These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.
[Since I’m working full-time for the next 4 – 6 weeks, this lesson is a slightly revised repost of one that I posted here in 2010. Since most of the people who have been stopping by these lessons recently are newer to FaithWriters than that, I hope you all don’t mind.]
The 5th judging criterion for the Writing Challenge (and for most pieces of good writing) is did the entry come to a good conclusion? When I was regularly judging the contest, one of the most frequent comments on my judging sheet was something like This story was great, but it really fizzled at the end. Other comments about endings included the words thudded, thumped, or bombed.
Some suggestions for a good ending:
1. Try not to resolve your main character’s conflict with a ‘cop-out’ ending. The most frequent ending of this type that I see is “it was only a dream.” Almost nothing annoyed me more than this. First of all, it’s not at all original; I’ve read it dozens of times. Even more importantly, it cheats the reader out of a true resolution to the story.
If you’re writing a story in which the events are somehow improbable or surreal, think of a better ending than the convenient dream.
Similar to the dream scenario is the rescue from a mysterious stranger who was probably an angel, or any other out-of-the-blue character or situation that swoops into the last few paragraphs, without foreshadowing, and solves the problem. Again, conflict and suspense probably kept your reader going up to this point; a too-sudden or too-neat resolution leaves them feeling let down.
2. I’ve read many stories that are great for 600 words or so, and then the writer feels the panic of finishing the story and uses the last 150 words to wrap up every loose thread and to summarize the entire ‘rest of the story’.
A few possible solutions for this:
a. write a smaller story. In only 750 words, you can’t really tell a story that has a span of years, lots of scene changes, and multiple characters. Some of the most successful entries take place entirely in the span of one day, or one morning, or even just a few minutes. Similarly, limit yourself to one or two significant characters, in one setting. Then you can tell the entire story within the word count.
b. leave your story open-ended. This is a great way to show your readers that you trust them to come to the right conclusion--but you’ve got to trust your own writing to do this. Instead of having your wayward character go to the altar, pray the sinner’s prayer, go to Bible college, and become a missionary to China—just end with her hearing music from the church down the street, and turning toward the sound with a quickened step. Your readers will know what happened next.
3. Lots of stories come to a good conclusion—and then the writer adds another last sentence or two, just to hammer that ending home. Here’s an example, off the top of my head, to show you what I mean:
…Jo hurried down the street, her head bent against the driving storm. But as she passed the old storefront, the strains of an old, familiar hymn called out to her. She turned back toward the mission, raising her face to the rain.
She had run away from God, but now she was returning.
She would never run again.
Well, that was truly horrible, but I hope you get the idea. When you add ending upon ending, you don’t get deeper or more profound, you just tell your readers that you’re not sure that they got it the first time. The story above should have ended with Jo’s face to the rain.
4. Improbable endings—avoid them. Don’t make your reader think but people just don’t act that way, or that would never happen or Seriously?
5. Author’s notes, especially in fiction, are rarely necessary. They really bring the reader thumping back to reality, just when you’ve transported them into your fictional setting and taken them on an awesome ride. If there’s something inherently unfamiliar to most readers that you feel they need to know, try to work that information into the story itself. I realize this isn’t always possible, and that a note of explanation may be necessary. Still—avoid author’s notes, if you can.
6. Consider giving your story a twist or something unexpected at the end. This will delight your readers, and incidentally, it will also help you out in the 'predictability' criterion. There are different degrees of 'twist'--the idea is to provoke an emotional response from the reader: either I should have seen that coming, or Wow! I didn't see that coming, or Whew! or Wait...WHAT? It's a difficult and tricky thing to do, because if you get TOO surprising, you run the risk of messing with suggestion #1 or #4 on this list.
BUT--especially if your story contains common elements (the abused wife, the handicapped child, the lonely single woman), common settings (the nursing home, the classroom), or common plot devices--THEN it's imperative that you give it an original spin. Here's an idea: Tell someone you trust a summary of the first 3/4 of your plot. Ask them--how do you think this is going to end? Then do something different.
As always, you have a choice.
