It’s been a heady couple of weeks doing first pages here at TKZ. So I thought, just to catch our breath and balance things out, maybe we should go the other way for a moment.
What about your last page?
I love the Mickey Spillane quote: “The first page sells your book. The last page sells your next book.”
How true that is. How many times have we begun a novel or movie, only to be let down when the book is closed or the credits roll?
I love beginnings. Beginnings are easy. I can write grabber beginnings all day long. So, I suspect, can you.
But endings? Those are hard.
Why? First, because with each passing day another book or movie has come out, another ending has been rendered. So many great endings have already shown up. We who continue to write have the burden of trying to provide satisfactory surprise at the end when so much ending material is already out there.
Second, our endings have to tie things up in a way that makes sense but is also unanticipated. If the reader can see it from a mile away, the effect is lost.
I like what Boston University writing teacher Leslie Epstein said in a recent Writer’s Digest piece (“Tips for Writing and for Life,” WD March/April 2010). When asked if a writer must know the ending before he starts, Epstein says, “The answer is easy: yes and no. One must have in mind between 68 and 73 percent of the ending.”
Epstein’s having a bit of fun here, but his point is solid. If you have the ending 100% in mind, you’re in a straitjacket, unable to let your story sufficiently breathe, or twist, or turn.
OTOH, if you don’t have any idea where you’re going, you could easily fall into the meander trap, or the backed-into-a-corner trap.
There are some very helpful techniques for writing a great ending. Joe Moore discussed some of these last month. Type “endings” in the search box in the upper left of the blog, and you’ll get other thoughts by my blog mates. And I’ll humbly mention that I have also treated the subject in Plot & Structure.
But rather than focusing on principles, today I want to offer you my own personal approach to writing endings. It’s called Stew, Brew and Do.
Why is it called that? Because I made it up so I get to name it.
Here’s how it goes:
Step 1: Stew.
I spend a lot of time at the end of a manuscript just stewing about the ending. Brooding over it. I’ve got my final scenes in mind, of course, and have written toward them. I may even have written a temporary ending. But I know I won’t be satisfied until I give the whole thing time to simmer. I put the manuscript aside for awhile, work on other projects, let the “boys in the basement” take over.
I tell myself to dream about the ending before going to bed. I write down notes in the morning.
Step 2: Brew.
When I am approaching the drop dead deadline, I continue to outline ending possibilities. I will have files of notes and ideas floating in my head. When I know I have to finish I use Brew in both a practical and metaphorical way.
I take a long walk. There is a Starbucks half an hour from my office. (In fact, there is a Starbucks half an hour from anyplace in the world). I put a small notebook in my back pocket and walk there and order a brew—a solo espresso. I down it, wait a few minutes and then start writing notes in the notebook.
Then I walk another half an hour, to another Starbucks (I’m not kidding). There I make more notes. If I have to, I have another espresso. I am a wild-eyed eccentric at this point, but I do have ideas popping up all over the place.
Step 3: Do.
I go back to my office and write until finished.
Well, it works for me. I like most of my endings, but they were very hard work to get to. But hey, that’s good. If this gig was easy, everybody’d be doing it, right? Be glad it’s as hard as it is. Your efforts will pay off.
So what works for you? Do you find endings hard? Or do they roll out of your imaginary assembly line fully functioning and ready to go?
What are some of your favorite endings? Or better yet: what endings, to movies or books, would you change?