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Lesson 20--A great conclusion, part 2

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 20--A great conclusion, part 2

Postby glorybee » Sun Dec 05, 2010 5:30 pm

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:)

Ending Nonfiction:

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.


Ending Poetry (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.

HOMEWORK:
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).
Jan Ackerson

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Postby OldManRivers » Sun Dec 05, 2010 6:38 pm

a starlight lullaby
and heaven is hushed,
a new life is given,
a new life is embraced,
mother and child,
who have been one,
now begin their journey
further and further apart.
the bond is strong,
the love immense,
these tears of joy
will become tears of pain,
stable straw and woven flax,
humility, simplicity,
the legacy inherited,
the destiny defined,
heaven and earth have touched this night,
and nestled all hopes divine into a young girl’s arms.
she softly sings an ancient song,
a mother’s song that shields her child
from all that’s wrong,
to shelter for this night this pure innocence,
to fend off the fears,
to fend off the jeers,
to fend off the cruel winds of a cold, cold world,
to warm the cheek with her gentle breath,
to rock, to rock away the night,
to comfort the sleep,
the peaceful sleep
with her starlight lullaby.



I tried to end with a soft cadence, leaving the reader with the sense of slipping off to sleep... ending with the title.
May God's gentle grace be with you.

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Postby glorybee » Sun Dec 05, 2010 7:12 pm

Jim, how lovely and timely!

I'd love to hear more from you, as one of FW's best free verse poets. What other suggestions for good poetry endings have you got?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby swfdoc1 » Sun Dec 05, 2010 7:13 pm

Last week, I mentioned that it is hard to talk about endings because there is often no context. This week I think I have an example that doesn’t require too much set up. This is the ending of the introductory chapter to my book God Save This Honorable Court. This ending mentions the phrase “God save the United States and this honorable Court,” and I talk about what happens when people pray that phrase. Earlier in the chapter I had informed the reader that these words are spoken at the opening of every Supreme Court session and had introduced them to the debate over whether it was really a prayer, coming down on the side that it is. So without further set up, the ending is:

Steve Fitschen wrote:
Today when we pray, “God save the United States and this honorable Court,” we also must pray, “God save us from this honorable Court.” We need to implore God to return the Supreme Court to its proper role. As Chief Justice Marshall pointed out so long ago, the Court is to discover, state, and apply the law. Its role is not to help the law “evolve” nor to legislate from the bench. However, as we shall see in the following chapters, that is exactly what the Court has done. Much that ails America today is traceable to the United States Supreme Court. We need to know how these outrageous decisions we made and what impact they have produced. Only then can we begin to know how to fight back.


I think this ending does several of the things you mentionend, although not many. It does 1 & 2, and for some folks will have emotional content (4) (although not crying or laughing). It also has 5 (calling to prayer that we be saved from the court and to educate themselves by reading the rest of the book. It is really for this last point that I chose this ending. It goes to the question that came up about chapter endings, beginnings, and transitions in one of your earlier lessons, here (starting with Phee's second post on this page). So, it might, be helpful for that, not for how to end a Challenge entry.

By the way, I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned this before, but my wife always teases me whenever I call this a book. It’s only about 100 pages, but I wrote it under contract for Coral Ridge Ministries and they used it as a fund raising premium AND as a standalone for-sale item, so I’m sticking with “book.”
Last edited by swfdoc1 on Sun Dec 05, 2010 10:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby pheeweed » Sun Dec 05, 2010 10:08 pm

Wow, I have so many comments on this one. Many of your points are what I tell my students they need to put into their speeches to make them interesting. Especially using images and telling stories. I also encourage them to end with a challenge to the audience.

Steve, I'm the one who asked about transitions. Thank you for a good example of how to do it.

I had to chose between two endings for my homework. I have one that returns to the opening image, but I decided to use this one because it ends with a question and I want to know what you think about that.

Once we are joined to Jesus, we start producing fruit. But trees don’t instantly sprout ripe, juicy oranges and neither do we. I once had an old Valencia orange tree in my back yard. Not only was the fruit delicious, but the tree always had fruit on it. Regardless of the season, it always had flowers, green oranges, and ripe oranges. I think that’s how the Holy Spirit grows fruit in us. Some fruits grow faster than others. You may have a little flower of joy, and a few small green spheres of kindness, but a full crop of patience. Well that’s good, because if you wait long enough, the joy and kindness will grow into delightful, juicy oranges too.

Whether you see Jesus as a grapevine or an orange tree, or some other kind fruit tree, the message is the same. Remain in Him and you will bear fruit. I want to produce good oranges, what about you?


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"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8 NLT

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Postby swfdoc1 » Sun Dec 05, 2010 10:43 pm

pheeweed wrote:Steve, I'm the one who asked about transitions. Thank you for a good example of how to do it.


