Writing Secrets: Endings should never whimper

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

The last paragraph, in which you tell what the story is about, is almost always best left out.”

This was Irwin Shaw’s advice to young writers, and I think of it often. We are always tempted to write just that bit too much – to underline something we’ve alluded to, to make things plain for the reader.

Your reader doesn’t need it. In the film world, they say “Start late, end early”. It’s good advice for all writers.

When you set out to edit what you’ve written, look particularly at the end of your scenes. Endings – of scenes, of chapters, of books – are critical. They create the impression which will remain with your reader.

Scenes often whimper away, instead of leaving us with a bang. Besides being tempted to make our point more strongly, or explain it more clearly to the poor deluded reader, we are also tempted to carry on long after the drama has subsided.

Julie tells June she’s leaving her. Then she turns, picks up her car keys, leaves June’s house and drives home alone in the gathering dusk.

She doesn’t have to drive home. We get it, even if she’s already home in the next scene. We understand that she probably didn’t teleport.

She doesn’t even need to turn and retrieve her car keys. Readers are clever. They’re used to picking up the cues and they’re accustomed to making the leap when a character appears in a different location a page later.

Leave us with an intake of breath, not on a long expelled sigh of disappointment.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: How to access the secret life of characters

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