Endings – How Important Are They?

This was really interesting, cause I usually fail at delivering the right dose of sucker punch.

Author Don Massenzio

endLast week, I talked about book openings in one of my posts. This post talks about the other end of your book, the ending. It will briefly discuss the types of endings and the importance of choosing the right one for your book.

Just_Hanging_AroundLeaving the reader hanging – is it a good idea?

Many sources will tell you not to end your book with a cliffhanger. The reader needs some satisfaction or a happy ending to complete their reading experience. In my opinion, the answer to this is not quite that simple.

As someone who has written a series, I strive to make each book capable of being read as a standalone story. There is, however, a backstory arc for my main character that continues from book to book. What I like to do is resolve the current story within the book but provide a lead in to the next…

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opening sentences

  1. “What’s with the eyes? ALL of them look like this?!” I held up the family photo album with childhood pics of my fiancé.
  2. “What did I tell you about dating dragons?” – “Uh… Not to use them to light Molotov-Cocktails?”
  3. “Darling, the fridge is doing the thing again! I’ll call the exorcist now. Hate it when the eggs try to talk me into blood sacrifice.
  4. “STOP TICKLING THE MINE! It’ll laugh and it’ll blow!”
  5. The dragon tried to slide his claw over the touchscreen of his phone. He growled but nothing happened.


Ambient Abuse: Gaslight Effect and the Diabolical Personality

This is so so so important!


*This week has been a marathon of activity in which I have accomplished much but produced little in terms of writing. Continuing ed., a precarious work schedule, and Spring Break for two of my kids have made the challenges of deadlines even more difficult to meet. My intention was to post a piece regarding Borderline Personality Disorder by week’s end. Unfortunately, that post must wait until Monday for completion. (Don’t ask… it’s complicated.) However, as a precursor to my up-coming post on BDP, I have decided to re-post a short and to-the-point piece that I wrote over a year ago regarding a manipulative tactic used by emotional abusers referred to as “The Gaslight Effect.” My hope is that the reader will gain not only knowledge of this diabolical technique but also gain effective tools of response to combat pervasive psychological warfare perpetrated by those who wish to control them and do them…

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Spiderweb of Understanding, a Puny Guide to Writing Emotions

So you made up a character you are fond of? Well done!

Let your character come to life. You know the drill: a face, a body, a CV, a past, jobs, families, friends, past lovers, nick names (cool and nasty ones), pets, favorite drinks, tattoos, scars, allergies and whatnot. The being of the character forms gradually in front of your mind’s eye. Mannerisms give a vivid stroke. Borrow them from people you know, if you must.

Almost there! Your character is fleshed out, but still a bit flat. Facts and habits do not add up to a realistic figure. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. The magic potion to add depths, is labeled – no, not unicorn tears – the character’s emotions.

Make the character damaged goods. Give them anxiety, traumas, awkwardness, short fuses, disgust with themselves/the world, or melancholy. Give them contradicting feelings. It’s even better, if you give them your contradicting feelings. Why? If it’s your heart throbbing with your past’s poison and hurt, your writing voice becomes raw, natural and authentic.

This is the delicate spiderweb of understanding between the reader and your character (and you as a writer).  That’s when the bonding begins. This fundamental comprehension of interactive emotional responses is the key to a caring reader.

e·mo·tion (ĭ-mō’shən), noun

  1. any strong agitation of thefeelings actuated byexperiencing love,hate, fear,etc., and usually accompanied bycertain physiological changes, asincreased heartbeat orrespiration, and oftenovert manifestation, as crying orshaking.
  2. in Science and Medicine: Apsychological/mental state thatarises spontaneously rather thanthrough conscious effort and issometimes accompanied byphysiological changes; a feeling
  3. Word Origin and History: 1570s, “a (social) moving, stirring, agitation,” from MiddleFrench émotion(16c.), from Old French emouvoir “stir up” (12c.), from Latinemovere“move out, remove, agitate,” from ex- “out” + movere “to move”. Sense of “strongfeeling” is first recorded 1650s; extended to any feeling by 1808.

Thanks Thesaurus, that’s kind of helpful. You noticed? The semantic use of the words emotion and feeling? Are they the same thing? Are they interchangeable? Not exactly.

The Difference: Emotion, Feeling

Antonio D’Amasio, professor of neuroscience at The University of California and author of several books on the subject, explains it as: “Feelings are mental experiences of body states, which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli. (The order of such events is: I am threatened, experience fear, and feel horror.)” – (from Thebestbrainpossible, they have lots of interesting stuff.)