1. Leave a comment or a question about this lesson. OR
2. Cut and paste the last 100 words or so of one of your old challenge entries (or another piece of writing). Talk about it, in the light of this lesson. What worked? What didn’t? OR
3. Give an example (100 words or so) of an ending from a piece of someone else’s writing that you really liked, and tell why. OR
4. Add your own take on conclusions that work (or don’t).
I'm working full time this week and for the next few weeks, but I'll still have time to respond to posts to this thread.
Endings - Part 2 - The "Magic" Ending
I've done both. Some great endings, and some fizzl-y ones. Since I often typed up my Challenge pieces the night before or the last hour or two before closing of entries, I would sometimes be at a loss as to how to end them.
One of my favorite pieces, A Place for the Lonely had a nice tie-in with the topic that week and left enough hints for the reader to understand the conclusion.
One of my more recent pieces, after a long hiatus from the Challenge, left me too deep into the story (and only 30 minutes until the closing of entries) to come up with a conclusion, so I made a poor ending, though it somewhat worked in the context of the piece: The First Assignment. I did get a lot of red ink on that ending in my yellow boxes.
I think I need to write longer pieces than 750 words, but shorter than a novel. I was encouraged to read that short stories are making a comeback.
What's the best way to come up with a twist? Or do you have to be a super creative type of person to imagine one up?
My FW Profile
Leah, being super creative helps, that's undeniable.
Other than that, I'd just suggest that you go against expectations. If you don't have a person to bounce ideas off, as suggested in the lesson, then brainstorm them yourself.
Is it a romance? Then instead of having the two main characters walk off into the sunset together, have them walk off separately.
Is it a mystery? Instead of the evil antagonist being the guilty one, make it the sweet narrator.
Is it an inspirational story? Well, I'll let you decide. The "expected" ending is the MC turning from their wayward ways, because of something that opens their eyes. Keep it inspirational--but twist it. Go.
I love a good twist. Rarely do I get surprised by them, so when I do I'm delighted beyond words.
I just commented on a great story where the author went 2 or 3 lines too many. It would have been brilliant if she had left out those lines. I'll see if she will be willing to post it here and get your feedback. I don't want to do it for her, but she sent me a sweet PM agreeing and explaining why she did it. If she's willing to share it all it'll be super helpful. (If not for your lessons and feedback on my stories, I never would have noticed it, but it does make a huge difference.)
As I said, I love the twist, I think one of the reasons I go overboard is because I have an analytical mind and it's hard for me to just read and not anticipate everything. Almost all of my twists are the ones when people read it again, they see clues sprinkled throughout. I wonder if the reason why they don't do well with the judges is because they aren't going to want to read it twice. Usually the commenters do, and then they can enjoy it more. I am not sure how to fix it though, without changing the essence of who I am (not that I care as much about the judges as I do the reader who doesn't want to reread.)
Out of all my challenges, I think my favorite ending was my first EC. It felt so real to me and the ending was natural. It was one of those times when I let God take the reins and I just typed.
Here is link: http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=39301
Here's the ending :The pain turned to agony as the nails ripped his flesh; he moved to relieve the pressure from his chest. He had time for a quick breath then he could hold himself up no longer. He looked to the heavens and screamed “My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me?” He relaxed the muscles in his chest and again faces flashed through his mind.
His head jerked when he heard me screaming some 2,000 years into the future. I was battered and bruised and as Jesus sweat blood that dripped down his body, my tears plopped onto my Bible. From his cross, Jesus heard my pleas, “Oh Jesus, I need help, please listen. Can you even hear me? God, do you really care? Show me, hold me, love me.” I laid my head down and cried; Jesus released his soul and died.
Sometimes God calms the storm; Sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child
Wonderful ending, Shann. I did something similar once, when I had Jesus gathering the children to himself in his time, and thinking of the little girl in the story in her time.
Oddly enough, this one ended up with an EC, but I never did like the story. The basic idea is fishing from the fish's POV.
I got a bunch of comments about the ending on this one, saying I should have left the last part out and finished Sammy's thoughts. The part that clearly did not come across was that where I leave Sammy WERE his last thoughts. He didn't have time to finish them. I've reworked this one for the EC book, but I STILL don't like it.
