For writers, it isn’t always easy to find The End

image Welcome to Ned’s Nickels Worth on Writing, a weekly feature in which I utilize my 15 years as a columnist to impart writing wisdom that 50 Shades author E.L. James has called “The inspiration for my ‘safe’ word.” Keeping that in mind (…ok, that’s enough), this week’s NWOW is special because, like a good “safe” word, it could keep you from getting spanked too hard when it comes to formulating a strong ending to your story, column, novel, latest post or current relationship.

Before we get started, I’d like to say thanks to Ross Murray at Drinking Tips for Teens and Molly at Mollytopia for suggesting this topic in response to last week’s NWOW, during a series of comments that went something like this:

Ross: You should write a Nickel’s Worth on endings. They’re often as hard to write as an opener, and you usually have a strong closer. (I’d say “always” but, c’mon, let’s be honest…)
Molly: Yes(!) any tips on strong endings would be awesome to hear. I write stuff all the time and when I’m done and I’m like, “Oh.” And then what? Save draft, or move to trash? Ahhhhh…
Ross and Molly (together): HaHa! Just kidding! Your endings always stink!
Ross: Yeah! And your openings aren’t much better!
Molly: Hey, at least they’re better than what’s in between!
Ross: Ha! We should get a beer together!
Me: But don’t you live way up in Canada?
Ross: I wasn’t talking to you Mr. NWOW!

You know, on second thought, I probably should’ve ended that passage a little sooner. Maybe right after Molly’s first comment. Instead, by leaving everything in, I diluted what would have been a much stronger ending to that series of comments, which was supposed to serve as a segue into today’s topic:

How paraphrasing can end friendships: 2 Tips for writing strong endings

The brutally honest and somewhat cruel (and entirely made up) comments by Ross and Molly, which actually ended after Molly’s first comment, is an example of Tip No. 1:

Know When to Quit

Readers can tell when you’re searching for an ending, which is a little like a gambler rolling the dice one more time to recoup his losses, or a wife who knows her husband has no idea where he’s driving regardless of how many times he says he knows the way. As a writer, you have to be able to recognize when this is happening and either cut your losses or ask for directions. How do you decide which is the best approach? You don’t have to! Just write, “And then there was a massive explosion!”

The end.

Ok, fine. That won’t always work. Especially if you’re writing a children’s book. If you can’t utilize that tool, then it may be time to cut your losses. My suggestion is to start at the end of what you’ve written and work backwards. This is a variation of a technique used by artists, who will look in the mirror at their painting to get a different perspective and spark ideas. In writing, it can reveal patterns and redundancies, which, if you trace them to the beginning, often point to where you need to end. Just to clarify, do not hold your monitor up to a mirror and read it backwards. It will only give you a headache.

The second part of this tip was about knowing when to ask for directions. What this means is exactly that: Have someone read what you have written and ask them for some direction. You’d be surprised how insightful your local gas station attendant can be. If you don’t feel like driving, or are worried about getting lost, ask a family member, fellow blogger, neighbor, burglar — it doesn’t have to be a writer or English major. More than likely, the problem is that you’re over analyzing. You don’t need more deep analysis. You just need a fresh set of eyes. If you suspect your neighbor has a fresh set of eyes in their refrigerator, the trip to the gas station might be worth the drive.

Tip No. 2:
In the Beginning

I have to credit my ninth-grade college prep teacher Mr. Danielson, who gave me a big fat “F” on my first assignment in his class. The assignment was called “At My House,” which was an essay he gave in order to gage our writing skills. Excitedly, I wrote to impress and turned in a 500-word essay that I thought was funny, insightful and utter genius (Hey, I was 15). When I got it back, I tried to crawl inside my desk. Across the top, next to my “F,” he had written in big red letters: What are you trying to SAY?!? Though he later told me my essay was funny and insightful (he left off the genius part), it was lacking something very important:

Any direction whatsoever.

It was then I learned the value of essay format, which is essentially what I still use today:

State your point
Offer three examples
Conclude with restating your point

I know that seems simplistic, but whether it’s a novel, column or news story, I still use that basic template — particularly in writing columns and posts. So how does that pertain to coming up with a strong ending? Let’s call Mr. Danielson!

