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July 31 2013
The writer’s voice is everything the writer brings to the experience of writing short fiction, including education, socialization, values, beliefs, religion, opinions, and life experiences. The writer’s writing style is part of voice. This writing style is what makes a writer authentic, original, different from other writers. It is what readers hear when they read the short story. The writer’s voice is their “public persona,” which is revealed on the page. The most important features of writing style are word choice or diction, sentence patterns, literary techniques, and tone.
One of the popular writing styles of fiction is the minimalist style. It was a style popularized by Ernest Hemingway, and also endorsed by Raymond Carver. This style focuses on the belief that “less is more.” Writers use short paragraphs, short sentences, write with the active voice, and use action verbs and concrete verbs. The writer omits or deletes every detail that is not essential to the writing. Subtext plays a strong role in this style of fiction.
You can develop your fiction writing style by reading and analyzing short fiction, and then incorporating the techniques of other writers into your own fiction.
(Note: You will also use these same guidelines and techniques to write poetry, personal essays, and other types of creative nonfiction.)
In this article, I’ll discuss writing style as it applies to fiction writing. The following will be covered:
- How to identify the author’s writing style.
- Define Hemingway’s minimalist style.
- Suggest a writing style to use for writing fiction.
- Learning to write lyrical prose.
- Developing your own writing style.
Analyzing Short Fiction
The writer’s style of writing is expressed through word choice or diction, tone of the writing, the use of imaginative language, such as simile, metaphor, imagery, the types of sentences or syntax , as well as the choice of fictional techniques.
The best short fiction writers use everyday language in a fresh and original way. They also avoid using avoid clichés and jargon. Often they share an interesting word that we’ve never heard—a word that has powerful meaning.
The best short fiction writers use a variety of sentence patterns, such as the use of loose and periodic sentences, sentence fragments, simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentence.
The best short fiction writers use a variety of literary techniques, such as flashback, suspense, dialogue, showing and telling, and interior monologue.
The best short fiction writers also use the poetic devices of poetry, including simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, alliteration, and allusion. Some writers use similes and metaphors infrequently, such as Carver and Hemingway. Other writers use them a great deal.
The best short fiction writers use a tone that is conversational and respectful. Tone refers to the writer’s attitude to his/her subject and view of the audience. Never use a condescending tone. Learn to write fiction by reading short stories as a writer. Analyze how the writer used the elements of fiction, literary techniques, and poetic devices to constructed the short story. As you read, answer these questions:
- How does the writer begin the short story? With conflict? With setting description? With dialogue? With action? With a memorable event?
- How does the writer develop the setting? What is the time and place of the story? Is it real or fantasy? Does the setting create a mood? Is the setting the antagonist? Does the setting provide a backdrop for the story?
- A short story must include conflict, turning point, and resolution. Identify the conflict, turning point, and resolution of the story.
- Which point of view does the writer use?
- What is the theme? How does the writer reveal theme to the reader?
- Where does the writer use scene and summary? What are the features of each scene?
- where is there dialogue in the story? How does the writer use dialogue? What conventions are used?
- What fictional techniques does the writer use? What poetic devices does the writer use?
- What is the writing style of the writer? Does the writer use simple or fancy words? Does the writer use simple sentences , compound sentences, or fragments?
- How does the writer end the story? Does it include an epiphany? Lesson learned? Is the ending open, closed, or a summary?
One of the popular writing styles of short fiction is minimalism, popularized by Ernest Hemingway. He wrote minimalist short fiction. Years later, short story writer Raymond Carver also embraced this style of storytelling. Minimalist short fiction has these attributes:
- Concrete nouns and action verbs
- Few adverbs and adjectives
- Short sentences
- Short paragraphs
- Short words and everyday language, as well as familiar instead of fancy words.
- Minimal character and setting description
- Minimal background details
- Very little use of figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, personification
- Insufficient resolution or ending to the story
Popular Fiction Writing Style
To write short fiction, develop a writing style that includes:
- Concrete nouns
- Action verbs
- Active voice
- Sentence variety
- Figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, symbolism, personification, allusion
- Lyrical prose, using alliteration, assonance, repetition, parallel structure
Develop a writing style that is friendly and conversational. Learn to show and tell readers. Use sensory detail, language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. As well, read and master the advice in Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”
Learning to Writer Lyrical Prose
Author Constance Hale, in “Sin and Syntax,” explains how you can learn to write literary prose. There are found components: voice, lyricism, melody, and rhythm.