Link: http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=13965
"Sammy, I wouldn't do that if I were you. What about that guy you met in the emergency room? Didn't he tell you not to eat anything you didn't see swimming around first?"
"Oh, come on. He was making up that story. Here I go."
"Boy. That kind of hurt. But this worm sure tastes good. Wheee!! Look at me! I'm going up, up, up!"
"Fight, Sammy, fight!"
"This is fun, Goldie. You should try…"
Sammy broke through the surface of the water.
"Can't breath," Sammy, gasped. "Must get into water."
The monster looked at him, and tossed him in with the other victims.
"Harvey was right," Sammy gasped. "I should have...."
"Boy, Derek. That sure was some good fish, wasn't it?"
"Yep. Do you think any of them knew what was coming? Had any warning what would happen to them?"
"Nah, of course not. It's not like fish go around telling others about their fishing accidents."
Some of my best endings were twists, and don't make much sense without the entire story. Plus, one I've used for an example in the lesson on intentional anachronism, so I won't post that one here. I'll see if I can find a good example that I haven't already used, though. *searches stories* And I'm apparently super critical of my own writing because I can't find many examples of a "good" ending. At least I"m having trouble finding one that can be shown in only the last bit. (I said that like I don't already know I'm super critical of my own writing. )
Okay. I found one. Maybe. This one is a substitute who's talking about her difficult day.
link: http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=34721
Without a word to the students, I walked to the side of the room and turned to the wall. "Wall," I said, loud enough to be heard by the children, "These students won't listen to me. But maybe you will." I heard the talking stop, but I didn't want to turn around quite yet. "Mr. Wall, would you please get out your science book and turn to page 251? I want to teach you about light. And if you listen quietly and can answer the review questions after we read, I have a really cool experiment to show you."
I finally dared to turn around. Before me, nineteen students (remember the shoe incident?) sat before me with their science books open. My footsteps echoed in the room as I walked to the front. Finally. I had them in the palm of my hand. Oh sure, they'd talk about the substitute who talked to the wall. But I didn't care.
At the end of the day, I handed nineteen students a quarter. Am I a softie? Perhaps. But four dollars and seventy-five cents is a small price to pay for my sanity. And that whole talking to a wall incident? Let's pretend that never even happened. Good night, Mr. Desk Chair."
Last edited by Allison on Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV)
Allison, that first link goes to one of Leah's stories--is that what you meant to do?
I don't love the "Mr. Desk Chair" bit. It's foreshadowed at the beginning, but having the MC talk to the chair doesn't really impact the story in any way, and it's not enough of a twist to really grab me. On the other hand, it's light and gently humorous, and it fits with the tone of the rest of the story, so that's probably just me--I'm more drawn to moody and ponderous pieces.
Your story doesn't do this next thing I'm going to write about, but it's something that occurs to me just now: I dislike stories where the ending is the equivalent of an elbow to the ribs. "You get it? That was funny, right? Do you see what I did there?" I don't think the ending needs to call attention to itself, except in a satisfying way.
I love when an ending comes full circle in a surprising way - bringing us back to the beginning (and making us read it again!). I can't think of a challenge entry where I did this (at least not well LOL), though one of my favorite "twisty" ones comes close. Flee?
"I know, sis. We all are. But we can die from starvation here, or take a chance and head in. If we stay, we'll die for sure. But if we go in, we could have all the food we need and a wonderful life. Sure, we may die there too, but think of what we will gain if we survive. And besides, we have The Three Rules, and each other."
Nick opened his front limbs wide. His brothers and sisters gathered in his embrace. Kissing each on the head in turn, he brought a smile and a touch of confidence to every one of them.
Stepping back, he smiled. "So, are we ready?"
The entire brood nodded and fell in line behind him.
"Okay then. Here we go."
The Siphonapteras marched watchfully up the hairy leg of Fido, looking for the perfect spot to sink their teeth into.
It made SEVERAL people look up the characters' last name, if I recall
Jo, I actually remember that story, and it's adorable (or as the young folk say, totes adorbs).
Great twist, and "avoiding the mist" still cracks me up.