Mr. Danielson: Hello?
Me: Mr. Danielson! It’s Ned!
Mr. Danielson: Who?
Me: Ned Hickson. From your freshman english class in 1981!
Mr. Danielson: Hey! You still owe me an essay on…

I think what Mr. Danielson was trying to say is that, many times, the perfect ending to our writing piece can be tied to something in the beginning. That’s where we usually lay the foundation and set the tone for our piece, and where we can often wrap things up with a reference that will provide readers with a sense of closure.

Speaking of which, our front office girl, “Misty,” has just told me Mr. Danielson has called back and wants to know where my essay is — so I better get to work on it. Was this the strongest ending for this piece? Perhaps not.

But if the gas station attendant isn’t available for advice, you can bet I’ll be contacting Ross and Molly.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be released this December from Port Hole Publications. You can write to him at, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

82 thoughts on “For writers, it isn’t always easy to find The End”

      1. Me, too! Particularly the writing part. It’s like I’m watching someone else write on my laptop then the story just stops and I’m all annoyed like, “well? What happened? I was totally reading that.” Ohforfuckssake.

  1. After turning in several collegiate essays and having them returned with the comment “your thesis is in your conclusion”, I began my still-used technique of swapping the intro paragraph with the conclusion paragraph for non-fiction writings. By the time I finish saying what I set out to say, I’ve figured out what it is I want to say and say it clearly. For fiction, I’m just stuck. Endings suck.

      1. A professor suggested it as a form of editing (a big ol duh moment for me) and I never saw that comment again. Woohoo!

          1. True. I won’t be popping out six more kids. Old though, that I’m sure will happen anyway. Consequence of that bastard, Time.

  2. “I deluded what would have been a much stronger ending” – diluted
    Driving Tips for Teens – Drinking
    Next week’s topic: Is it possible to properly proofread your own work? AKA the dangers of autocorrect.
    I am a muse.

    1. Holy CRAP! That’s what I get for…. uh, writing… (Corrections coming.)

      I guess that means no maple syrup this Christmas. By the way, can I just change it to Drinking and Driving Tips for Teens?

      Thanks for being my moose.
      I mean MUSE!

      1. I thought about arguing that case, until I realized I had also said “Driving Tips for Teens” instead of “Drinking Tips for teens….”

        Wait, that actually makes my deluded argument stronger!

  3. Okay swear to gahhhd I ended Wednesday’s post with “And then there was a massive explosion,” but then I thought it was SO awesome I deleted it so I could SAVE it to use it in a future post, which now is RUINED because everyone will see it coming. Thanks, Ned. Whatever – I’m doing it anyway…But these are also great tips, which I will employ on those occasions when an explosion would actually make sense and not be a genuine surprise. I plan to wear out my gas station attendant as well. Thanks for the tips – you’re the best!!!

    1. I think it’s supposed to be “amoosed,” which is a Canadian term meaning “raised by mooses”

      (I’m just glad Spellcheck didn’t change it to “Moses,” or I’d never hear the end of it.)

  4. Ned. Endings are the best part of writing. They are the big red bow on the gift that Aunt Nancy mailed two months after your birthday. You already know what’s in it: another vintage “goodie” from her attic that you’ll have to trash before it makes the whole house smell like mildew.

    But at least there’s a bow.

    1. That’s true. I have to say, when I read a fiction author who can tie the ending of a novel to something that occurred early on — bringing it all together — I’m always impressed because it shows a lot of forethought.

  5. I don’t often read posts that lay claim to tips, because frankly, either they state the obvious, or the writing is – at best – dull. Sadly, often both. But with you, once again, I find a post that is both helpful and entertaining, which I appreciate very much.

    I may even apply the long-forgotten essay technique that you mention, and perhaps it will save me some involuntary meandering in my creative non-fiction.

    1. Thank you for that, GG. It’s not always an easy tightrope to walk, but one I enjoy, especially when I don’t fall. That said, I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your piece on Black Box Warnings. It was eloquent, insightful and inspiring.

        1. I appreciate that, and the feeling’s mutual. I think one of the hardest pieces I’ve ever written was for BBW, and also the most rewarding. Eric has a way of throwing writers into the deep end because he knows they’ll come out a better swimmer.

          Damed clowns… 😉

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