Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of six award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. For more information, visit her at website or Amazon Author Page.
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In my last post, I talked about “Openings.” Recently, the knowledge our reading personalities (our likes and dislikes) differ, was not only reinforced to me—but also the thought of writing about “Endings” came to mind as a good idea.
On the “our reading personalities differ” front, after reading the latest selection from my Book Club, I mentioned the book in a couple places and to a couple people because I liked some parts of the book a lot. Then I asked for and received input from both fellow authors and my Book Club. All their thoughts caused me to think again about how important Endings are. I already knew how special they were to me (both as an author and as a reader). But there’s knowing, and then there’s knowing.
I liked this particular book especially for its opening and ending (fond of unresolved characters, symbolism, and lyricism). I found the middle sagged, and the issues weren’t ones that particularly grabbed me. So, here’s my “readers are different” reinforcement anecdotes. Among other items, feedback I received was:
- Didn’t like the end because it was too open ended—i.e. what happened to…
- Almost put it down because didn’t like beginning…
- Didn’t like beginning or end, but loved the story, mainly the dialogue and the issues…
I’m what I call a “Pantster” when it comes to writing. That means specifically, I usually write the beginning first, then the end[i], and finally fill in the middle. And that filling in the middle jumps around a lot—but that’s the fun part. That’s where the plot twists and turns come in. My personal joy in writing.
So, at the risk of possibly once again offering more than you want to know about how writing actually happens for one particular author, here’s even more. The kind of endings I love to read:
- Tie to the beginning, giving the reader that “Oh yeah, I remember how all this started” feeling,
- Endings that leave readers with pictures in their minds—not just mental, but photographic too,[ii] (in color with all the senses involved is even better!)
- And highly desired, is leaving a symbolic nugget of some kind.
I live in a rural desert area, and if I want to get anywhere near civilization, I have to drive over one of two Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroad tracks. One train line I usually get caught sitting at runs along Route 66. Several days ago, the train was relatively short compared to some, and it stuck out visually that there was an engine on both ends. And in my mind, symbolic at that moment in time, the lead engine was pulling the reader along the story track, but when at the end of the line, the ending engine would take your mind farther past a particular book, or back into the book. I know, fanciful and a flawed example in several ways—but sitting there, waiting for that train to pass gave me several ideas on how to improve my current ending.
And yes, every time I open my WIP, I “touch up” not only the beginning, but also the end.
I’m hoping there might be a writing tidbit here about the importance of the impression your reader is left with at the end–given all our differing likes and dislikes. Having readers of your offering who not only say, “wow,” I liked that, or even “ptooie,” what an awful book; but more–such as a not easily forgotten image(s) left in their minds. And just maybe ideas and thoughts taking them farther than the tale just finished. For me it’s a lofty goal, but one that keeps me striving, keeps me writing.
I also want the ending sentences to be lyrical—and what exactly I mean by that is another blog for another day. (translation—I haven’t figured out yet what exactly I mean by that. One of those “I know ‘it’ when I experience it in other books” kind of thing.)
Happy (writing) trails!
[i] Sometimes it’s the end first, then the beginning. [ii] Fire Horses by Robert Haig is a prime example for me.
18 thoughts on “The End. Or is it?”
Madeline reading this was very insightful for me. It made me stop and think about how my endings and beginnings fit into your thought patterns. I also like that you have a place to exchange ideas because writing is a solitary experience. I’m writing this on my phone so when I can I’ll look it up and your blog online where is easier for me to jump around. Thanks for this- you’re giving me ideas. Freddi
Thank you, Freddi, for stopping by. Especially for taking the time with all the fire ugliness going on in your area. I keep hoping to get to more HDCWC meetings–but doesn’t seem to work out. Keep safe! And again, so glad you stopped by. I get sooooooooooo much inspiration from the Writer’s in Residence authors. It’s definitely like what you said, “I also like that you have a place to exchange ideas because writing is a solitary experience.”
I want a book to tie up all the loose ends at the end, and I agree with everything you posted. You’ve given me a few things to think about, too. Thank you!
Thanks for your comment, Marja, because when I thinking and writing my posts I’m always wondering if anyone gets something out of them. So you’ve put a smile on my face for sure.
Thank you for making me think about my endings. I like to leave the story ready to jump into the next novel, but I do think it would benefit from a tie-in to the beginning. Insightful, as always, Madeline!
It’s hard, I think, Jackie, to do all that stuff I mentioned–and to also keep the ending enjoyable! Really good endings stay with me–I guess that’s what prompted me think about and write this post. It’s really a challenge, for me at least.
