Inexorable and Satisfying Endings with Laura Reeve. Fiction can either introduce a new perspective or confirm a reader's beliefs. Genre fiction mostly confirms a reader's beliefs. Each genre has its own expectations for endings. Romance novels? Happy endings. Mysteries and thrillers? Find out who dunnit and how. Literary novels? Resonant endings (to be explained later).
Societally, we've been trained to expect the screenplay, three-act structure. Protagonists have to be active. --This changes according to fashion; Pride and Prejudice had an active heroine, but the demand changed to more "saintly" heroines who radiate goodness, and suddenly you get Mansfield Park.
The tone of the book should indicate the type of ending. The climactic scene should deliver emotion at the appropriate level and can't be neutral for the characters. The length of the climactic scene should be proportional to the story. In a novel, the denoument is prevents the reader from being "ridden hard and put away wet." Denouments now have to be dramatized and not full of blah blah blah, either.
Good series comes from strong, standalone books, not cliffhanger endings. Genre series are usually based on a single character or a single environment (a world, like the Darkover series); literary series can be based on character development (for example, the Rabbit series). Series are based on complex things; complexity is found in the middle of a book, so look there for ideas.
Resonance is striking chords of recognition and meaning. An exercise to help find resonance:
- Determine what the character's wish-fulfillment goal for the story would be, if it were possible.
- Now find out what the second-best possibility would be.
- Finally, write down what the bare minimum would be, what the character would settle for, if that's all she could get. This is probably the most resonant ending.
- Make sure dialogue isn't in big chunks; people tune them out. But a scene with no dialogue is hard to sell, too.
- Make description brief to give yourself more pages to tell actual story.
- Be visual. Don't say, "She wants out of her small town" in the description. Say, "There's something in her eyes that tells us she wants out" -- which is still risky, but it's something you can see.
- Start and end scenes with strong visual images.
- Allow yourself to change your script to respond to the actors' strengths.
- Take an acting class.
- Describe the moments when nothing happens. "A beat goes by. Tony's head sinks."
- Use emotional cues only if it's crucial to the plot.
- Take out most of the "beats." Let the actors do it.
Genre is how to define your book for placement in bookstores/libraries and publishers' imprints. Subgenre is how to define how your book will be packaged who your audience will be -- the cover, audience, and who you're working with in a publishing house.
SF/F accounts from 5-18% of all published fiction, depending on the year. Not many publishers handle it, which means a savvy agent is a must, even more so than for literary work, in which you have many options if your book is bounced the first twenty times. Ralan.com has a lot of good information on the SF/F marketplace.
Paranormal romance has been shaking things up. SF/F bookstores are leery of shelving it with SF -- it might scare off the male demographic, looking for ships, etc., and finding backless demon wenches. (Really? Thinks I.)
Research who's currently publishing what. Editors need to be able to visualize your book, even down to what the cover might look like. Don't resist categorizations -- it tells editors who the readers are going to be. It's just a tool.
- Hard SF. If you say you write SF, people will think Hard SF. For actual Hard SF, the packaging will be about ideas, rather than people.
- Adventure/Space Opera. Interplanetary, interstellar conflict. (Fudge science.) The covers show scenes of worlds and conflicts.
- Epic Fantasy. Not a series of stories, but a long series of books with one story. These are hard to break into, since the publisher has to make such a huge commitment.
- Traditional Fantasy. Single-title fantasy books, but otherwise the same genre as epic. The same covers as epic. --It's getting so only fantasy books can use "X of Y" as a title structure.
- Alternate History/Historical Fantasy. Both are more literary than average. Lush settings and high-quality voice are standard.
- Military SF. It doesn't have to be about war, but the POV must come from a military background.
- Contemporary Fantasy. Un-quest fantasy. Use this if you're not sure.
- Magical Realism. A literary term. A dreamlike element has been included. Literary types tend to stick to the original Latin American, 50s/60s origin and get PO'd if you misuse.
- Cyberpunk. Almost a requirement to be distopian. Not selling as much these days.
- Urban Fantasy. Contemporary fantasy based on a recognizable mythology (vamps). Not the same thing as paranormal romance, but fueled by the demand. Intentionally low entry point, that is, you don't need to know much about fantasy to get into it. You could give one to your mom.
- Horror. Often called Dark fantasy. "If you write horror, figure out what your other leg is standing on." -- Mystery, fantasy, etc.
- SF marketed as Fantasy. No magic, but it still feels like it. (Anne McCaffrey, Darkover.)
- Steampunk. Roc is throwing in steampunk fantasy now, too.
- Slipstream. The new weird. Literary fiction with cognitive dissonance. --Basically, not a lot of people have a handle on this, and it isn't a major market.
- Mundane SF. Leave out any "wink nods" of fiction, impossibilities we use to help move stories along, like time travel, interstellar travel, etc. More of a short-story category.
Keynote Speakers were the Simonsons.
I was invigorated. I was exhausted. I spent too much money on books.