This lesson will be formatted slightly differently from most previous lessons; I’m simply going to list some suggestions for ending a nonfiction challenge piece well. Please keep in mind that I’m focusing mostly on the sorts of short nonfiction that are most common in the challenge: devotionals and Bible studies, short autobiographical pieces, persuasive or informational essays. These really aren’t very good ideas for scholarly or academic writing, or writing for business purposes, but they should be applicable for nonfiction pieces that are intended to entertain or interest casual readers.
Also, don’t think that your ending should incorporate all of these suggestions. Grab one (or maybe two)—that should be enough.
By the way, if you missed the lesson on ending fiction
well, you can find it here
1. It’s best not
to end with a quote, Scripture, or author’s notes set aside from the main body of text. If your own words have brought your entry to a conclusion, your reader is likely to just stop reading, and to skip the little afterthought altogether. Besides, this is a writing contest, and it’s best to end such a contest with your own original words
2. Unlike what Mrs. Sullivan taught you in 10th grade, there’s no need for a paragraph that summarizes your content. You’ve only got 750 words, and you need each one to be unique and necessary. In the Writing Challenge, a summary is a waste of words.
3. It can be very effective to end with an anecdote. Tell a story about how [content of your entry] played out in real life. A slight variation: Start
with an anecdote, and save ‘the rest of the story’ for the end of your entry.
4. Nonfiction entries have a tendency toward dryness; insert some emotional content by ending with something that’ll leave your readers laughing or crying.
5. End with an exhortation to action—give the reader something to do.
6. Finish up with speculation: what would happen…IF?
7. Another way to counteract the dreaded nonfiction dryness: finish with an object lesson that illustrates your point. This is effective for your readers who are visual learners, and also adds some imagery to your writing. (Come to think of it, there’s no reason why nonfiction writing in general shouldn’t have all sorts of literary ‘goodies’ in addition to imagery. Pop a metaphor in there, or a fun little bit of onomatopoeia. That would be awesome…)
8. Give your entry a personal touch—tell how [content of your entry] has changed you.
9. HOWEVER—avoid telling people how they should change themselves. The most effective sermon/lesson is one in which the reader has their own aha
! moment and is able to draw an application for their life. When the reader has gone through that thought process, it’s far more likely to stick than if you’ve done the thinking (and the drawing of conclusions) for them.
10. End on a note of praise to God. Can’t go wrong.
HOMEWORK: Here are your choices:
1. Ask a question or leave a comment about something I’ve said here. I very much welcome the input of frequent nonfiction writers; I very rarely have entered a nonfiction piece, and don’t consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination. Lessons like this one are the ones in which I really value others’ ideas and additions.
2. Copy and paste 150 words or so of a nonfiction conclusion you wrote. Tell whether it worked (or not), and which of the above points (if any) are evident there. PLEASE keep the word count down; even though I don’t get a lot of people responding to these threads, I have a bajillion things to do.
3. Re-write a conclusion to an entry you had that you feel could be stronger. Leave a link to the original entry, and keep your re-written part to 150 words or less.
(with many thanks to Verna):
1. Repetition is a common poetry tool, and it works very well at the end of a poem. Repeat the first stanza, or repeat the last line, or find something else that bears repeating.
2. I really think that the best poetry has a real kick in the conclusion. The last stanza, or the last few lines, or even just the last line should be quite special. You can give your poem a real twist right there, or use those last few words to reveal the whole point of the poem, or to give it a spiritual spin. I always love it when those last few lines take me in an unexpected direction.
3. If your poem has a storyline and characters, some of the suggestions for ending fiction will apply—give it a twist, leave it open-ended, finish up with irony. In addition, story poems often end with a ‘moral’.
4. If it’s a structured poem, change the structure in the last stanza—use shorter lines, or fewer lines, or a different meter or rhyme scheme altogether.
5. Here are a few additional suggestions from one of FWs most prolific poets, Verna Mitchell: Another [suggestion] is to summarize the poem's idea. In a "listing" poem, the most important thought could be saved for last. Some additional suggestions might be: a personal reflection, a question, an invitation, an explanation, or a thought contrary to the preceding verses.
1. Ask a question or make a comment about ending poetry. OR
2. Leave a link to one of your poems (if it’s short, you can copy and paste it here) and talk about the ending. What works (or doesn’t work)? If you wish, re-write the ending.
3. Add your own suggestions for really good poetry endings (like nonfiction, poetry is not my strong point, and I welcome the input of the many talented poets here).