The writer must consider the literary meaning and implied meaning of words, as well as avoid using clichés and jargon. The writer should also use a variety of sentence patterns, such as a fragment, simple, and compound sentences.
The writer can create prose that sound musical by using the following:
- Imagery-Use of sensory details.
- Metaphor-Making a comparison between unlike things, without using “like” or “as.”
- Simile-Making a comparison between unlike things, using “like” or “as.”
- Personification. Describing things and objects and ideas by using human attributes. Example: The bible preaches its wisdom to anyone who takes the time.
- Description. Using concrete, significant, and particular description. Example: He pressed the shutter on his black Nikon, full-frame camera, using a wide-angle lens, capturing a fleeting moment in time, a man being shot by police, for all the world to see.
- Repetition. Repeating words and phrases in a sentence or sentences that are close to each other.
Streets and highway filled with an avalanche of snow. The plows bulldoze it away. Icicles hang from the eaves like a work of installation art. Cars stuck, spinning their wheels. The Maple leaf, stands, watches, as the neighborhood shovels. Kids frolic, build snow forts, toboggan down hills of snow in the park behind the school. The storm has interrupted daily routines and rituals.
The writer can create prose that have a melody by using the poetic devices of:
- Assonance-Positioning two or more words with the same vowel sounds close together in a sentence.
- Alliteration- Positing two or more words with the same initial consonant sounds in a sentence.
- Internal rhyme Selecting words that rhyme and using them in the middle of a sentence.
- Onomatopoeia -Using words that sound what they describe. Example: The fire crackled.
The writer should strive to create sentences that have rhythm. It refers to pattern, pace, repetition, and parallel structure of a sentence. A simple way to create rhythm is to count the stressed syllables in a sentence. The writer can slow down the pace with long sentences, and speed up the pace with short sentence. Create rhythm in your prose by developing sentences with a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Learn to use repetition and parallel structure. Example: He smoked, drank, womanized, and died one day, lounging on the beach in the sunshine with a smile. ( Slow pace)
Developing Your Writing Style
Part of learning to write is developing your own writing voice. How do you do this? There are several ways. The most important advice I have read was written by Elizabeth Berg, the author of “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.” She suggests that you can develop your writing voice by putting down on to paper the words you are hearing in your mind. In other words, be yourself as you write. Use your own words, and don’t imagine you are someone else as you write. Write honestly—share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, impressions, stories that are important to you. And share them by using your own language–how you speak. She also suggests that you should not write about what you know but that you should write about what you love, what you are passionate about.
Next, you should write often and regularly. Start by keeping a journal. Write everyday in this journal, recording observations, interesting quotations, memorable lyrics, overheard conversation, lines of poetry. Write poetry, anecdotes, short, short essays. Try using the technique of stream of consciousness. Write by freewriting. Record “small, fleeting moments.”Ask a question to yourself, and then write an answer. Include interesting photograph, news stories, advice columns. Write about your emotional truth—how you felt about something. In your journal, you can write about anything. Journal writing helps you develop the habit of writing and your writing skills. It can also be a place where you record “possible ideas” for a poem, short story, and personal essay.
Also, learn all about writing style. The best and easiest book to read is “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It provides the rules and guidelines of a good writing style. If you intend to write essays or other creative nonfiction, you should also read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. Both of these books are classics, are used in university and college writing courses, and are recommended by most writers. Every writer should have copies of these inexpensive paperbacks on their bookshelf for reference. As well, read Constance Hale’s “Sin and Syntax.”
Next, read short stories to learn how the writer constructed the story. If you are not sure, read “How to Read Like a Writer” by Francine Prose.
Fourthly, make sure you understand the rules and guidelines of grammar, such as for use of verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and more. If you don’t know these rules or guidelines, pick up a copy of “Woe Is I:The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English” by Patricia T. O’Connor. Another great book that presents grammar in with a humorous tone is “The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I also recommend “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English” by Roy Peter Clark.
Learn the rules of punctuation. How to use the comma, exclamation mark, question mark, quotation marks, semi colon, colon. Essentially, you must memorize the rules. To learn the rules of punctuation, I suggest you read “The Glamour of Grammar” by Roy Peter Clark.