Yes, I know. When I first posted, I didn't get the "here" link working, but I went back and fixed it, but the fix didn't stick. I'll try again.
Steve
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things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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A great conclusion--part 2

Postby punkin » Sun Dec 05, 2010 11:40 pm

My soul,
is hungry.
My heart,
is broken.
My mind,
needs clarity.

My Hunger

My tears,
you’ve captured.
My needs,
you’ve supplied.
My desires,
you’ve given.

I long,
for love.
I long,
for hope.
I long,
for You!

I started out really well on this one but felt it was lacking something. My main point was to fit the syllabels but lost the message half way through from concentrating so much on the other. Any helpful hints or ideas to really conclude this one? I could use them, one poem at a time!
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Postby glorybee » Tue Dec 07, 2010 10:49 am

First of all, sorry it took me so long to get back to these responses--I took a trip to ick-land, but I'm back now, feeling as feisty as ever.

Steve, thanks so much for sharing that passage from your book (of course it's a book!) In addition to the items you pointed out, I think it also does a fine job of avoiding academic 'dryness'. I'd read it--well, maybe some of it--because you made it sound so interesting. Your choice of words and your sentence structure really pull the reader along.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Tue Dec 07, 2010 11:01 am

Phee, thanks for bringing up the device of ending with a question. As with everything in these lessons, my answer is purely my own opinion: I'm not wild about it. I'm trying even as I write this to come up with why, and I can only come up with a few, poorly-articulated reasons:

1. It feels contrived
2. It's not particularly original
3. It's what my high school English teacher suggested that we do

In your specific example, you just finished writing that Jesus could be a grapevine OR an orange tree OR some other kind of fruit--then you closed by saying that you wanted to produce good oranges...which almost seems like a contradiction.

You have a few natural endings in this piece: you could end with the longer paragraph, which seems to come to a really good conclusion. Or you could end with "Remain in Him and you will bear fruit". Here's what I would have done:

Remain in Him--and you will bear fruit.

I think the simple addition of that em dash signals "here comes the end" and emphasizes that last, most important phrase.

What do you think?
Jan Ackerson

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Re: A great conclusion--part 2

Postby glorybee » Tue Dec 07, 2010 11:04 am

punkin wrote:I long,
for love.
I long,
for hope.
I long,
for You!



I think you did a fine job here--you especially tapped into #2 in my ist of suggestions, by giving the last line a little twist. In that last line, it's revealed that the poem is actually a prayer. Very pretty!
Jan Ackerson

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A great conclusion--part 2

Postby punkin » Tue Dec 07, 2010 8:53 pm

Jan do you think anything needs adding here? I wasn't sure if it evened itself out or not toward the end. Just asking. 8)
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Postby glorybee » Tue Dec 07, 2010 9:09 pm

I really think it's fine just the way it is--a simple, lovely poem.
Jan Ackerson

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Nonfiction Conclusion

Postby WriterFearNot » Wed Dec 08, 2010 12:08 am

Here are the last 100+ words of my Challenge entry, What Would Jesus Tweet from the 'Think' Challenge:
......
It’s crucial that we spend a great deal of time with our children, remain interactive with them through and beyond adulthood, and show them they are important and loved. It’s imperative that we encourage them to love Christ with all their hearts, souls, and minds. In today’s technology-driven social climate we must also act as media and social technology role models by utilizing our critical thinking skills and teaching our children to do the same. In this manner we will gain knowledge and competence, decrease our risk being manipulated and instead, and increase our ability to harness technology resources with purpose.
......
(article found here: http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=36876)

This piece did not place. I can see that I've committed fatal error #9, telling people how they should change themselves.

But, but.....I LOVE telling people what to do!

Seriously though, from your lession I can see that my piece would have ended better if I used an anecdote, or an object lesson illustrating my point.

WFN :D

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Postby glorybee » Wed Dec 08, 2010 7:32 am

WFN, there are times when the main purpose of a nonfiction article is instruction. In those cases, of course you'll be telling people what to do!

But you still might consider ending with an anecdote.

The ending that you posted here is extremely well-written and informative; the only thing I'd say about it is that it seems to lack an emotional content or connection to the reader. It's perhpas a matter of knowing your audience; for a magazine article, this might be absolutely right, but in a writing contest where most of the readers are reading for entertainment, this may be slightly too academic.
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Postby pheeweed » Wed Dec 08, 2010 9:22 am

Jan,

I like the way you ended my piece. I think maybe, I tend to keep going after I've come to a good end.

What you wrote to WFN struck home. I often tend to be too academic in my non-fiction. I teach public speaking and have spent the last two days listening to my students' speeches. I've noticed that many of them make one of two mistakes. They repeat their key points instead of summarizing them, which is tedious. Or else they have more than one ending. Sometimes the audience starts to clap before they're done because they've spoken a clear ending, then keep going. I need to apply that to my own writing.

This lesson has been one of the most helpful for me. Thanks again.

Phee
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"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8 NLT

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