The only thing I'll say here is a caution to future challenge entrants: the "it was an animal/inanimate object all along" twist has been used fairly often, not just on FaithWriters, but elsewhere. Don't overdo it.
Wow - I'm impressed and honored that you remember. And yes, that particular twist IS fun (and commonish).
No, I definitely linked the wrong story the first time. Whoops! I'll edit it, but here's the correct link here too..
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=13965
On the second one, I can definitely see how the "Mr. Desk Chair" ending could be foreshadowed and somewhat cliched. I'd try to find a better example, but I do not have the time right now.
Jan, you mentioned stories that are good for the first 600 words and then they rush to the ending. One thing I advise people to do to avoid that is to write the entire story first without checking word count. Then, if it's over the word count, you can cut from all parts of the story and it ends up being more balanced. If you cut throughout, the readers probably won't even notice that something is "missing" but if you rush to and ending, it definitely feels like something is missing.
Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV)
Shann's talking about little ole me.
Here's the link to the whole thing: http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=48026
The last bit of dialog and ending: “Yes! Fart and belch the ABC’s with! I need a human Jesus and a holy Jesus. I need a holy Jesus who is fully God and lived a perfect life and suffered a cruel and inhumane death for me. But I also need a human Jesus. A Jesus who wants to hang out with me on a Friday night talking about test scores and vacation plans. A Jesus that’s both holy and human is the Jesus I need. That’s a Jesus I can trust with my life here on Earth, through all the trials and tribulations, and into eternity.” He took another long drink from his soda and they all sat quietly. Each of the four contemplated their view of Jesus. Did they need to remember that Jesus was more than a good guy—He was God? Did they need to be reminded that Jesus was their friend who just wanted to spend time with them? Joey had forced a time of deep introspection amongst the group.
Then someone farted.
Shann thinks the penultimate line should have been "Each of the four contemplated their view of Jesus." because the reader would've filled in the extra sentences I have there. (Correct me if I'm wrong, Shann.
My thought on adding those sentences about the heavy questions they were thinking was I wanted it to be as serious as I could make it so the comic effect of the last line would be even greater.
Whatcha think, Jan?
And thank you for these lessons. I plan on devouring many of them during the break in the Challenge.
Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
who trains my hands for war,
my fingers for battle.
Thanks for being willing to put your story out there for critique! I'm going to disagree somewhat (but not entirely) with Shann.
I agree that your two "Did they need..." questions and the "Joey had forced..." statement are both somewhat unnecessary. However, I also like your thought process--to put some serious thought into the readers' minds, so that the last line is more effective. I'd propose an alternative, perhaps something like this:
...He took another long drink from his soda and they all sat quietly. Each of the four contemplated their view of Jesus. Jesus overturning tables in the temple...Jesus weeping at the death of Lazarus...Jesus with little children gathered around...Jesus writing on the ground as the Pharisees wield their rocks...
Then someone farted.
The little "Jesus vignettes" elaborate on the previous sentence (...their view of Jesus), and since there are four of them, it's as if the reader is peering briefly into the brains of each student, and their different pictures of Jesus.
What do you think?
I like that idea a lot, Jan. It furthers the point, builds up the serious factor, without being super direct like mine was. I'm pretty proud of this story especially since, looking at the feedback on it, it's caused a lot of reader interaction which I love. It's one I'm going to look into getting published and I'll most likely edit the ending in some combination of all these suggestions.
Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
who trains my hands for war,
my fingers for battle.
This is what I wrote originally :
My red ink is for the ending. I think you went a couple of lines too long. I'd have had the penultimate line be: He took another long drink from his soda, and they all sat quietly contemplating their view of Jesus.
And now I'm going to disagree with Jan and myself a little.
By giving the boys thoughts, you're creating a POV shift. Since the story is told from the POV of Joey, we can't know what others are thinking without shifting, which I now realize I did as well with the contemplating line that I took from the original story. I agree it needed that part, but perhaps it could be done with: A sudden silence fell over the group. Joey scratched his head as he thought about Jesus flipping over tables in the temple.
Then he farted.
Sometimes God calms the storm; Sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child
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