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Lesson 19--A Great Conclusion

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.

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Lesson 19--A Great Conclusion

Postby glorybee » Sun Nov 28, 2010 3:07 pm

The 5th judging criterion for the Writing Challenge (and for most pieces of good writing) is did the entry come to a good conclusion? I’ll be tackling that this week. 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, then:

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 and dozens of times. Even more important, though, is that it cheats the reader out of a true resolution to the story.

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’. They may have done a great job of ‘showing, not telling’, but the last few paragraphs are all ‘tell’.

A few possible solutions for this:

a. write a smaller story. In only 750 words, you really don’t have the option to 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, and you don’t have to summarize the ending.

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 also 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. Or the second time. Maybe the third time.

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 a surprise, 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 suggesion #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 high school 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.

I think I’ll cover non-fiction and poetry in the next installment, and I’ll head right to your

HOMEWORK:

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).
Last edited by glorybee on Mon Nov 29, 2010 12:58 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby lish1936 » Sun Nov 28, 2010 4:02 pm

Jan,

This was my entry for Cyber communication. I thought my ending was pretty clever with the right element of surprise. I'm not certain as to how I could apply some of your suggestions to improve the ending. I will say that as I read some of the other stories, my story seems to lack depth to make the scene more authentic. I also consider writing fiction as one of the "stretch me" genres and I'm really not that good at it. Up until now, my focus has been on Non-fiction...nothing but the facts.

As I reread the story, I 'm wondering if my conclusion bordered on the tell not show that you pointed out.

A good friend to whom I recommended FaithWriters has placed #1 with three of her first four fiction entries. Her plots seem to have so much more "meat" to it. In my opinion, she's a real clone of Agatha Christie or someone like that. :) :mrgreen:



Would love your suggestions.

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Minnie, at eighty-five (oldest student in the class was sixty), topped the list.

How DID she do it?

Minnie and Rosie waited until most of the students had filed out. Then Minnie grasped her walker and headed towards the door. Just then, the instructor, Mr Peabody, approached her.

“Good job, Minnie. Uh, how did you get done so fast?” Minnie held fast to her walker, and stood as tall as she could.

“Why Mr. Peabody,” she said with a wink. “You said ‘just like we did in practice session.’ So, I decided to send the same letter, and simply clicked on DRAFTS.”

Mr. Peabody’s jaws dropped as he stared incredulously at Minnie.

“Why, of course, Ms. Minnie, of course.”
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Postby CatLin » Sun Nov 28, 2010 4:26 pm

I remember that ending well! It was so good, it made your story stick in my memory. :)
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Postby glorybee » Sun Nov 28, 2010 4:34 pm

Lillian, thanks! While I was writing this lesson, I knew there was one more thing I wanted to say about good endings, but it eluded me. Your delightful little snippet reminded me what it was, and I'm going to add it to the lesson.

It's about adding a twist or a surprise ending, which can be done in almost any genre (and it also helps with the 'predictability' criterion). You did it just right in this story--I doubt that anyone saw that coming, and it was a delight to read it.

Now I'm off to add a paragraph to the originial post.
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Postby CatLin » Sun Nov 28, 2010 4:34 pm

I think I'm getting better at writing endings. When I first started at FW, my endings ended nicely, topped with a pretty bow. :D I was counseled that I didn't always have to "end" everything, and now most of my stories are open-ended, but pointing the reader to the conclusion (I hope).


Mine don't usually have a "punchline", but this one was too good to pass on when it came to me. (I wish they would come to me more often.) It also doesn't "wrap everything up", by telling that Jeff had a good laugh, convinced Benjy to look under the bed, they found all of the socks, and went to eat the chocolate bar with mom, who of course forgive Benjy, and they all lived happily ever after. ;)


oops - forgot to paste the text. :roll:

“Be careful, Dad.” Benjy was shaking again, and his eyes were filling.

“Careful of what, Ben?”

Sobbing, now, Benjy blurted out, “The monster, Dad! The monster under the bed!”

