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Greetings, fellow writers and writing-curious!  SensibleShoes is out for the week, leaving me with the unenviable task of trying to fill her... er, sandals.  

Okay.  Let's start with a quiz: what do all these quotes have in common?

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.  It is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
yes I said yes I will Yes.

If you answered These are all lines of English prose by long-dead male authors, you would be correct... but if you answered These are all famous endings to novels, you'd also be correct and a little more in line with what I'm thinking for this diary.

Endings are often the most memorable part of a good reading experience.  They may wrap up loose ends, they may resolve tension and answer questions, and they may do none of these things... but most importantly, they send us out of the novel with the feeling of closure.  Closure is an emotional rather than strictly narrative event: some books follow all their characters to the end of their respective stories, but I'm sure we all know works that have "open" endings but nonetheless feel complete.  What's important is the cadence.

Many writers don't know that ending until it arrives, organically, during the process of writing it.  Zadie Smith calls this kind of writer the Micro Manager, the kind who starts on page one and ends on the terminal page, following the plot and characters as the spirit moves.  The Macro Planner, by comparison, graphs out the narrative architecture ahead of time, in different color crayons à la Vonnegut, to have a sense of the overall plan before the prose writing starts.  

Whichever you are, you will eventually come to that ending, and that's when you need to be at your best: so let's give this a whirl.  A few weeks ago SS asked us to write opening scenes based on a (supposedly) poor model.*   Imagine an ending that would bring this hypothetical work to a close based on the tone, style, and material you used in your opening.  The details of plot and character don't matter for this exercise.  Think of it like a musical phrase: what final lines would serve to bring the reader of those opening lines to a sense of closure?  What emotional reaction do you want the reader to leave your work with?

Maybe there's a detail in your opening that'll hit hard if it's brought back in the final sentences?  Maybe it's about the stylistic echoes in your prose?  Maybe it's a character beat that satisfies the reader who found your initial hook so compelling?  There's no "wrong" way to end a book, but you'll know the "right" one when it lands.


* If you missed that particular diary, maybe you took part in this one or this one?  Or heck, just give us an ending from scratch, if ya want to do that.  This is your space to fly.

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Originally posted to De hominis dignitate on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Alternate question: (17+ / 0-)

    What are your favorite endings, and why?

    I guess this indicates [SPOILERS] for the entire comments section?

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Tue Jun 04, 2013 at 06:00:52 PM PDT

  •  I have way too many favorite (8+ / 0-)

    book endings to list here, but might as well go with one of the most infamous and awesome:


    What's outside the window?

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:13:23 PM PDT

  •  I am republishing you to (9+ / 0-)

    Readers & Book Lovers.

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:18:06 PM PDT

  •  Since I wasn't here for the initial exercise... (8+ / 0-)

    ...have to go with "Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland..." as fave ending ever.

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:19:20 PM PDT

  •  mine (8+ / 0-)
    The jeweled dragon eye snuggled back into the harbor tower as if it had come home.  The light shone out again past the rocks as a guide to all the ships at sea; merchants, pirates, smugglers, travelers, and fishermen.

    But Jasper still wondered what the eye saw, what news it relayed to Malford who slept in his buried hall.  

    What mischief is he planning in his dreams?  When will he awaken and come again?

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:31:36 PM PDT

  •  Okay, so (7+ / 0-)

    here's my opening from that earlier exercise, and here's my closing:

       But Eulalia was gone, for real this time, and no amount of conjuring on Froop's part could bring her back.  He felt the dim room around him was choked by the clutter of mistakes, his mistakes and Freddie's mistakes, that he could not now, not ever repair.  That was his hard-won truth.
        It was almost too much to bear.  With a shout Froop stormed out of the clinic, without even bothering to put on his shoes, and stumbled open-armed into the warm, forgiving rays of the sun.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:36:25 PM PDT

  •  Means to an End (9+ / 0-)

    When I was drawing hand-made comics back in college, often I would write it with a "punch line" in mind, and would try to steer the story in order to set it up.  I suppose I still do that to a greater or lesser extent.

    I went back and read what I wrote for that previous exercise, and I have no idea how to end that story because I have no idea what that story would be about.  I'll need to think about it.

    But in the meantime, here is the ending of one of my all-time favorites:

    And to the question asked by Ecclesiastes 6,000 years ago, "Who has ever fathomed the depths of the abyss?" two men, among all men, have the right to give an answer --

    Captain Nemo and Myself.