Learn to the major types of sentence patterns and then to write poetry, short fiction, and personal essays. The syntax of a sentence is an important feature of the writer’s voice. To develop your own voice, learn to write simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentences. Learn when to use a sentence fragment and how to write using parallel construction. Learn how to use items in a series. Learn how to write both periodic or cumulative sentences. Where can you go for advice?
Language choices contribute to writer style. Therefore, you should own a dictionary and thesaurus. Use them for enjoyment and to improve your language skills. Develop your language skills by looking up the meaning of words you don’t understand in a dictionary. Find the precise word by checking your thesaurus, which includes synonyms. To expand your vocabulary, begin learning a word a day. Use the words you learn in your writing. Don’t write to impress. Instead, use language to express yourself, to communicate meaning, to entertain, to share important ideas, knowledge, and wisdom with your audience.
If you aspire to become a creative writer, learn how to write imaginatively. Imaginative writing involves learning how to show and tell the reader, writing vivid descriptions of sensory imagery–language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. It involves using literary devices of simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism, and other devices that you find in fiction and poetry and creative nonfiction. There are countless books on the market that you can purchase. For a good overview on how to write creatively and imaginatively, I suggest you purchase “Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft” by writer/instructor Janet Burroway. It’s a superb text that will help you.
Another way to develop your voice is to share emotional truth in your writing. It means telling others how you feel. For instance, if you lost your job–tell your readers how it felt. If you were diagnosed with a serious disease, share your thoughts and feelings with your readers. If you split up with a girlfriend or marital partner, tell the audience how you felt by expressing the emotional truth. Keep in mind that two people can have different emotional views on a situation. And so , there is no right or wrong “emotional truth.” Emotional truth has to do with how you felt about a person, about an experience , about an event.
It takes time to develop your writing voice, providing you write on a regular basis. Many writing instructors suggest you keep a journal and experiment in it. In part, developing your voice is an unconscious effort–you learn by reading and writing, without making a conscious effort. In part, you can make a conscious decision to develop your voice. For instance, you can learn to read like a writer. You can learn grammar, spelling, punctuation. You can experiment with language and sentence variety. You can make a conscious choice about what sort of tone to use. The easiest way to develop your voice is to “put down on paper” what is on your mind.
Your writing voice is what a reader hears when they read your words. Your writing voice is your “public persona,” which is expressed in your writing. It is revealed in the language that you use, the types of sentences that you use, and your tone–your attitude toward the reader and the topic or idea you are writing about.
To learn more about how to develop your developing and polishing your writer’s voice, read the following superb books:
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
- The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
- The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
- Woe is I: the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
- Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway
“When you write well, revision becomes not a chore, but the essence of the writing act itself.”(Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller)
Revision is part of the writing process. You revise your work after you have selected an idea to write about, completed necessary research, organized your information, decided on what to write about, and then written a first draft. The purpose of the first draft is not to write something complete–but to get your ideas on paper. Whether you write poetry, fiction, personal essays, you should revise your work.
Revision can transform an ordinary piece of poetry, short fiction, personal essay, or any form of writing into something memorable. Revision allows you to improve on an initial attempt. It gives you the opportunity to write the best possible poem, fiction, personal essay, and so forth.
Revision is often the most creative aspect of writing, providing you take a break after writing the first draft. The first draft is just a blueprint. Taking a break and then returning to revise your work gives your mind time to see and hear the writing from a fresh perspective. Brenda Miller, author of “Tell It Slant,” suggests that your first draft is just a “discovery draft.” You should write anything you desire. A first draft is never your best work.
The goal of revision is not to make your writing perfect, because you can always revise your work. (Many writers believe that writing is never finished.) The goal is to create something that is your best work. If you write sparse prose, you might have to add content. If you overwrite, you’ll have to delete the excess. Both the sparse writer and verbose writer will have to trim, alter, rearrange their content. They will also have to change language, phrases, sentence structure, paragraphs, and sections. The writer’s goal is always to improve on previous iteration.
When revising a piece of writing, don’t think of making it perfect, revise with the purpose of making it your best work.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to revise your creative writing. The following will be covered:
- Why you should revise your work
- Distancing yourself
- Reading your work aloud and making notes
- Revising your work by doing a macro-edit and micro-edit
The first draft is always a “shitty first draft.” This is what Anne Lamott tells us in the splendid book on the craft of writing called “Bird By Bird.” No writer gets it best the first time. Revision allows you the opportunity to improve. By revising your work after writing the initial draft, you can improve your writing, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, and usage. Revising your work also gives you the opportunity to improve the structure, plot, characterization, point of view, conflict, climax, resolution, theme and so forth of your story.
