Epiphanies: A Technique That’s Easy to Do Badly

September 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

Lots of short story writers and not a few novelists have given into the temptation to end their stories with the hero coming to a sudden realization or epiphany. If you fall into that group, then you’ll want to read David Jauss’ essay “Some Epiphanies About Epiphanies” in On Writing Fiction (Writers Digest Books, 2011).

While it may feel right to end your story in that fashion, you should be aware that it may not have the impact on the reader that you envisioned. One reason is that it’s become so common. Further, you may want to consider some of the elements of epiphanies that can undermine your intent.

Citing positive as well as negative examples from writers including Joyce, O’Connor, Chekhov, and Fitzgerald, Jauss helps us see that epiphanies can be effective if the author is conscious of the potential negatives and avoids the easy way out that epiphanies falsely promise.

This brings up a point that I think needs to be made about the emergence of self-published fiction. Critics have been howling about the poor quality of much of self-published fiction and, having sampled a number of self-published books in recent months, I tend to agree.

Because a writer can avoid having to get his/her novel past an editor, self-published writing can be weak in a number of areas, including of course avoidable errors of grammar, spelling and word use.

I see four ways that self-published authors can avoid embarrassing themselves:

1. Pay a professional editor to go through your work,
2. Find a group of serious writers who will offer honest feedback in return for your doing the same for them,
3. Take classes and attend workshops, and
4. Read not only good fiction, but also books on writing that can help you see the difference between the ordinary and the creative.

Writers who plow ahead without taking advantage of these resources are only harming themselves. Many readers will not give an author a second chance. So, while it’s tempting to skip and skimp, treat your craft and yourself with respect. Take the time to do the best job you can.

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