    -- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:44:23 PM PDT

  •  here's my opening (7+ / 0-)

    link except it's kind of not the opening as I wrote the opening this afternoon and it's way different.

    I really don't like Froop. I think I'll kill him off as an ending.

  •  Very interesting piece pico. (9+ / 0-)

    Thank you.

    I especially liked this:

    Closure is an emotional rather than strictly narrative event
  •  be (7+ / 0-)

    ginning, from one of those diaries: ""The crab sidled onto the beach, dragging a human toe that dug a furrow in the wet sand."

    ending: "And then, for the first time, I took that one small step."

    "Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror."

    by GussieFN on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 06:48:18 PM PDT

  •  I think one of the best endings.... (8+ / 0-)

    Is the way Arthur C. Clarke ended "Childhood's End"

    The first time I read the book, it left me stunned for minutes. It still has an impact when I go back to it. It turned the universe into a very different place, or perhaps it would better to say it put the place of humanity in the universe into a totally different perspective.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 06:48:37 PM PDT

  •  I'm late to the party (10+ / 0-)

    Because I was out admiring my tomatoes, which are all setting fruit, when I was struck by the irrational fear that in the course of starting 28 from seed and giving away a lot of them and they lost their labels in the process, that I'd somehow been left with SEVEN GRAPE TOMATO PLANTS and nothing else. I like grape tomatoes as well as the next person but I wanted some big ones that I could roast and pig out on.  I was so distraught I went out and bought a Costoluto Genovese and a Bradywine at the nursery.

    When I got back I compared the leaves of my seven original plants and realized thatbtheybaren't all the same.  What a relief.  Meanwhile, the only closing line I came up with was:

    She was mixing tomato food when she realized.  They were all Red Currants.  Every one.
  •  Something like... (8+ / 0-)
    Clarse stood on the doorstep of Froop's for a moment.

    "See you tomorrow," Bodrin asked?

    The past few months ran through Clarse's head. The days on the road. The moments of sheer terror. The hours of boredom. Disappointment, pain, suffering. The adrenalin rush and ego boost of success against the odds. The sheer rage at betrayal and the despair of failure.

    Froop's parting words. "All in all, not bad for a beginner. I've seen worse."

    Clarse turned to Bodrin and shrugged with a half-smile.


    Then he set off with a steady pace for the room waiting for him at the Twisted Badger.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 07:01:01 PM PDT

  •  There's a wonderful contest (9+ / 0-)

    called Scent of an Ending, sort of a Bulwer-Lytton in reverse:  write the worst possible ending to a hypothetical bad novel.  Here are some of mine that were, alas, deemed not bad enough:


    Phil looked stunned as Jesus descended slowly from a cloud, on a shaft of light like a divine Macy’s elevator.  Christ had come to judge the unrighteous, and I couldn’t wait to see that latte-sipping, ACLU-loving, Volvo-driving expression wiped off Phil’s face.  

    Then the Antichrist rose out of the earth, limping on his cloven hoof.  He aimed his pitchfork toward Phil, but Jesus stopped him.  I was confused, like an angel with vertigo (but not from drinking – angels don’t drink).  Surely Phil was not among the saved?

    Jesus stepped toward Phil, his arm raised in a conciliatory gesture.  Then he dropped Phil with a right cross.  “That’s for saying ‘Happy holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ on my birthday, bitch!”


    Mary Sue finally found an editor who wasn’t an idiot, and he published her book.  She won a Pulitzer, a Nobel, and a special new award named after her.  Mary Sue moved to a solid gold house and wrote on a solid gold typewriter, while personal trainers massaged her and fed her grapes.  Then she bought all the publishing companies, and fired the editors who’d turned her down.

    She hired a private army to round up the contest editors who had passed over her entries.  She lined them up and yelled, “Thank you for your interest – and I wish you the best of luck placing your work elsewhere!”

    Then she pulled out their rejection letters and killed them with paper cuts.



    The assassins’ gunfire drove me closer to the edge of the cliff, with a piranha-filled river below.  The tang of smoke in the air reminded me that my shoes were on fire.  The only question was how I would rather die (shot full of holes, or plunging from the cliff, or barbecued from the ankles up (or possibly eaten by piranhas, but presumably I’d be dead when I hit the water (or moments later, in any case))).

