movie called Wisdom with Emilio Estevez did something like that. It was not wise and that’s why you’ve never heard of that movie, unless some unfortunate movie goer was speaking about lousy films on which to spit.

4. Readers should not be puzzled with your ending. If you’ve read a bunch of winning short story contest entries at some pretentious lit mag, you’ve read this sort of ending. It’s the nebulous ending favored by some very expensive MFA programs. It’s the sort of ending that’s so vague, it’s unsatisfying or downright opaque. You read it and reread and wonder if there’s any meaning behind that poetic last paragraph? Then you wonder if you just had a stroke and that’s why you can’t figure out what the heck the author is trying to say. Annoying. You can have intriguing endings. You can’t have loose ends that read like a quantum physics equation.

For Higher Than Jesus, my first ending was clear-ish. One of my beta team told me to make it more explicit and less poetic because that’s the last impression the reader gets before they go write a review. He was right so I rewrote the last paragraph for more of a punch between the eyes.

5. It should be an ending but you can hint that there’s more to come. I love leaving the door open a little. When readers invest themselves in a character, it kind of hurts to say goodbye to them. Characters should be so rich that the reader feels that the heroine’s and hero’s story will continue beyond the life recorded in the book. Hope for more from your characters in the future is uplifting. It can also uplift your sales when you turn one book into a series.

6. If you’ve got a too-easy ending, think about it longer. At the end of Casablanca — a movie I love — there aren’t any Nazis at the plane checking travel documents, the point the structure of the movie turned on. They could have wrung a little more tension out of that final plot point if there was some question of an external factor keeping Ilsa and Victor from getting on the plane, too.

7. Don’t stay too long saying goodbye. This is the dreaded viscous ending. Think of the last Lord of the Rings movie. It didn’t have one ending. It had five endings that dragged on and on. This was meant to appease lovers of the book. It made my butt numb in the movie theatre. Instead, hit your last power peak in the story and opt for the short dénouement. (Note that the end of the trilogy had a little of Casablanca’s plot niggle, too: Why all the walking when you can ride a giant eagle and zip back to the Shire in no time?)

8. Be very careful about killing off your protagonist. It’s a lot to ask of a reader to go through a whole book cheering for a character and killing them off at the end anyway. (See Point #1 again.) Remember how everybody hated Alien 3? There was lots to hate, but consider (spoiler alert) that after rooting for the little girl to live all through Alien 2, she dies in her cryotube at the beginning of Alien 3. It wasn’t a great start and it did not get better. Why? Because the audience was cheated of their earlier victory. It’s not that you can’t kill off a protagonist, but be smart about it and give the reader a payoff to make the sacrifice worth it. If you’re going to kill off Bruce Willis on an asteroid in Armageddon,  for instance, it better serve the cause of saving the planet from said asteroid. (This was back when Bruce Willis was more popular. We’re okay with killing him off earlier in the show now.)

9. More specifically to Jodi’s question: Great endings and great books spring from character. What does the protagonist want? Are they  worthy of that goal? As we make the reader care and amp up the tension along the way, the story is all about the obstacles in the protagonist’s way. When we’re through the obstacles, failures and reversals of fortune, have they won the day? Does the hero or heroine mourn the sacrifice it took to get them to end of the story but at least reach a higher level (e.g. wiser, stronger, redemption, making the family unit whole, saving the world, saving themselves, vanquishing their enemies, winning love etc.,…)? The protagonist doesn’t have to meet all their goals to provide a satisfying ending, but for the reader to be satisfied, they should feel that the trip was worth the time and the stakes were high enough.

Another example from movies  (and a spoiler alert ahead): Michael Keaton is awesome in the film Clean and Sober. However, as good as Keaton is in the drama, the ending is unsatisfying. It ends with Keaton declaring his first days of sobriety, but it doesn’t feel like he’s really earned the achievement. He goes through a lot, yes, but it seems like he gets sober through an unlikely inability to get his hands on any drugs rather than an act of will and discipline. Sobriety is something that happens to him, not something he went out and did or didn’t do. Heroes own the locus of control. That’s why everyone’s a sucker for a training montage in any sports movie.

10. The clue to a great ending is often hinted at in the beginning of the book. Your opening is a statement of the core problems the protagonist faces. Your ending is the solution to whatever that problem is. At the opening of Higher Than Jesus, I’ve got my hit man, Jesus Diaz, about to kill a guy in a sleazy after-hours joint in Chicago on Christmas Day. Jesus needs money and he has to get rid of the bad guy. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that at the end of Higher Than Jesus, he’s clearer about his own character and why he does what he does. The payoff is wisdom and growth and…much more I can’t tell you.