Endings are the hardest part for me! I do like to leave the reader with a feeling or image to carry away from the book, but it ALWAYS takes me at least ten tries to get anything remotely satisfying. One of the best endings, in my opinion, is in “Gone with the Wind”: “I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” We don’t know the outcome, but based on what we’ve learned of Scarlett O’Hara, it’s a safe bet that she’ll be okay, one way or another, and readers have the luxury of deciding–does she or doesn’t she get Rhett back?
Great post, Mad!
Excellent example, Bonnie! I also have carried snapshot frames from that movie, especially the end, around in my brain since I first saw the movie. I didn’t read the book. You’ve reminded me of that ending and got me thinking some more…
I teach a class called How To Write a Killer Opening and I always tie the beginning with the closing. It’s fair to the reader and a challenge for the writer, but boy is it worth it. Great post, Mad.
As always, Gayle, you’re right on the mark! And I can’t agree more on how “worth it” doing just that is–directly or symbolically. And being a challenge for the writer, I think endings are high up on the list! Thanks for your kind words.
I just like reading your stuff. Whatever you do, however you do it…it works. Sometimes in the middle, I feel that jumping around a bit, taking peeks at this person, that event, the other comment spoken quietly in a bar or within the character’s own mind, standing before a fireplace or open vista. It’s nice. It challenges me to think. So, while knowing all along I shall surely arrive at that lyrical ending, I happily jog alongside you, enjoying the mind scenery and the occasional conundrum.
Keep seeing those symbolic trains!
Hey, here’s a thought. I ride Metrolink trains often, and notice that sometimes the engine pulls the cars, and sometimes it pushes them. Is there a writing lesson there?
Yes, Jackie! I never thought about the “pushing” part! I was just thinking pulling. Going to have to think about that. Those are awfully nice things you’ve said about my writing, thank you. And like I tell anyone who asks, having writing friends like you makes ALL the difference. And in case you haven’t guessed, some of your thoughts on Up Island got me thinking about endings… (I also see some Google research on pushing trains in my future!)
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Hi, Madeline, your post reminded me about something that relates to scenes as well. Scenes, at least for me, are little mini-stories with a beginning, middle, and end all their own. But as a writer, there are three things that make a scene work for me: Does it add new information? Does it move the story forward? Does it pull the reader along the story’s logline or throughline? I’m sure this isn’t an original thought. Most of what I’ve learned about writing comes from others but it works for me. I love the train analogy, too. I’m big on themes and try to layer them into each scene or chapter in some way either thru the narrative, dialogue or even chapter titles that hopefully resonate with the reader by the time they’ve finished reading the scene. So I guess for endings that’s what I hope they do: resonate in some way with the reader. I know a good ending when I read one and it’s usually one I’ll read over and over just because I loved it and it worked so well for the story. The end of GWTW has already been mentioned as a great ending that resonates with the reader because we know Scarlett’s character so well by then. I’d also add To Kill A Mockingbird’s ending. Can’t state it verbatim but I still have the image of Atticus sitting in a chair by Jem’s bed and the line that he’d be there when Jem waked up in the morning. I think that’s such a beauty because it speaks so clearly to Atticus’ caring nature as a father and a human being. Great post as usual. Paul
Hi, Paul! I just love it when you stop by, because as you know, I love your writing, and you successfully accomplish many of “things”–beginnings, endings, sense of place, characters I like, etc. So, I listen to your thoughts, and so often they are mirroring some things I’m thinking about–such as scenes! And I was thinking about your short fiction, where you have to do soooooooo much in that one little snapshot. I’ve learned a lot from thinking about short fiction–the form is not for me, but the concepts are so apropos for all writing… I’ll stop stream-of-consciousnessing now, but as always, thank you for stopping by and getting me thinking. One day, I’ll get over there to the central coast…. Take care, Paul.
PS I’ll never forget some of the images of Boo Radley played by Robert Duvall–indelible in my brain.
I really like your insights here – I am currently working on an ending, and it is difficult to know if I should go with the upbeat or what-really-should-happen. Sometimes I just write several alternative endings and choose the one that seems to suit the best.
What a great idea, Kate, and an innovative approach to the “perfect ending” Probably frees up how the story like can go too. Smart! I’ve always liked your endings…current story was wrapped up, but there was still the future…
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Hi, Mad! I appreciate reading the thoughts in the writers residence blog.
Since I often struggle with endings, the insights are especially welcome.
Also, the next time I am waiting for those long freight trains to go by, I won’t feel stuck. I will patiently look toward the end to see if a caboose …or an engine is there. Good symbolism.
Many thanks, Brenda
Thanks for stopping by, Brenda! Some of those trains are definitely LONG–and I sometimes find it hard not to be impatient, but what else can you do, but think about writing. And I agree, endings certainly are tricky. Glad you’re reading some of the posts from the other Writers in Residence–a wealth of talent, experience, and generosity! And thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, very much appreciated.