        Then a beautiful woman parachuted in with a semiautomatic in her bra, shot all the bad guys and poured Perrier (at least I think it was Perrier (some kind of upscale bottled water, anyway)) on my shoes.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 07:19:49 PM PDT

  •  Some of my favorite endings (7+ / 0-)

    are too long to quote here, but I'll put in my vote for:

    Alice Walker, Possessing the Secret of Joy

    John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

    And Charles Baxter's First Light, which starts at the end and works its way back to the beginning.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 07:44:27 PM PDT

  •  The thing about an ending (5+ / 0-)

    is that it might not stand on it's own, and probably shouldn't. It's everything that came before it that lends impact to the ending.

    I'm living in America, and in America you're on your own. America's not a country. It's just a business.

    by CFAmick on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 08:07:43 PM PDT

  •  All Quiet on the Western Front: (6+ / 0-)
    He fell in October, 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.

    He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.

    You know what? The two paragraphs should switch order for greater impact.

    I'm living in America, and in America you're on your own. America's not a country. It's just a business.

    by CFAmick on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 08:11:52 PM PDT

  •  I'm onto something here but I think it needs work (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Portlaw, RiveroftheWest

    It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good IT services market research analyst. Charlotte was both.

  •  I know the exercise was to write an ending (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cfk, Portlaw, RiveroftheWest

    but I enjoyed writing this opening so much that I thought I'd share it.

    One moment, Darius Cranford was hurtling toward the gossamer cloud of the wormhole mouth. The next moment, the Earth was looming huge in front of him.
    Everything was wrong.

    The Pod was still firing its thrusters and now he was going to enter atmosphere.

    Alarms beeped at first, and then they screamed warnings as the pod began to shake and shimmy.

    “Houston, this is Cranford,” Darius called out. He heard nothing but static in his earplug.

    The Pod had no windows but a series of cameras projected their images in screens surrounding Darius. They showed him the looming Earth steadily growing in size in front of him. He blinked twice to connect his visual linkup to the Pod’s AI. He had to stop the shimmy, get the Pod back to manual, and correct their course before they dove into the atmosphere and burned up or skipped off it entirely. Manual control was not forthcoming.

    “Help me out here, JJ,” he yelled as the interface kicked him out of the system a second time.

    “I cannot allow you to take control at this time. The dark matter collectors have been damaged,” said the AI.

    Darius was dumbfounded. The collectors were not important right now. “JJ, we’re-“he checked a display –“81 seconds from disintegrating in atmosphere. Dump the fucking collectors and give me control!”

    He swore the AI sighed. This was only the second mission the two had worked together, and the first big experiment. JJ was temperamental, snippy, pompous, and moody. However, what AI wasn’t? Nevertheless, he then felt a pop, and then two, and then three. In his displays, he saw the mangled dark matter collectors fall away from the rear of the pod. Linear scars remained where they’d been attached to the hull. “Holy God,” he said. “What did that?”

    A bright green light strobed in his right ocular display. “Captain Cranford, you have control,” said the AI as a control stick rose from the deck of the Pod between his legs. Darius grabbed it and began setting courses. He had to get the angle just right so they wouldn’t burn up. That was not something Darius desired at all.

    “JJ, tell me why I can’t raise Houston?” he asked as he activated thrusters to change their trajectory. He checked his math; there was no way they wouldn’t enter atmosphere now, but at least they wouldn’t be reduced to ash.

    “I am scanning channels,” said JJ. “Things seem anomalous however. I am scanning analogue frequencies.”

    “Could you give me a bit more info?” Darius was practically screaming something but he noticed something in the display window in front of him. The Earth below him was . . . wrong.

    He was reasonably certain they were passing over southern Alaska and western Canada, headed southeast. They’d enter atmosphere somewhere over the Great Lakes. There should be green passing below him. Instead, he saw…snow.

    Snow? He thought.

    Now there was a scratchy male voice coming through the static in his earplug. “Unidentified craft. This is Orbital One Station. Please identify yourself. Unidentified craft. This is Orbital One Station. Please identify yourself . . .”

    What? Orbital One? Where am I?

    They entered atmosphere.

    The fiery object entered atmosphere over Lake Michigan. Streaking over Michigan, Ontario, and Ohio, the passage of the fireball gave a light show to thousands as it streaked over Detroit and Windsor on a southeasterly course. It was a quarter to five in the evening on a chilly and damp Thursday.

    The object changed trajectory slightly and slowed as it punched through the clouds over western Pennsylvania. A sonic boom shook the homes of thousands around Pittsburgh, prompting calls to police departments and radio stations. It passed over metro Pittsburgh, where couples at a drive-in theater spotted the fireball and its trail headed southeast toward Westmoreland County. The object finally fell to earth near the tiny town of Kecksburg. Pieces of the object fell to earth behind it, sparking grassfires in a number of states.

