Congratulations to AuthorGenta! She won a copy of A Return to Arms by Sheree L. Greer.
Check it out, folks! Novelist Sheree L. Greer is here at Women and Words today to tell us a little about her writing process. She’s got a new release, A Return to Arms, and she’s giving away a copy!
Want to get in on the drawing? Drop your name into the comments section, and I’ll draw a winner this Sunday, March 13.
How Does It End? by Sheree L. Greer
When I’m working on a story or novel, I panic a little bit when I hit the middle of the book or story. I ask myself if I know what I’m doing. I ask myself if I know where I’m going. I ask myself if anything I’ve written up to that point makes any sense at all. I ask myself: How is this going to end?
Usually, I have no idea. That’s not entirely true. I have a few ideas. I have options and suggestions, hopes and plans for my characters. I can imagine an ending or two, maybe even three, but that’s a problem. It’s mayhem. It’s confusion. It’s uncertainty. And you can’t be uncertain. As a writer, you’re expected to lead the way, holding the torch as you and your readers travel the twists and turns, dark hallways and open fields that make up your story. Somebody has got to know where this journey ends, and it’s supposed to be you.
And therein lies the anxiety. I never know what to do.
In Vivid and Continuous by novelist John McNally, a good ending is described as something that should be surprising but inevitable. Surprising means to be unexpected, unanticipated, overwhelming, and shocking. Inevitable means unavoidable, preordained, and inescapable. How can anything be both of those things at the same damn time?
After writing two novels, both of which came to what I believe are surprising but inevitable endings, I can reflect on my relationship with story endings. During my MFA program, we didn’t do a lot of ending work. We focused on what took our attention—what action or scene was most compelling—and while it made for some really great character interaction and fully-realized scenes, it also contributed to a collection of middles. I can write a middle like nobody’s business! Many times, it’s the middle of the story that comes to me first. This, I think, is a direct result of my workshop study in graduate school.
With a strong middle, I go backward. I journal about the characters and try to see if I can find their motivations, their goals, their challenges, and characteristics. I try to figure out who they are. I give myself over to the process of discovering their voices and their story, the one they want me to tell, the one that got us to that high-stakes, oh-shit middle that I already wrote weeks ago.
If I do it right, I lose myself in the characters. I follow them through the twists and turns, dark hallways and open fields that make up their story. We move through the middle, and I trust them to lead me to the end. And when I do, it’s a surprise, but a surprise that makes sense, a surprise fated for us.
My latest novel, A Return to Arms, was definitely illustrative to the follow-the-character-to-the-end concept. I didn’t know how Toya, Folami, or Nina would reconcile the conflicting passions that drive them throughout the story. But I had to trust them, even when I got scared, worried, or irritated with what they wanted to do or what they wanted to say.
In essence, writing is about letting go. You have to let go of your preconceived notions and heavy-handed design for plot. Trying too hard to make a story do a certain thing or pushing too hard to make characters a certain way keeps the story and the characters from being authentic, being their own creation. You have to give yourself over to the characters and the story. You have to pass the torch and let your characters lead the way. And if you do it right, you’ll end up with an ending that surprises you and surprises the reader, even when you kinda saw it coming all along.
A Milwaukee, Wisconsin native, Sheree L. Greer hosts Oral Fixation, the longest running LGBTQ Open Mic series in Tampa Bay and founded The Kitchen Table Literary Arts Center to showcase and support the work of ancestor, elder, and contemporary women writers of color. The author of two novels, Let the Lover be and A Return to Arms, and the short story collection, Once and Future lovers, Sheree recently published a writing guide for student writers, Stop Writing Wack Essays. She teaches composition, creative writing, fiction workshop, and African American literature at St. Petersburg College in Florida.