“Benjy, we’ve talked about this. There’s no such thing as monsters, and there isn’t one living under your bed.

“But, Mommy said there <I>is</I>a monster – The Sock Monster!”

Jeff choked back a laugh, and struggled to keep a straight face.

“But he won’t hurt me, I made sure.”

“How’d you do that, squirt?”

“I feed him. Almost every day. And so far he’s left me alone.”

“What have you fed him?”

“Duh, daddy, he eats socks! Do you think mommy will be mad at me?”
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Postby lish1936 » Sun Nov 28, 2010 6:15 pm

Thanks, Caitlyn

After reading some of your other posts, I can say with conviction that you've always been a great encourager.

I think your ending was great...humorous with a smidgeon of surprise.

It quite accurately depicted the workings of a child's mind.

Lillian
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"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Postby glorybee » Sun Nov 28, 2010 7:20 pm

Cat, that was adorable! And you made a great poinabout resisting the temptation to wrap it up prettier. You left the reader with a great image and a super aha! moment. Love it.
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Postby Ms. Barbie » Sun Nov 28, 2010 9:05 pm

From the Senses Challenge, I looked at my entry- Breathes of Bliss - that had received a Highly Commended. I had good reviews but wondered what more I could have done with it to get a higher rating. Looking back, I now see that the ending did indeed fizzle in disappointment

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=36629

My people no longer allowed me to travel in such liberty but that was okay. I could still poke my nose out a partially opened window, and Breathe. In. Bliss.

I tried to do a better job-does this work?

From that day forward, my people grounded me from riding with my head in the wind; but like any smart puppy, I adapted. Now, while still safely seated on my human, I am allowed to poke out my elongated, but cute, nose through the narrow opening of the window. Granted, I need to take more rapid breaths to get it all in, but I continue to draw in bliss from heady scents emanating from the unknown. For me, that is such a simple pleasure.
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Postby glorybee » Sun Nov 28, 2010 10:29 pm

Barb, I actually think that I prefer your original ending to the re-written one. The new ending pretty much summarizes the rest of the doggy's life (contrary to suggestion #2), and it also has more than one sentence that could be a conclusion (contrary to suggestion #3).

On the other hand, your original ending leaves your reader with the knowledge that doggy's going to continue eo enjoy fresh air, and also with a nice sensory image. Also, the pacing of the original ending is nice...it sort of winds down, slowing to a staisfactory stop.

Do you have something else you'd like to run by us?
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Postby lish1936 » Sun Nov 28, 2010 10:46 pm

I felt somewhat awkward about commenting on Barb's new ending because Jan's the expert. So, I was glad to know that as a non-professional, my instincts were in sync with Jan's comment.

The original ending "felt" right.

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Postby Ms. Barbie » Sun Nov 28, 2010 11:06 pm

I do have another... :oops:

This was the challenge of WOW

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=34786

ORIGINAL ENDING:
Upon return to our timeshare condo, we collapsed into comforting chairs. In spite of being out of shape, we had a grand adventure and wanted to do it again! However, we still had a biking tour, snorkeling cruise and dinner at an old sugar plantation scheduled before we were to leave the island. Wow!


Upon return to our timeshare condo, we collapsed our aching bodies into comfy chairs and rehashed what we had experienced. We were very proud of what we had accomplished and kept thinking “Wow, I actually did that?” I realized that regardless of being physically unfit, I would be able to handle the upcoming biking tour and snorkeling cruise. And I did.
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A Great Conclusion

Postby punkin » Sun Nov 28, 2010 11:52 pm

:roll: I did this one for an entry but don't remember which topic it was. I wasn't really sure how to end this one. Maybe I can have some ideas of how to turn it around from the scenic stuff to the conclusion.