    The cameras had long failed when the jolting crash woke Darius up. He figured JJ had piloted the craft after he blacked out. He had to get out of the Pod.

    He wriggled out of the spacesuit and harness. Beneath, the skinsuit he wore would stealth him, just in case the experimental wormhole dumped him very far from home on some alien planet instead of Lunar orbit. He pulled the skinmask over his head and activated the goggle plate over his eyes, hoping to get a fix on his position.

    The GPS coordinates were not functional. ERROR, ERROR, ERROR blinked in the lower part of his vision. He tried to link them with the Pod’s equipment but nothing appeared. They must have been damaged, he thought as he activated the suit’s stealth feature. An outsider would have seen him vanish.

    He unsealed the hatch and climbed out. “JJ, seal up tight behind me and maintain a link to me. I’m going to find out what’s going on,” he said.

    There was snow on the ground in places. The trees were bare. He knew from their prior trajectory that they’d entered atmosphere over the Great Lakes so he couldn’t be in Canada. Besides, there was a heat wave in eastern Canada right now. So why am I seeing snow? He thought.

    Low rolling mountains to the east suggested he’d crashed in Appalachia. So he could be in New York State or Pennsylvania between the mountains and Pittsburgh he surmised. But where were the scrub palms? And snow?  Something is very wrong.

    Darius could hear people coming, and he felt it was best to retreat. Taking care to avoid leaving footprints in the spotty snow, he retreated into the forest. He hated leaving JJ and the Pod behind, but the AI was still feeding him telemetry. One of the cameras had come back to life, but he declined to view the action. By now a man with a camera had shown up with a gaggle of men who appeared to be police officers and firefighters. Their clothing and uniforms looked. . . archaic. Darius stumbled away for what he guessed was an hour, hearing distant voices call, and then distant trucks rumble, their engine noises perturbing the darkening and silent bare woods.

    As he came to a road, he stopped just before the tree line. Several large trucks passed him and turned left into the woods a short ways beyond him. There must have been a trail there. That’s when it hit him: I’m in the wrong time.

    “JJ,” he whispered, his voice shaking, his whole body shaking, “What date is it?”

    “Tuesday June 21, 2107,” came the AI’s prompt reply in his earplug.

    “No, JJ. It can’t be June. Look around you if you can,” he said as he crouched down in the muck behind the treeline. He knew no one could see him, but he couldn’t help himself.  “And it is not 2107.”

    The AI said, “If you are implying we’ve time-traveled you do know that time travel is simply not possible.” Darius swore the AI was being snippy.

    “JJ. Think, or process, or whatever it is you do! We were just engaged in an experiment where we were launched into low orbit and activated dark matter collectors that we used to open a wormhole, which we’re planning on using to travel instantaneously to Alpha Centauri and other stars. We’d outrun our own light if we did so. That is a form of time-travel. We were about to do it!” He didn’t add that they apparently had done it.

    “Captain Cranford, I concede the point that we’ve traveled in time. But I don’t believe we’ve done just that. I’m monitoring several frequencies. Please have a listen,” said JJ

    “Turn, Turn, Turn! On sale at your record store today!” said a man’s voice before he launched into a weather forecast. It was going to rain in the next couple days. Then he began a commercial advertising a store in downtown Pittsburgh. That helped place the locale for Darius. Later in the same commercial he learned Christmas was fast approaching. That explained the patchy  and spotty snow, and the chill he was becoming increasingly aware of. The skinsuit made him invisible. It didn’t quite protect him from the cold.

    Then he heard the commercial for the car just as one passed along the road and slowed near where the trucks Darius was now certain were military had turned into the woods. The car looked ancient. The commercial advertised a 1966 Jetstar 88 car for sale. Darius about fell over. But worse came when the radio DJ began to read the news. “No folks,” the man said in a folksy and warm tone. “We don’t have any new information on that fireball you all saw in the sky around 5 o’clock but Space Command”—he chuckled now—“ says it’s on the case. Elsewhere we’ve got this report from Dumont Interstellar on election season now underway in the American Centauri colony. Here you go-“ and the report played after a moment.

    Darius felt rising panic. “JJ,” he whispered. “JJ. JJ. JJ…we’re in the wrong universe,” suddenly realizing that the AI had probably concluded this during the crash landing. “JJ. JJ. What…JJ.” He was stammering now.

