Weekly Writing Memo: Where does it end?Posted: May 25, 2016
Every ending in a story is a pause. Some pauses are long, like the end of a novel. Others are short, like the end of a sentence. Whenever you have an ending of some sort in a story, your audience is taking a pause before going on so you need to choose those moments carefully. You want to make the most of the endings in your work, and use them for a purpose that helps your story. Never make an ending, just to end something.
In a Sentence:
Something I know I’ve had trouble with in the past, is when to end a sentence. Sometimes, I like to make long sentences that pack in a lot of detail, and go on and on, because I like the flow of them. Other times I keep things short. If you do too much of one type of sentence, however, it can lead to a very repetitive rhythm in your writing which can get tedious to read. The key is to choose your sentence endings carefully, and to try and vary your rhythms now and then.
If you want to emphasize a specific detail, sometimes it works better to put it in a short sentence that stands out. If you want to create a flow of description, sometimes a long sentence works better. Figure out what the most important element of your sentence is, and however you write it, make sure that element is being given the focus and attention it needs. If it is, then however you end your sentence works.
In a Paragraph:
Oddly enough, there are a lot of writers I’ve talked to who struggle with figuring out when to make a paragraph break. Paragraph breaks help the reader read more smoothly, and not get lost in a huge chunk of writing. It also gives them an opportunity to pause if needed, without risking losing their place in the story. Beyond that, a paragraph break can be used for:
- Emphasis – such as when you want a detail to stand out, so you make it a paragraph of its own. Or, if you want to emphasize an image, you can end or start a paragraph on that image, which forces the reader to pause on that image.
- Transition – if you’re going from one setting or plot element to another, a new paragraph can help the transition by creating a physical break between the words.
- Dialogue – as most know, paragraph breaks are also used to distinguish dialogue speakers from each other, and to help break the dialogue out from the action so it’s easier to read and recognize at dialogue.
Overall, the purpose of paragraphs is to help the flow of the text, so use the endings of paragraphs to help the flow of your story.
In a Novel:
In a novel, there are chapter endings, as well as the novel ending. Each chapter should have a small plot arc of its own that is developed. Whenever that minor arc is finished, it’s a good opportunity for a chapter break. These give the reader a chance to catch their breath, and it gives the write the chance to move the story forward by jumping in time, setting, or character as needed.
As for the ending of novels, then when you think you’re at the end, ask yourself “if my story ends here, what would the reader still want to know that is important?” If there are things left, then write a bit more to answer those questions. If you find yourself starting to set up a new plot or conflict too much that would lead to another story, then you have gone past the ending. There can be set-up for another story, but it should be minor and imply what the next story should be about, not completely set-up the next story.
In a Script:
In a script, most endings come out by the ending of a scene or a conversation. So when do you end a conversation between two characters? When do you end a scene? In general, every scene or conversation should end as soon as all the information that needs to be established in it has been delivered. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you have a natural transition in and out of the scene so there may be a line or more extra, but you don’t want much beyond that. Before you write any scene you should know what the purpose of that scene or conversation is. If you know this, then you know when you’ve achieved it with your writing. As soon as you have, find a way to end or wrap up the scene so you can keep the story moving forward.
Endings are hard, because figuring out if you’ve told the audience too much, or too little, requires you to have an objective perspective. Since the writing is yours, that is not always easy. To help, whenever you’re writing some form of ending, ask yourself three questions:
- Have I told my audience everything they need to know?
- Is there anything I’ve told them that they don’t need to know?
- Is there anything that I can remove without changing the story?
If you can answer those questions, then you know what needs to be in the story, and you know where your endings are.