Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And now we come to the end. Or - This is the end. Or - This story is now ending. Or...

“Leave well enough alone.” – my mother
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” -- my husband
“Remember to stop while it’s still fun.” – my son’s preschool teacher

A writer in a workshop was frustrated because she felt unable to write a satisfying ending for her nonfiction. Hers were some of the common mistakes writers make when it comes to endings, such as…wrapping things up a little too neatly…overwriting and explaining too much…forcing the material to come “full circle"…fitting in that one really terrific line which just doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else…sticking on a tagged ending which screams “and the lesson is…”

This was really holding her back, and rather than a lengthy discussion about how to craft endings, I wanted to give her some tips she could put into action quickly, because if you always feel every piece has no ending, it's difficult to move on.

So here are three really great “tricks” I find myself returning to when it comes to nonfiction endings. Each has served me well.

1. Don’t end, just stop. (This is not an attempt to be cute. When exhausted by the topic, stop writing and don't try to craft a perfect ending.)
2. Stop tinkering. (What’s on the page may actually already be working.)
3. Lop off the final sentence or final paragraph (or two). This is one of the best pieces of advice I received from a one-time writing mentor of mine, Joyce Maynard. Over and over, I find I’ve already written a pretty good ending, but it’s usually about 50 words or so above the final line.

Next time you are stuck – or more precisely, can’t seem to find a sticking point – try one, or all, of the above. What are your tricks or techniques for endings?

1 comment:

Jenny said...

I love advice #3. I workshopped an essay recently and the teacher was like, it ends here (4 sentences back). It was the perfect last line, but I didn't see it that way at first.