Monday, 7 June 2010

How to do endings

See you in early September as we approach the new term. See last para for tips on where to get tips in the meanwhile.

It's hard to teach endings, isn't it? I mean, beginnings are easy-peasy*... or rather, it is easy to spark students with stimulus exercises in all sorts of ways (a picture, an object, a word, a sentence, a memory etc etc) but an ending has to be an ending... of something.

You might think of having students complete a draft of a short story/poem and then make them change to a different ending -- YOU might do that, but I wouldn't. I feel that once a writer has got all the way through to an ending he/she has invested too much in it to flippantly 'stimulus exercise' different endings.

But you can get students to think about different endings -- via lecture and examples from published writers. And -- here's the main exercise I use: get them to mess around with published writers' work. I have a wonderful book called Great Beginnings, opening lines of great novels (Georgianne Ensign, HarperCollins 1993; thank you to dear friend Beverly for the gift of it). From it I have copytyped selected short opening paragraphs. Each student then writes an ending for the opening paragraph she/he has been given. They have not a clue as to what happened in between, but it's extraordinary how the start gives clues for the final few sentences of a work.

We read out, and here we discuss some types of endings (echo, closing the circle, opposite, open-ended, image etc). Then (here's the flippant stimulus-type approach) I make them choose a different way to end (opposite to what they did, or stronger or gentler or happier or blacker) -- that's what I mean about messing around. From this the students get a good working sense of the options and power of the very ending of a piece. This method can work with poetry as well. Now they can go away and consider the endings of their own works in progress (or works yet begun).

*Of course beginnings aren't really easy -- how many times have you re-crafted the opening of your novel, short story, poem, article? It's got to hook and intrigue, got to say enough but not too much, got to have the right tone, language -- the voice. But this is the writing is re-writing part, which all writers eventually have to get comfortable with... without letting it inhibit their initial start.

With all of this ending stuff, guess what? My way of saying it's the end of the term and this blog until September! If you need ammo during the summer check my list of labels for past blogs, especially under exercises and stimulus. And there's an exercise and tutor tip from the book on the Creative Writing: the Matrix website.

Another source of exercises is