When writers should trust their gut.
In the process of writing my latest project, a sci-fi novella, I came across a problem I’ve never encountered before. I flew through the first part of the story, giving life to my characters and manipulating them into the situation that would become the climax of the adventure story. Then I came to the final chapter. The work was nearly done, the story ready to be wrapped up. The story, however, refused to cooperate with my vision. After three distinct revisions of the final chapter my beta reader put her foot down. She said, “No! This is not the way this story should go, and you know it!”
Of course, I pretended to be shocked, but I did understand what she meant. I knew deep down, even as I was writing the chapter, that everything I was writing was wrong. So why was I writing it? It would be easy to tell you that I felt pressured to make the story end a certain way. The truth is, the only person putting pressure on me to finish this story in a certain way was me. Why would I feel the need to make my story into something it truly wasn’t?
Well, the answer to that question is three fold.
#1. Industry expectations. I come from a world of romance readers. I am a voracious romance reader. I have written romance novels since my hands could form words into sentences. When I sit at my computer to write a story my brain naturally goes to the question: “Where does the romance fit in?” So, even though I knew starting off that this novella would have faint, if any, romance, I also knew that there would end up being some romance in it. With that in mind I began to worry about how my HEA would fit into the story. Subconsciously, I began to manipulate the story to fit into the romance reader expectation of a happily-ever-after scenario.
#2. Personal expectation. As a reader there are certain types of stories that touch my heart more than others. When I have emotional connections with characters and their journey I have a better connection to the story as a whole. When I write my own stories I expect them to have that character development that will allow my readers to connect with my characters. Even though this story was character-centric, it was also about the galaxy and the state of the empires within in. By trying to manipulate the story to my own preferences I actually lost some of the powerful world-building opportunities that would have made my story better.
#3. I want what I want. I am the author. I can make this story do whatever I want it to do. Right? In the norm, I’d answer yes. But with this story, when I began on one path and later diverged toward another, I actually wrote myself directly into a corner. I had created a conflict with a high-action, character-driven conclusion, but I pulled away from the natural evolution of the story to try to make it fit into a pre-conceived mold rather than allowing it to evolve naturally and end organically.
So what does this mean? As authors we are motivated by a need to create. We want to bring our worlds to life and allow readers to visit every time they open the cover. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies. The pressure to create a story that fits inside the industry expectation, our own preconceived notions of what the story “should be”, and the idea that we are the supreme being who makes the story do what we want sometimes ends up landing us in a tangle at the end of the story. It landed me there! My last and (hopefully) final revision of the story will erase all those convoluted ideas of how the story “should” end, and allow it to come naturally to a close. I could* have gone back to the beginning of the story and re-worked it to match the ending, but it seemed like I had created the story that way for a reason. By trying to manipulate the ending to fit my (sometimes limiting) need for romance and twists, I actually ended up undermining all the hard word I’d done in the beginning of the story.
The take away from my struggle? Trust your gut! Don’t let your head tell you a story “should” end this way, when all along it’s been speeding naturally toward a different conclusion. Being clever is great, but sometimes it gets us in more trouble than we bargained for!
AR DeClerck grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, USA. She currently resides in the Quad Cities, IL with her husband and two daughters. She writes adventure romance in many sub-genres including fantasy, scifi, and steampunk.