Monday, September 2, 2013

Tool #39: Write Toward an Ending.

. . . Help readers close the circle of meaning.

Today I am featuring another chapter tidbit from Roy Peter Clark's book, "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer," published by Little, Brown and Company. You can find a copy here.

There are endless ways to begin and end a piece of writing, but authors rely on a small toolbox of strategies, just as musicians do.  In musical compositions, songs can build to a crescendo, or fade out, or stop short, or echo the opening.  In written compositions, the author can choose from among these, and more:

(I have listed six of the ten for you)

-Closing the circle.  The ending reminds us of the beginning by returning to an important place or by reintroducing us to a key character.

-The time frame.  The writer creates a tick-tok structure, with time advancing relentlessly.  To end the story, the writer decides what should happen last.

-The epilogue.  The story ends, but life goes on.  How many times have you wondered, after the house lights come back on, what happened next to the characters in a movie?  Readers come to care about characters in stories.  An epilogue helps satisfy their curiosity.

-Problem and solution. This common structure suggests its own ending.  The writer frames the problem at the top and then offers readers possible solutions and resolutions.

-Look to the future.  Most writing relates things that have happened in the past.  But what do people say will happen next?  What is the likely consequence of this decision or those events?

-Mobilize the reader.  A good ending can point the reader in another direction.  Attend this meeting.  Read that book.  Send an e-mail message to the senator.  Donate blood for victims of a disaster.

Roy finishes the chapter with this helpful suggestion:

I end with a warning.  Avoid endings that go on and on like a Rachmaninoff concerto or a heavy metal ballad.  Don't bury your ending.  Put your hand over the last paragraph.  Ask yourself, "What would happen if this ended here?"  Move it up another paragraph and ask the same question until you find the natural stopping place.

Get out your tools and use them to craft or edit your story in Roy's WORKSHOP:

1. Read stories, listen to music, and watch movies with endings in mind.  Pay close attention to details and themes planted early to bear fruit at the end.

2. Just for fun, take some of your recent work and and switch the beginnings and the endings.  Have you learned anything in the process?

Next week, we move into the "Useful Habits" category. . ."Draft a mission statement for your work.

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. I really like that helpful suggestion about the last paragraph. I'm going to go try that now.


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Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel