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.