    “Yes,” said JJ, its voice oddly calm. “The military is here. I suggest you vacate the area. I’ll be fine—I’m sealed up tight and they can’t cut through my hull. We’ll keep in touch via our link but you’ll have to stay in North America.”

    “What do I do? What will I do. What can I do?” Darius was spinning. He knew that in his own time—and universe—there were habitable planets around both stars in the Alpha Centauri system, and a host of other stars within 100 light years thanks to decades of observations from space-based telescopes. That was the reason for the wormhole experiment in the first place. The report continued in his earplug and it told him the colony had been there since 1962, was the first colony by any nation on another world, that there was growing traffic between the Earth and the colonies thanks to the “Heim Gravpulse Invertor” that made faster-than-light travel possible. This was beyond wrong. Heim? He swore that 20th Century fringe physicist was debunked in the mid-21st century.

    “JJ. What do I do?” he asked as the radio shut off. He was pretty close to tears, thinking that not only was he in the wrong universe, if his parents existed in this one they weren’t even born yet. His grandparents would be children in 1965. Or would they not even exist yet either? He really couldn’t think straight.
    “Survive,” said JJ simply. “I’ll help you. I have an idea. Now listen.”

    The US Military classified the crash of the Pod by denying it ever happened. First, it was a meteor. Then, a Soviet space probe attempting to use an automated Heim gravpulse invertor, but everyone knew the object was just too small for such a device to even work.

    Some men took John Murphy’s camera, he claimed, and then ordered him to censor a radio show he’d planned on the object in the woods he and others had seen. Later, he died in a mysterious car accident. However, many had seen a flatbed truck back deep into the woods and then emerge with a cone-shaped object under a tarp. The truck then left the area, presumably headed toward Ohio where Space Command apparently had a base at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (also classified.) What happened beyond that, no one knew, and the government wasn’t talking. The government had to be sued to declassify the Orbital One Station’s visual recording tracks from that day, but that didn’t happen until 2011.

    Not as often reported were the strange events that occurred between December 9, 1965 and December 13, 1965. People had strange sightings. Sheds were broken into. Dogs barked at nothing. Housewives reported that they took advantage of the brief mildish weather and clothing they hung out vanished from clotheslines. People in the woods heard whispers and mutterings, as if someone was trying to rationalize the impossible. They locally called it “The Weird Week,” and speculated an alien had briefly lived amongst them, related to the crash of the Object in the Woods. It had to be an alien, people said, because if it had been a Soviet they would have found him by now. But wait, others said citing the TV series Deep Space Patrol, the Soviets could have a cloaking device. People argued this through Christmas.

    Mildred Miller was looking out her kitchen window on December 10 when she saw a flash. Then, for the briefest of moments, she spotted an entirely black humanoid figure, short in height but seemingly powerfully built, snatch a pair of her son’s husky overalls off her clothesline. She screamed and when she did, she noted its big red eyes as it looked directly at her. It suddenly disappeared but the overalls moved, seemingly of their own volition, quickly back into the woods. Later, the police found a pair of overalls were gone, but no trace of the “black alien,” as she called it.

    That evening Sam Rochinski told his he had found his shed broken into. “Weird things going on,” he said. Everyone agreed.

    Mrs. Betty Wozniack’s Irish Setter barked half the evening of the 11th until, as she went to open the door to yell at him and to bring him in, she heard a distinct low voice tell the dog “Quiet!” There was no one in the yard that she could see, and the dog shut up. It scared her so much that she told no one, not even her husband (who was not at home at the time) for almost 25 years until the family emigrated to American Centauri.

    Four teenagers swore they saw a disembodied penis “taking a piss” near St. Florian’s Rectory. The “Ghost Dick of Calumet” became a local legend and its size, girth, and color changed with retellings along with the story’s ribaldry.

    The Pallones lived on Route 981 near the turnpike. They’d been away in Pittsburgh, interviewing with the Colonial Recruitment Agency. When they returned on December 14, they discovered their house had been broken into. Samuel Pallone’s backpack had been emptied all over his room and was missing, along with several of Albert Pallone’s sweaters. Someone had used the shower and napped on the couch. Edith Pallone discovered several of her small sewing kits were missing, along with the preserves she’d canned that October. The incident disturbed the family of six so much that they were gone from Earth by Christmas, headed to American Centauri.

    But the Weird Week came to an end. Very few connected the incidents to the strange short stocky Negro man a few saw hitchhiking on the evening of December 13th in the westbound lanes of the Turnpike. Someone must have picked him because no one ever saw him again.

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