…At The Close

Newsletter 029 – December 23rd, 2022


The previous newsletter was about story openings. This one is about how to wrap a story up, and whether writers need to know exactly how a story will end, and whether they need to know exactly what words they will use to end it.

As you saw in the previous newsletter, Joyce Carol Oates said, “The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.” I think that writers who believe in that statement are probably planners, outliners, or plotters. In Newsletter 23, back in September, I talked about the difference between plotters and pantsers. Essentially, plotters work out many of the details of their stories well in advance, using lists and outlines and a variety of techniques to make sure their stories follow a specific track from beginning to end. Pantsers, though, mostly just wing it and start writing, hoping it will lead somewhere.

I’m a combination of both. I can write from an outline, and have for certain kinds of writing (something that’s on a very tight deadline, academic writing, things of that nature). For novels, though, I have always felt like an outline constricts me by boxing my words into a specific shape. When I start working on a story, before I write my first word, I have already been thinking about it, wondering whether certain elements of it will work in the context of the plot.

I do like to have at least a general idea where the story is headed, but my characters will let me know (as the story unfolds) when they want to do something other than what I originally thought they would. When a character does that (yes, it happens all the time), the rest of the plot can be thrown completely out of whack. If I had been using a detailed outline, all of that advance work would have been wasted. While I’m writing I know how I think the story will resolve. That helps me continue to write toward that conclusion, even though that ending may shift and change during the several months it will take me to complete the first draft.

The main goal I always have, though, is to write an ending that will leave the reader satisfied, even if I don’t know what that ending will be when I start. Having said that, this is my last newsletter this year. I need to come to a conclusion for it before I begin again in January, so let me just say that I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful rest of this year and much health and happiness in the years to come.

At this moment I have no idea what that next newsletter will be about, but I will hopefully see you then.


[“The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy, the building of a house, the writing of a novel, the demolition of a bridge, and, eminently, the finish of a voyage.” Over the River, John Galsworthy, 1933.]

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