Bending the Rules

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As I was writing an Amazon review for a book I read this week, something told me to reread the epilogue—this time with a critical eye.

I found that here, unlike in the rest of the book, the author predominantly used telling. Even though has been a big “no no” for a long time, I am not against it being done in an epilogue. After all, the purpose of an epilogue is to tell what happened after the story and tie up loose ends. 

I, personally, don’t use telling in my epilogues, but I don’t see the harm in it. 

I do often use telling in my characters’ direct thoughts, however. After all, when I think my thoughts, I don’t censure them and make sure they are showing, not telling. I bet you don’t either. 

As authors, all of our writing should be as authentic as possible. That includes the thoughts of our characters. So, with that in mind, it should be perfectly fine to write something as direct as: I don’t know why I should even care what my cousin thinks. He lies about me and talks behind my back. He has always been nothing but trouble.

As long as it is clear that our character is thinking direct thoughts, telling should be permissible.

Finally, writing in the first person can also allow for bending the rule. The case may be made that this POV is largely internal thoughts and, as such, should allow for some telling.

However, epilogues, direct thoughts, and first person POV are the only instances in which our “show, don’t tell” rule can be broken. 

Remember, showing is always more exciting and should be given preference whenever possible.

Mile Posts Along the Way

 

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Even the best books can seem unending unless they are broken up somehow so that there are little mile posts along the way…

We have talked before about separating our stories into chapters of varying lengths, with 20 pages being about average. Giving them titles is not necessary, but if done cleverly, they can add an element of interest.

We’ve reviewed Prologues (pre-stories telling about past events that are necessarily revealed in order to understand the present book); Epilogues (more rarely used than Prologues) that add something to the story or are used to segue into the next book in a series.

Let’s touch on the question of dividing a story into “PARTS.” 

In my reading, I have found that these designations can be used to divide radically different sections of a book and/or sudden changes in time, place, or narrators. For instance, The Early Years, Middle Years, Later Years; London, New York, The Bahamas; Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter; and so on. 

If you are writing an extremely long story, you may want to consider dividing your book into parts. You may also consider shortening it by making it a book in a series.

I got my idea for the Simon Says series from readers who wanted more about their favorite characters. So, each of the main characters is the focus of a book and each book is named after a children’s game: Simon Says (the original book) is the story of Marcus; Truth or Dare is actually Simon’s story; Tug of War has Ed as its main character; and Cat’s Cradle will be Mary’s (sometime in 2021).

If you are aware of other ways to divide stories, please share!

When Is The End Not Really “The End”?

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I just finished writing the last chapter of book three in my Simon Says series.  In my mind, I write the words “THE END” just like authors used to do (on paper) decades ago.

But when is “THE END” of a book not really “THE END”?

The way I view it, if your book is part of a series, then only the last book in that series can claim that declaration.

So, how should each book within the series “end”?

The end should be satisfying and feel like a conclusion, but then I suggest using the Epilogue to give hints of what is to come in the next book in the series.

The reader should be enticed to keep reading, but they should also feel confident that if they don’t, the current book has concluded in the best way possible.

I use the Prologue to introduce Book One and its Epilogue to segue into the second book and so on through out the entire series. 

When the last book is written, its Epilogue may have a little more of a finish than the others, but personally, I like leave the door slightly ajar, so that if I want to pick up the story again and write another book in the future, I can do so.

A Lasting Impression

 

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As promised, this week we will hash out the last of the information I’ve come across regarding the use of epilogues.

The consensus seems to be that an epilogue only be written if one’s story isn’t complete without it—if it adds value to the book that exists outside of the main story.

Remember what we said last week: an epilogue is like bumping into an old friend years later and catching up. It answers the question of just what they have been up to and can even “suggest” what things might be like in the future.

The decision of whether to write an epilogue—or not—comes down to deciding what lasting impression you want to leave on your reader.

It should give positive emotional impact. For instance, if the ending was less-than-happy, a positive epilogue could be used to reassure the reader that the character(s) do, indeed, end up all right…that the decisions they made were the correct ones, after all.

If you have a valid reason for keeping the information out of your last chapter, then by all means, go ahead and write it.

But, if the information in the epilogue is CRUCIAL to your story, you need to include it in the final chapter, instead.