The Lowest Common Denominator

If we talk about emotions, we have to talk about the twelve core emotions common in, and understood by, all humans. It’s our inbuilt basic software for recognizing, expressing emotions, our fundamental tool for communication (and deception).

Interest, Joy, Surprise, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Contempt, Self-Hostility, Fear, Shame, Shyness, andGuilt.  Isn’t that a good starting point? Twelve emotions everybody has and equally understands.

So, how do we perceive these emotions?

We observe. For those who observe for breakfast, try cold reading.

The facial play, the body language, the tension in the voice tells us far more than the actual spoken information. And that’s the way to write it.

These three components (face, body, voice) give you a whole array of descriptive information to  paint a suitable picture. You might feel tempted to carefully describe everything, or hinting too much. DON’T! Pick one or two – at most three – leading indicators, from different modalities, and let the reader work out the rest.

Why the bother?

Why is it important to have, and to understand emotions? Events occur. We perceive them. We process them. They have meaning to us, depending on our temperament, mood, personality, and motivation. Eventually we react, or act: emotionally, physically and intellectually. Molded out of our brain, our characters do the same.

Show, don’t tell. A practical guide:

  • Don’t use emotion words.

We usually call a spade a spade. That’s good in efficient conversations in business, at work, but it’s painful in a short story. Actually in any story/poem/song whatsoever. You lose your emotional momentum and impact on the reader. Is your character angry, happy or sad?

  • Example: ““He fell all by himself. Clumsy, like a child.” The other man on his right and the policeman, I gave my forms to, laughed. The smell of ethanol and urine hit me. It was a roaring filthy laugh, a laugh you laugh at a salt covered foaming snail, or at a cringing burning spider. The man on his left pulled a lighter out of his pocket. Benny whined and jerked back as far as he could. I had to swallow hard, clench my teeth, so no reaction escaped me. ” – from “The Lion Roars“, part 2, by Ramona Darabant
  • Aaaand Action!

To show how a character feels, use his/her actions. It’s maybe the easiest way. Orient yourselves on what you do, when you are angry, in love, sad, or scared. Observe others coping with their emotions. If the character is angry, show tight lips, pale face and hands balled to fists. You can try sudden forceful (unbalanced) movements too, or heavy breathing.

  • E: “From somewhere outside, they dragged Benny in, hands cuffed behind his back. He stumbled forward, face pale and bright, eyes wide, shining with terror and relief. He was scared to death. From the stains on his clothes, I could tell he had wet his pants. This was, what a man on death row looks like. Nausea greeted me. God! I had to push that thought out of my head fast.” – from “The lion roars ” part 2, by Ramona Darabant
  • Perception in Writing Emotions

Usually everyone tries to simplify complex information. We filter the unusual, the not fitting information out to create meaning. Emotions, feelings change the way we see the world, the same way. They put filters between the world and our eyes, they change the lighting and the sound. Suddenly we notice details, we never had before. Or we do not notice what’s important…

  • E:”Thick grey clouds rush down the western slope of the mountain. They soften the lights and the sounds. The wind turns the air in the tea house cold and damp. Bolin worries about the pain the coming season will bring for his father, and closes the screen door. The crickets chirp into the clacking of the whispering bamboos, but they grow tired rapidly and stop. The governor sits by the fire, lighting his pipe, listening to the hints coming from the garden. Bolin prepares the cups and the tea, pours the hot water. He hands one cup to his father, but doesn’t seem to notice the growing silence.” – from “Tiger, burning…“, part 2, by Ramona Darabant
  • Setting

Easily applicable to show the mental and psychological state of your character. It mirrors the feelings, the general mood. Prepare the stage for the plot.

  • E: “I stared out of the living room window. Snowing. I didn’t bother to switch the lights on. No need for electric light chasing away the shadows in the room. It couldn’t chase away the shadows that mattered most. The grey wooly darkness of the late winter afternoon bloomed forth into the room. My old tattered shelves went up to the ceiling. The spines of the books crowded the space on the planks. They sucked up the rest of the light seeping in.” – from “The Stain“, part 1, by Ramona Darabant
  • Dialogue

Speech patterns, pacing and the choice of words change with the emotions the character is experiencing. If the character is angry, the words are strong, mostly correct and sharp, the pacing fast, the sentences short and crisp. Words behave like bullets, hitting the target. Try to match the racing heart with the racing exchange of verbal slaps. Or let a seemingly careless slowness wind up the danger

  • E: ““Your boss says, you are a capable man. A bit soft, but capable nevertheless. We’ll see about that.” He looks at his manicured nails with interest. He nodded a tiny bit, and the men shoved Benny into my back. I felt him bump into me, grab for my jacket and going down unto his knees. The man chuckled and waved a hand. “So collect your garbage and go.”” – from “The Lion Roars“, part 2, by Ramona Darabant.
  • Now overdo it!