My first clues to great endings were in reading Esquire magazine. Any great magazine article saves a little punch at the end. (Newspapers use the inverse pyramid model, so all the good stuff it’s up top and they edit coarsely by cutting from the bottom.) Magazine pieces always end on a strong note. It can be ironic or funny or powerful or triumphant or geared to make you cry. Read a bunch of those articles and then compare that feeling to the feeling you get at the end of your book. If you have a similar tickle in your brain and pull at your heart, you’ve got a memorable ending with punch.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of two writing guides: Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. They aren’t your Grampy’s and Grammy’s guides to writing and publishing. Lots more inspiration, zero scolding and tons of ideas and motivation for writing your books to completion. (“To completion” is not an orgasm joke. That’s a terrible euphemism. Don’t use that!)

 

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My crucial brain hack to win #NaNoWriMo

There’s a trick I use for problem-solving, plot twists, brainstorming and inspiration that really works. (I blogged about it long ago, but it’s so powerful, it bears repeating and you probably haven’t seen it.)  This writing tip will be especially useful to you if you’re a pantser, but plotters can use it, too.

I wrote Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus (each over 60-some thousand words in about a month for the first drafts) using the hypnogogic state. I wrote these thrillers chapter by chapter, covering at least a couple of thousand words a day. Most nights I went to bed not knowing what adventures and twists my hit man, Jesus Diaz, would face in the morning.

If you’ve read the books, you know  it’s always something surprising. Things go well and things go awry (mostly awry) in clever, unexpected ways. Getting into the hypnogogic state is not hypnosis per se, but this technique does access a state of mind that’s particularly useful for writers, especially during National Novel Writing Month where you need a lot of cool ideas in a short time.

To access the hypnogogic state for greater creativity:

STEP 1: Just before I go to sleep, I plant the seed. What question do I want answered in the morning? (e.g. What will happen to my Cuban hit man in the next chapter? How will he get off that cliff he’s hanging from?)

STEP 2: Go to sleep. No light in the bedroom, no TV. Beds are for sex and sleeping and that’s all. Turn your clock face away so the big glowing red numbers don’t taunt you. Avoid stimulants, alcohol and exercise late in the day. The magnesium in mineral water can help you relax, but don’t drink so much you’re up peeing all night. Do whatever you normally do to achieve a good night’s sleep.

STEP 3: Wake up slow. It’s far preferable if you do not wake to an alarm clock. The time between sleeping and waking is a precious time and you want to prolong it. (That’s what all that great stuff in Step 2 is about, so you don’t need to wake to alarm bells.)

In that time between sleeping, dreaming and waking? That is where you will access your creative genius and, as you slowly swim up to consciousness, ask yourself: What’s the answer? The answer will come to you in that special, relaxed state.

Sounds too simple doesn’t it? It works for me every night and every morning.

~For more writing tips, inspiration and motivation for your journey from keyboard to publishing, pick up Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire by Robert Chazz Chute. Chazz — a former newspaper journalist, magazine columnist and insider in traditional publishing — now has seven books for sale.

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NaNoWriMo: My crucial mistake

The first time I tried National Novel Writing Month, I did a lot right but I did one crucial thing wrong. 

What went right:

1. I created a loose outline before NaNoWriMo started so I wouldn’t write myself into too many corners and dead ends.

2. I planned my calendar and even reserved babysitters to make sure I had enough time to write.

3. I wrote more than the bare minimum each day (1,666 words) so I got ahead of my word count goal early. You don’t want to derail your NaNoWriMo challenge just because you had the flu for a few days or other work demands pulled you away unexpectedly. 

The crucial mistake:

It’s okay to paste in the broad strokes to fill in later (e.g. “insert awesome sex scene here” or “this is the chapter where little Bobby discovers he can crush badger skulls with the power of his mind.”)

However, as I reached 50,000 words, I stopped short. I didn’t write the last scene before typing “The End”. Later, when I returned to my manuscript to revise and edit, the magic momentum was gone. The missing end sucked my enthusiasm for the project. NaNoWriMo is a sprint and it feels great to cross that finish line. Fifty-thousand words isn’t the only finish line. Build the skeleton of the entire book and you’ll have something more solid to work with when you’re done.

For more on National Novel Writing Month and brainstorming tips, tricks and inspiration to carry you to the end, get my new book, Crack the Indie Author Code.

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

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Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

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"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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