The Ending Is an Invitation
Recently, I attended the Muse & the Marketplace writers conference sponsored by Grub Street. I wrote a piece last week about how I came away from one of the sessions with a new sense of what makes a great story beginning. Another session focused on story endings.
The speaker for that session was Robin Black. I will paraphrase her here, but she said that a writer doesn’t create an ending in order to close a story down, but instead writes the ending in a way that opens the story up. Think of the ending as a “giving,” she said.
She went on to say:
It’s your opportunity to invite the reader to extract meaning and contemplate the significance of what the story means.
This idea really resonated with me. During her talk, Black gave the example of a eulogy. She said that if you were to write a eulogy for a loved one, you wouldn’t tell the story of that person’s life and then end it with, “and then she died.” Instead, your closing remarks would try to convey the meaning of that life, and even more so, invite the listeners to comprehend the significance of that life.
It’s the same with a story. Black was talking specifically about short story endings, but I think this applies to novels, as well. Some tips she offered for “giving” the story included:
- end with an extended metaphor
- go back into a memory
- introduce something into the story early that plays a small role, but which builds until the end; after the drama has been resolved, go back to this thing you’ve introduced
- end with a sudden change of view
These are things to consider when crafting your story. But what if you’ve already written and rewritten the story and the ending still doesn’t feel right? I suggest taking Kim Davis’s advice. In her blog, she says that when revising endings that aren’t working, just lop the whole thing off and start over. In Revise Endings: Off With Their Feet, she writes:
… until you CUT you are just moving commas around. It’s hard to make yourself do it, but once you do, there’s a wonderful sense of clarity that sets in. There’s a hole in the writing, and the words gush in like water to fill it.
Stories aren’t the only thing that have endings, though. Scenes need to end and so do chapters. Author C.S. Lakin’s post Endings that Spark Beginnings offers excellent advice for those.
And now this post needs to end. Good luck with your endings.
Photo: Clara S. / Flickr Creative Commons
Endings (and beginnings) can be tough. I like Robin Black’s suggestions. Sometimes endings are unsuccessful because the mechanics of the story aren’t quite working. Maybe it means re-writing the story, or adding in / taking away scenes, or developing a character more before the right ending will become apparent.
Yes, I totally agree. Cutting off the ending may not be the answer if the story overall isn’t working! There are so many elements to consider.
That was wonderful advice! Thanks for posting this.
You’re welcome! Thanks for following.
I really like that: Think of the ending as a giving.
How wonderful. It changes everything doesn’t it?
Tracy — been reading these and love this, wanted to offer something that worked for me on one project: work backwards from the ending. That is, I came up with an ending scene, and wanted to know “how did we get here?”
For really short pieces that seems to work.
Thanks Jesse! And thanks for your suggestion. Great idea.