Some writers don’t include sufficient detail for a first draft; others include too much detail. Revising your work allows you to add, cut, rearrange, and expand the details of your poem, story, articles, essay.
Revising also enables you to see your writing from a fresh perspective–especially if you take a break from writing A break gives you a chance to add simile, metaphor, fresh language, new details, to tap into your imagination. Writer/instructor Jack Hodgins, author of A Passion for Narrative: A Guide for Writing Fiction, writes that: “The goal in revising is to achieve a more powerful whole.”
Distancing Yourself from Your Writing
What approach should you take to revising your work? Some writers write and edit as they go. But this approach blocks your imagination. It stifles creativity. It prevents the free flow of ideas from your mind to the page. Instead of writing what you are hearing in your mind, you are writing and then correcting.
Some writers reread as they go. But this approach slows down the flow of ideas from your mind to the page. It also interrupts the creative process and prevents the imagination from inventing.
Some writers craft their first draft with pen and a notebook, and then type the draft out on the computer. They write a first draft without revising or editing or rereading. It is a complete first draft. When they type out the draft on their computer, they reread and revise. I use this approach, and find it useful.
Author Susan Bell, in ” The Artful Edit,” suggests you distance yourself before revising. Here are a few recommendations she provides in her book:
- Don’t reread as you write. It slows down the writing process and creative thinking.
- Don’t revise as you write your first draft. It slows down the writing process and creative thinking.
- Write your complete first draft of a poem, chapter, section. And then take a break. The break of time allows you to approach your work from a new perspective. How long should you take? It all depends–at least one night. But many writers take a few days off, even a week, or longer, before starting the revision process.
- After the break, reread your work aloud to hear how it sounds.
- Once you have taken a break and reread your work, begin revising your work.
Many beginner writers believe that after writing their first draft they are finished. Furthermore, they believe the myth that the first draft must be perfect, and so they take forever to finish. Many writers become discouraged and abandon their writing. They find that the act of writing is like walking through the woods in the dark without a flashlight.
Writing is a process. It begins with an idea, followed by research or personal reflection. Next, the writer jots down a few points or makes a more formal plan of what he/she intends to write about. Then the writer crafts the initial draft. Once the draft is complete, the writer takes a break. The break allows the writer time to see his/her work from a fresh perspective. When the writer returns from the sojourn or hiatus, he/she begins revising the draft. The purpose of revision is to improve on the initial attempt, to make it better, to make it the best the writer can, to polish, to convert chaos to order, to make the piece of writing shine.
In “You Can’t Make this Stuff Up,” writer Lee Gutkind, states the following: “Writing is Revision. Almost every sentence, every paragraph, every page we write we will revise and rewrite a number of times.”
All great writers revise their work over and over before publishing. Raymond Carver rewrote his short stories many times before publishing. D. H. Lawrence rewrote the novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover three times before it was published. Ernest Hemingway wrote the ending to Farewell to Arms 39 times.
All writers can learn how to revise their work. The first thing to remember is that the first draft is just an blue print. It is not your finished piece of work. By revising your work, you improve your first attempt. Often you’ll need to complete several revisions before you submit it for publishing.
How to Revise
Many writers revise as they write. They’ll write a sentence or paragraph or section, then reread it, then revise. But this is a slow and tedious process. And it prevents you from getting to the finishing line quickly. Moreover, it interrupts the free flow of ideas from the mind to the page. A better way to revise is to write the entire draft, take a break of a day or longer. Why take a break? It allows you to see your work from a fresh perspective or point of view. It’s like looking taking a photograph of a building from different perspectives. From each viewpoint, you’ll see something different. The goal of writing, like taking photographs, is to capture the best image. When you return to your writing, you’ll read it aloud and make notes of things you don’t like. Then you’ll conduct a macro-edit and micro-edit of the entire draft. Often you’ll need to revise your narrative several times before submitting it for publication. Your approach to writing and revising should be to get it down, and then work on getting your poem or story or essay or article right—making it the best you can.
Revision is about rereading your entire piece of writing, find errors, omissions, things that requirement improvement or deletion. Revision is about rewriting. You’ll approach the process of revising from a high level, which involves the entire document, poem, story, article. Editors call this a “macro-edit.” Once you have completed a macro edit of your piece of creative writing, then you’ll complete a line-by-line edit or copy edit. Editors and instructors call this a “micro-edit.”