Humans feel. They go over the top. They are fascinating and illogical creatures. In highly emotional situations, positive and negative feelings simply override the intrinsic logic of a character. Be aware, that this also means that the character has a low ability to think things through. Make them kiss harder, break down sobbing, kick, scream, throw and break stuff, knock out some teeth.

  • PRACTICE! Practice, practice. Go do it now. Go, gogogogo.

#1 – the lion roars


The gutter dripped and the rain drops rapped hard on the kitchen window. My eyes were already open. The bedsheets felt cold and damp. The shutters in the living room rattled with the wind gusts.  I’ve been staring at the dark ceiling for nearly three hours. I sat up. Sleep was busy somewhere else.

Another rotten night.

My mind was stuck in ruminating mode. There was no point in trying to sleep. Heavy rainstorm washed over the town. So thirsty… I tried to breathe. The merry-go-round in my head kept me replaying the last two weeks, pining me to decisions, yanking me back and forth between faces and screams and tears. Decisions that were not my wisest… 

Wasn’t enough. 

I thought of the woman with begging eyes. She came into the ER, during my shift. She had fever, and severe abdominal pain. I guessed her secret right away. Her deep ocean green eyes betrayed her, I could read in them. Everyone could…  That she had attempted  abortion. Bleeding and in pain, she got down on her knees and pleaded. Immediately I got her a bed, and called a trustworthy gynecologist I knew. I trusted him to keep his mouth shut. I trusted that a human life was more important to him than law.

I was wrong.

Nevertheless, I started her on antibiotics and enough painkillers. I refused to make a blood test. If it was positive, she’d go to jail. Maybe she would anyway… If she’d survive, that is… I had Rose, the head nurse, look after her.

I cannot just watch and wait for her to die, that’s what I told her, and that’s what I told the head medic.

He stopped all medication. That bigoted windbag stopped ALL of her medication and I got sent home for a month. Rose tried to calm me down, but by God – I… I.

The oxygen left the room. Two days ago, Rose called. The woman with the begging eyes died. My skin felt dry and hot, like a heat blanket over a snowman.

There was this nagging icy feeling wrenching my guts, that I just couldn’t shrug off. I could use some peace for once – some sleep, or unconsciousness. I could use some liquid peace… I thought of the empty liquor bottles lined up in the kitchen. Vodka was sometimes your only friend. It was a reliable friend. Brushing over my  burning face, my forehead was sticky with sweat.

The phone rang. The sinking feeling sank deeper.

I got up. The cold floor burned  under my soles. I went to the hallway to pick it up, but my hand hovered above it.

Important? Work? Catastrophe? Which is it?

I asked myself. It did nothing to buffer the leaden dread sitting on my chest.

I grabbed the phone. “‘llo?”

“Comrade Hoia?” The stern voice on the end of the line felt like a brick wall I was about to smack into.

“Yes,” I swallowed. ”Who is this?” The man didn’t answer. Statics filled my head. This was a catastrophe, I decided. I heard a pen scratch on paper.

“I’ve got a young man here, a Hungarian Jew. He says, he knows you, comrade.”

Benny… What have you done this time?

Was this police or worse? Securitate? “His name is Benjamin Ekes,” yawned the man.

“Yes.” I croaked. “I know him.” My throat was stinging, I couldn’t suppress a cough. I heard a faint echo of myself coughing. They were recording the call. Securitate it was. My heart knotted.

A big drink, I rubbed my lips, a whole bottle.

“Do you, comrade Hoia?” He paused amused. “Then come and pick him up. Police station.” The man hung up.

“On my way.” I said, listening to the disconnected tone in the line. With every heartbeat it grew louder and louder. I stood in the darkness.

Pull yourself together.

I needed to get going. Who knows what they did to Benny. I grabbed some clothes and spares for Benny, gauze and disinfectant. On a second thought, I called the ER at the polyclinic I work, and had Rose on the phone. At least, some silver lining. She understood immediately what was going on. She said, she’d  had the scrubs ready, if needed. God bless good old Rose, the smartest nurse I ever worked with.

Two minutes later I was on the deserted main road, heading downtown. The rain came down in curtains. My car seemed to be the only one in the whole wide world. I lit a cigarette, and thought of all the peaceful people who could actually sleep. In their beds.

Benny needed me.

And I? I needed a drink, and a month worth of sleep.