Today, I drove to the Gazebo on our property. It was nice as the breeze blew so calmly passed me. Once inside the porch area I opened my notebook to write down what I saw. Life was good on that day. I saw many wonderful creatures and things that inspired me to write. See, my father runs a church campground where I live. So, there are plenty of things to watch and do.
Nevertheless, I watched as the squirrels ran up and down the trees around me. God’s creation has taken my breath away. I’m amazed by how calm I can be while I’m here. I can see how God’s mighty hands have made this all possible. The breeze passes by again and catches the trees as their branches are caused to wave from side to side. The fans above me, squeaks with every turn it takes. The environment is inviting and relaxing.
My mind takes me too many places with my notebook in hand. The things I write are inspiring from the sites I see. I am happy to see how everything is “fearfully and wonderfully made through God’s own hands.” I’m delighted to watch and see His creations in front of me. This place takes me back to Genesis and how he created the earth and made everything in His likeness.
The sounds are amazing to free my turmoil. I’m touched by His mighty work. I hear the birds whistling while soaring in the woods. The trees are standing tall and strong. My dog is with me. She’s enjoying the view and time that we are spending together as well. Her face showed excitement and happiness. She laid beside me resting.
I’m sadden when my time is done and I must return back home. Nevertheless, I’m relaxed and my spirit is calm and my mind can concentrate on the things I need to write.

Yeah I know its a little long but wasn't sure where to cut it that it would make sense. So just enjoy it please. Thanks.
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Re: A Great Conclusion

Postby glorybee » Mon Nov 29, 2010 12:23 am

punkin wrote:The sounds are amazing to free my turmoil. I’m touched by His mighty work. I hear the birds whistling while they soar in the woods. The trees are standing tall and strong. My dog is with me. She’s enjoying the view and time that we are spending together as well. Her face shows excitement and happiness. She lies beside me, resting.

I’m saddened when my time is done and I must return back home. Nevertheless, I’m relaxed and my spirit is calm and my mind can concentrate on the things I need to write.


Christine, I took the last 100 words or so of this, and I tweaked a few places where you switched tenses or misplaced a modifier.

This one's actually a little bit difficult to apply the lesson to, as it's not really a true story with a plot--it's more of a reflection on yourself as a writer. You might want to hang on to this for next week, when I cover nonfiction.

If you have an example from a bit of fiction, I'd be glad to look at that...thanks for chiming in!
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Postby glorybee » Mon Nov 29, 2010 12:39 am

Ms. Barbie wrote:I do have another... :oops:

This was the challenge of WOW

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=34786

ORIGINAL ENDING:
Upon return to our timeshare condo, we collapsed into comforting chairs. In spite of being out of shape, we had a grand adventure and wanted to do it again! However, we still had a biking tour, snorkeling cruise and dinner at an old sugar plantation scheduled before we were to leave the island. Wow!


Upon return to our timeshare condo, we collapsed our aching bodies into comfy chairs and rehashed what we had experienced. We were very proud of what we had accomplished and kept thinking “Wow, I actually did that?” I realized that regardless of being physically unfit, I would be able to handle the upcoming biking tour and snorkeling cruise. And I did.


Barb, you get this week's gold star for Being A Good Sport. I love you for continuing to put your stuff out here for critique!

You're getting closer--your re-write isn't worse this time, but it seems pretty much the same to me.

What about something like this...

Upon return to our timeshare condo, we collapsed our aching bodies into comfy chairs. I was too weary to move a muscle, but I lifted one aching arm to reach for an iced tea on the nearby end table. I brushed against a piece of paper, which fluttered to my lap: tomorrow's schedule.

8:00 a.m.--snorkeling
1:00 p.m.--biking
7:00 p.m.--evening hike

I started to plan a way to hide the alarm clock.


What do you think?

Do you have any questions for me?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby Ms. Barbie » Mon Nov 29, 2010 1:31 am

Jan, that is a fun ending and nearly true!

I do have a thought / questions.
I believe I am stuck in the formats of essays and research papers, and it is engrained in me to summarize at the end of each paper. That mostly happens when I try to do devotionals or describing events.

So the questions are- I don't need to summarize everything?
Does the concept of the prompt word need to be in the conclusion?


I really don't know why I keep at writing- I am not compelled to write like everyone else is and it is disheartening that I just can't seem to "get it".
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