What to Revise
After writing your complete draft, take a break for a day or more. The break from writing will enable you to see your work from a new perspective. Once you have taken the break, reread your work aloud, and make notes for improvement as you go. After reading your work aloud to yourself, you’ll complete a macro edit. All types of creative writing requires a macro edit, whether you write a short story, novel, personal essay, or literary journalistic article. Once you’ve finished the macro-edit, you’ll also complete a micro-edit, which is a line-by-line edit or copy edit. Not all of the items on this list will apply to every genre.
Macro-Editing. What does a macro-edit involve? For a macro-edit of a personal narrative essay or fictional story, you’ll do the following:
- Ensure that the beginning tells the reader what the story is about and why they should reader it. And also ensure that the beginning grabs the reader’s attention.
- Ensure that your story has a setting. It is shows the time and place of the story. It can be a backdrop, antagonist, or the mood of a story. Does your story, at the minimum, have take place at a particular time and place?
- Revise to enhance the central character. Does the central character have a motive? Character flaws? Have you develop the character with dialogue, behaviour, appearance?
- Revise to improve the structure. Is there a beginning, middle, and ending? Is there an inciting incident? Problem? Setbacks or obstacles? Climax or turning point? Resolution to the story?
- Revise for dialogue. Does the dialogue reveal character? Move the story forward? Sound like real people talking? Does each character speak differently? Is dialogue included in important events or scenes?
- Revise for style. Do you use a consistent voice? tone? diction? Sentence variety?
- Ensure that the story has a correct and consistent point of view. First person (I)?, Second person (you)? Third person (He/she)?
- Ensure that you have included concrete and specific and significant details and descriptions.
- Ensure that you have used imagery, language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch.
- Ensure that you have used figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism.
- Ensure that you show the reader what happened with dialogue, action, setting, imagery when writing about important events, such as the inciting incident, crisis, climax, resolution.
- Ensue that the story has a theme. What is the implicit meaning of your work?
- Ensure that your story has an ending. And is the ending correct? Open? Closed?
If you are writing a piece of creative nonfiction, you’ll want to also ensure that you have written into a structure. For instance, if you are writing a theme-based personal essay, you’ll want to make sure that you have a variety of sections, which supports central idea.
If you are writing a collage essay, you’ll want to ensure that your “found objects,” such as a quotation, anecdote, vignette, poem, and so forth, support the central idea.
If you are writing a braided essay, you’ll want to be sure that your structure adequately reveals a comparison between two ideas or people or things. For more information, read “The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life” by Priscilla Long.
If you are writing a poem, your macro-edit will consider the following:
- Form–narrative, meditative, surreal, image, prose….
- Line break–for emphasis, enjambment, rhyme
- Diction or word choice
- Figurative or poetic language such as simile or metaphor or imagery
- Concrete and significant details
- Grammar and syntax and punctuation
- Right voice and style
- Sound, such as alliteration or assonance or rhyme
- Rhythm and meter
- Point of view-first, second, third person, invented persona
- Theme–meaning of the poem
Micro-editing. After completing a macro-edit, you’ll complete a micro-edit. Whether you write poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, you must complete a micro-edit. It is a line-by-line edit of the following:
- Grammar. Ensure that you are using correct grammar, such as Correct usage, such as subject verb agreement
- Spelling. Ensure that you are using correct spelling.
- Punctuation. Ensure that you are using correct punctuation-period, comma, dash, exclamation point, question mark, quotations
- Scenes. Ensure that you have shown and told your readers. You must write in scenes for all important events. Do you show your readers what happened? For things that are less important, do you tell your readers?
- Diction/word choice. Ensure that you have chosen the best language. What is the connotation and denotation of each word?
- Sentence variety. Ensure that you have used sentence variety, such as long and short sentence, fragments and climactic sentences, simple, compound, and complex sentences.
- Melody. Ensure that your prose have melody. Have you used alliteration? Assonance? Rhyme? Repetition?
- Rhythm. Ensure that your prose have rhythm? It refers to the patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. It also refers to the use of repetition? And it refers to the use of parallel structure of your prose?
- Lyricism. Ensure that you your prose are lyrical? Have you used imagery? Metaphor? Simile?
