Endings in Creative Fiction Writing Help
Endings in Creative Fiction Writing
Novelist Bharti Kirchner wrote a useful discussion of how to approach endings in the July, 2007, issue of The Writer magazine. In "Step by Step: Write an ending your readers will savor," she reminds us to bring the protagonist on stage by asking:
Where is she? Is she alone or with somebody? What is her emotional state, her hopes (if any)? Who has become the most important person in her life? How is she different at these closing moments than she was in the beginning? What important lessons has she learned?
She recounts how Jane Hamilton ends When Madeline Was Young, a multigenerational family story:
When we finished our sandwiches, we turned for the north, leaving the two of them at their places on the deck. The sun was moving beyond the trees and houses, no place in my old town to see it finally slip over the filmy city horizon. Madeline and my father would sit there together until the fireflies appeared and the street lights came on, waiting for the ghostly mothers to ring their bells and sing out the names of their children from the back porches—time, at long last, to come inside.
"Dazzle with a snapshot of the physical surroundings," Kirchner says. "The image should say something about the person or the situation, or should provide a vision of things to come."
In her novel Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries, Kirchner planned on showing her protagonist Sunya alone, assessing how her trip to Japan and studies had transformed her life. She wrote, "As I lock the door to my bakery, I give a glance to the signboard above." She realized, though, that the main character's lover, Andrew, had to be there too at the ending because her relationship to him had affected her transformation. So she switched the locale of the ending to Andrew's apartment. As Sunya waits for him she thinks:
How different the space appears, how remote it feels. The bed, bereft of its sheets, seems somber and cold. ... Open suitcases are not only ugly, but also malevolent obstacles that trip you up no matter which way you turn.
A man on the move. A man who does what he wants, yesterday's promises forgotten.
Thematically, the author says, Sunya realizes in Andrew's physical absence that he is absent from her new sense of purpose.
Here is Kirchner's instruction:
Do some free writing on the last few moments of your story to blow up each moment. You can, for example, begin with such phrases as: "It was time to...." "She looked up and..." or "He ran toward..."
Write for five minutes without stopping. When you are done, select the best sentences or paragraphs and you will be zeroing in on your ending.
Now that you have practiced with the elements of fiction, select a short story, film, or novel and pay close attention to how the writer handled all of these elements. Go back and forth working on your own project and reading another's work. Compare what you are doing in your writing to the techniques the author you admire uses.
Share your work with trusted first readers and see if they are responding to your work as you are responding to the work you admire. If they are not, can you see why? If they are, can you see what you have done that is encouraging this response?
Writing fiction is as intricate as building and furnishing a house. But everything is done in stages, from laying the foundation and building the framing to painting and furnishing the rooms. With a house, you don't have walls to paint until the framing is done, the roof on, and the drywall installed. In writing, it is easy to slip from framework to painting. Go ahead, it's okay. But when you look into revising to complete your story, try to see the work as something you build. Check out the foundation (narrative line and time frame); look at the framing (plot and arc of story); take a look at the walls (point of view, character development, and dialog), and at the paint job (scenes and tone). When you open the door, is the story a place you want to enter? When you exit the house, have you had a complete experience of the place you left behind?
As in everything you write, does a door click shut, leaving you satisfied and another door open, haunting you to stretch in your thinking and feeling as a consequence of what you read?
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