In another life (an elementary school teacher for 35 years) I was frequently asked by my seven and eight year old students, “How much do I have to write?”
In many cases I did not restrict the length of their writing and some were happy with this. Others, however, needed the security or reassurance of a set amount of lines or pages, that is, the length their piece of writing needed to be. They needed a goal to work towards. Fair enough – I have heard adults ask very similar questions (eg “When will this meeting be finished?”).
Stop when your story is finished
I remember that quite often my reply was, hopefully not sounding too flippant in doing so, “When your story is finished you can stop.” I must admit that it was tempting to leave the poor little things hanging right there. Usually I would follow up with some individual or small group help. I’d ask questions like:
- What has happened so far?
- What happens next?
- Is there something you haven’t told the readers yet?
- How are you going to resolve the problem facing the characters?
In many cases these simple questions – or others like them – can generate a new wave of thought and ideas for where the writing was heading. Of course there will always be the one or two individuals whose creativity will need a little more coaxing and coaching. These writers need more than a life line or life jacket; they need someone to haul them into the life boat and actually start rowing for them until their confidence grows.
Where does your story end?
During the week I recorded an episode of the old television series “The Avengers”. I eagerly looked forward to watching the episode a few days later when I had some time. Imagine my dismay when the recording ended some five minutes before the end of the episode. (I hadn’t considered the possibility that the programme would be running overtime. It’s a new DVD recorder and I’m still learning the tricks of successful recording.)
Did Emma Peel escape from the killers? Will Steed come to her rescue in time? I guess I’ll never know the ending. Not knowing the ending annoys me – but I’ll live.
Some short story writers love the technique of leaving the readers dangling at the end. “What happened next?” is what I would like to know. “How did it end?” and “Did they resolve the problem?” are questions left floating in the air. That’s just me – but I do like a satisfactory ending, happy or otherwise.
Where does your story end?
I knew him only as Harry. We had never formally met. I only knew his name because Iâ€™d overheard someone call out his name. Harry was a loner; rarely did one see him with a companion. Today I was having my lunch on the riverbank. It was an escape from the office for a few precious moments.
Harry came wandering along the path muttering to himself. He stopped at a nearby bin searching for discarded drink containers.
â€œHe must be short of cash,â€ I thought. â€œI hope I never get that desperate.â€
â€œHello,â€ said Harry suddenly as he approached the bench where I was sitting. â€œIt is a beautiful day and I am so glad to be alive. Are you enjoying your lunch and the warming sunshine on your back?â€
I was in a slight state of shock and couldnâ€™t answer for a few seconds. The food in my mouth almost choked me in my astonishment. Harryâ€™s voice was deep and clear, like one suited for radio announcing or television news reading. I nodded. As I finished chewing my food I observed the raggedly dressed man who had now seated himself alongside me. His coat was torn, grubby and far too big for his slight, angular body. His shoulder length hair straggled out over the ragged collar. The dirty t-shirt hung loosely from the patched up jeans that were somehow held in place by a length of rope. The tattered sneakers appeared about two sizes too big. They had flopped along as he had approached my seat.
â€œYou must be escaping from the jungle they call an office.â€
â€œHow can you tell?â€ I asked.
â€œIt is quite obvious, my dear friend. You keep looking at your watch, and you have that look on your face as if the boss still has you on a leash.â€ He chuckled.
â€œItâ€™s not funny,â€ I retorted, piqued by his sarcastic laughter.
â€œSorry, I didnâ€™t mean to be disrespectful.â€ He sat musing for a few moments. â€œItâ€™s just that you could have been me a dozen years ago. Until.â€
â€œUntil what?â€ I asked as my curiosity began to be aroused by this enigma alongside of me. â€œWhat happened to you?â€
â€œI had a breakdown,â€ he said simply. â€œI could no longer cope with the pressure to perform. I spent over six months recovering. I hardly spoke to anyone, I hardly did a thing, I often did not getâ€¦ could not get out of bed for days. I lost my job. I lost my family. I lost my house. I basically lost everything except my clothes and a small investment.â€
â€œWhere do you live?â€
â€œI had just enough money to buy a small river shack near here. I made it quite cosy. I donâ€™t really need much. It isnâ€™t the grandiose mansion I once dreamed of but it is my castle. I have a little vegetable patch and a few fruit trees. All in all I have a wonderful lifestyle. I am totally free to enjoy wonderful days like this.â€ He smiled contentedly.
I offered him my second roll. I suddenly didnâ€™t feel so hungry.
â€œThankyou.â€ His deep blues eyes sparkled as he looked at me.
I turned and watched the ducks gliding past. An egret stalked his lunch in the shallows. Two pelicans ponderously flew downstream. A honeyeater called somewhere in the trees above. Turtledoves cooed softly from some nearby bushes.
I turned back to speak to old Harry.
He had silently slipped away.
The knot in my stomach seemed to tighten and the leash had become a noose.
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2007 Trevor W. Hampel.
This story was first published in “The Write Angle” May 2006.
I would appreciate readers’ comments and responses after reading this story.
Struts long-legged with regal gait
Around the lake.
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2007 Trevor W. Hampel
I have written quite a few Haiku poems over the years. I’ve even published a few of them here on my blog. That reminds me – I must post a few more in the coming weeks – it’s been a while since the last one.
Today I read an interesting post written by Leo Babauta, a guest blogger this week on ProBlogger. His article is called Haiku Blogging. Leo makes some very interesting and helpful suggestions on using the principles of writing haiku poetry on one’s blogging. His is certainly a sensible approach to blogging.
If you are struggling to keep up with the demands of writing on your blog, then his post is a must-read article. If the blogging life is getting you down then read the post. Haiku poems distill the bare essentials of the subject and convey those essentials succinctly and precisely. Leo explains how to use these principles in writing your blog.
Are you a writer just starting out on the wonderful adventure called “Becoming a Writer”?
If you are in the inexperienced category, I know that you will have dozens, if not hundreds, of questions to ask about writing. You may have questions about editing and rewriting your work. You may be puzzled over the strange demands of the publishing world. You may even lack confidence about your ability to use grammar correctly.
Rest easy. These days there is a growing mountain of help out there just waiting to be tapped into.
Searching the internet will turn up some excellent sites that will help you in your quest to become a better writer. This could well mean the difference between getting published and your precious manuscript vanquishing on the slush piles in publishers’ offices. Writers do not enjoy their stories or articles or novels being rejected, sometimes coming back home with unkind haste.
Writers can also tap into the resources in a rapidly growing number of books and magazines dedicated to helping them hone their skills. Many of these also plot a clear path through the minefield of getting published.
Of course, there is always the offer of help from this blog. You can do this in two ways:
- You can ask me your questions in the comments section (below each article). In this way you might be helping other people who are also wanting answers to the same questions.
- You can send me an email via my contact form and I will answer by return email. In this case only you will be able to read the answer. You can access my contact form here.
I cannot guarantee that I will know the answer to your questions, but I will try to help you.
Another place you might like to visit to find help is the Questions and Quandaries blog written by one of the editors of the Writers’ Digest. It is well worth checking out.