Three weeks ago, Scott talked about choosing a title for your book, and last week I talked about the importance of making sure your title and cover complement each other. Before I get into this week’s topic, I want to summarize the steps to choosing a strong title.
I’ve heard it said that a good book title will usually write itself and that you just have to find where it’s hiding.
When trying to coax out that hiding title, consider these questions:
What is the PRIMARY story element?
What type of reader do you most expect would want to read it?
Does the title clearly represent the novel? Does it intrigue and invite a closer look? Is it a compelling title?
Once you have a prospective title, objectively ask yourself all the ways it might be interpreted or misinterpreted. Check out the title on Amazon to see what other books (and types) might already using it and which yours might be confused with. (Example: “No Greater Love” has been used for both romance and Christian inspirational books.)
Rethink and rework until it feels right and fits the book. Don’t overthink it, be careful of outside opinions, and don’t try to please everyone.
With that done, let’s move on to this week’s topic about another mistake I often see writers making.
A few weeks back (March 13) I talked about the #1 writing mistake of starting a story in the wrong place and failing to grab your reader because of it. The cover and promo synopsis are important to grabbing a potential reader’s attention. Once you have those, you must make the reader want to read more, and that’s where you need a strong opening.
Let’s say you’ve done your job in that regard and make the sale. But it doesn’t stop with one sale. Your story must keep the reader interested to the end, and that hopefully leads to sales of your other books and recommendations to other readers.
If a story sags in the middle or drags on, you risk the reader never getting to your ending. Middles are the fodder for another blog down the road.
Once your reader has made it to the end, you don’t want him to regret reading the book. A strong ending that leaves the story sticking in his head is precisely what you do want. Therefore, a strong, memorable ending is important. Is your ending strong enough?
One of the biggest writing mistakes my wife and I encounter in submissions to our magazine, Fabula Argentea, is a weak ending. Weak endings come in three basic forms: a disappointing one, a confusing one, and one that leaves the story incomplete.
By a disappointing ending, I do not mean one that it’s an unhappy ending. What I mean is that the ending fits the story, one that’s almost inevitable given how the story progressed, one that’s meant to be. It’s okay for the hero or a main character to die if his death serves a greater purpose. And there’s nothing wrong with surprise endings as long as they don’t come out of nowhere.
SIDE NOTE: I’ve seen stories that are basically nothing more than a lead up to a surprise ending, in other words, a bland story except for the ending.
A confusing ending is one where the reader has no clue what it means or that makes no sense in the story. The reader is left with “Huh?” in his mind.
I see incomplete endings in some literary pieces where the author is trying to make a point or explore some topic and the ending is a non-ending. When the author has run out of words or feels he’s done, he simply stops. There’s no resolution and nothing to link back to the opening. In some of these, the rest of the story was not all that strong, but in others is was a good story that simply lacked a good ending. Perhaps the author simply didn’t know how to end the story and just came to what he or she considered a good stopping point.
What if “The Wizard of Oz” ended with Dorothy stuck in Oz? What if it had ended like this: “Dorothy tried using the ruby slippers to wish herself back home, as Glinda had told her to do, but it didn’t work. Somehow the slippers had lost their power.”
If the book had ended that way, most readers would not have been happy with it. Yet I have seen stories end in a similar manner. They just stop. That said, though, there’s a difference between an ineffective ending and an incomplete one, as if the author just couldn’t come up with a good ending.
Not all stories need to be wrapped up. As long as it feels as if it has an ending and that ending resonates with the reader, then it’s probably fine. In any case, the story should feel fully crafted to the reader, not something the author seemed too lazy to finish properly or gave up on then decided it was okay as written.
Once you’ve convinced someone to purchase and read your book, if the ending disappoints, you’ll not only not sell another of your books to that reader, but that reader won’t recommend yours to anyone else, and you will have suffered at least a double loss.
Make sure your ending is at least as strong as the rest of the book. The best stories, in my view, should be strong from start to finish and have an ending even better than the rest of the story.