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
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.