- Usage. Ensure that you have used the active voice, concrete nouns, action verbs. Ensure that you have used adjectives and adverbs sparingly.
A few Suggestions about Revision
If you intend to revise and to publish, you must have a good understanding of grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, and writing style. If you are not sure about any of these topics, I strongly recommend you read and learn the suggestions, guidelines, and recommendations presented in the following:
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English by Patricia T. O’Connor
- The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
- Sin And Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
Revision is part of writing. All great writers revise to improve their work. The best writers conduct a macro-edit and micro-edit (a line-by-line edit) of their work. Revising your work enables you to correct mistakes and oversights, to add, to delete, to alter, to move, to improve and polish a first attempt. Revising your work gives you the chance to create your best work, which improves your odds of publishing it.
Resources. For a more detailed explanation on revising a poem, short story, personal essay, and more, read the following:
- The Artful Edit: On the Practise of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell
- The Story Within: New Insights and Inspirations for Writers by Laura Oliver
- Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
- Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School
- Writing Your Way: Creating A Writing Process that Works for You by Don Fry
- The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long.
November 26, 2012
by Dave Hood
How do you end a poem, short story, novel, personal essay—or any other type of creative writing? Writing a good ending is as important as writing a compelling opening…You should give as much thought to your ending as your opening.” This is the advice William Zinsser shares in “On Writing Well.
There are many ways to end a piece of creative writing, such as with a relevant quotation, with a recommendation, with a call to action, by referring back to the beginning. Often the genre you are writing and the idea you are writing about will dictate how to end.
The ending should provide a sense of closure to your writing. To write an ending, you should know when to end and how to end a piece of writing. Different genres, such as a short story, personal essay, or poetry, have different suggestions for writing an ending.
In this article, I’ll explain what an ending must accomplish and provide some general suggestions on how to end a narrative or poem.
What Must Your Ending Accomplish
In the “Handbook of Magazine Article Writing,” it is suggested that the ending of an article should do one of the following:
- Leave readers with the idea that they have learned something.
- Leave readers with the idea that they have gained some insight.
- Show reader how the information in the article impacts or relates to their lives
- Encourage readers to conduct research or additional investigation.
In “On Writing Well,” William Zinsser makes a few suggestions about ending a piece of creative nonfiction:
- “When you are ready to stop, stop. In other words, don’t write too much.”
- “The positive reason for ending well is that a good last sentence–or last paragraph, is a joy in itself. It gives the reader a lift, and it lingers when the article is over.”
- “What usually works best is a quotation.”
Zinsser also tells readers not to end by summarizing. For instance: “In summary…or “To conclude…”
Why? A summary is repeating yourself by compressing details that were already shared with the reader. Instead, you ought to make one final point that resonates in the mind of the reader.
When you end, you must have answered all questions posed in the story or article or personal essay. Otherwise, the reader is left wondering, and feels your writing is incomplete. As well, the essay or narrative should be brought to a close. In other words, the reader knows that the narrative is complete. For instance, if you are writing about a journey, the end might be when the character reaches his/her destination. If you are writing a meditative essay, you might leave the reader with some final point to ponder. If you are writing an opinion essay, you might end with a final point. Writer Elizabeth Anderson, in her essay “IF God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?” (The Portable Atheist, selected and introduced by the late Christopher Hitchens), ends her essay with the following judgement: “The moralist argument, far from threatening atheism, is a critical wedge that should open morally sensitive theists to the evidence against the existence of God.”
A great ending, in my view, leaves the reader with something to ponder or meditate about after he puts down the piece of writing. Sometimes the writer shares an epiphany or a lesson learned or words of wisdom.
There are no rules on how to end a piece of creative writing, only suggestions. It is up to the writer to decide how to begin and how best to end a piece of writing. Your end should make some important final point. A good final point is like a knockout punch.
How to Write An Ending
There are several ways to end. It all depends on the genre. A personal-narrative essay usually ends when the story ends, often with some epiphany. In a poem, the last line often makes some emphatic final point, some idea the writer can take away and ponder. In a short story or novel, the ending can be closed or open. In a closed ending, the story ends, and nothing else happens. In an open ending, the reader is left to imagine what might happen in the future. Trilogies end with an open ending. A popular technique for ending a story is to use a “cliff hanger.” Sometimes the writer ends a short story or novel ends with dialogue from the protagonist. Some writer’s end articles or personal essays or meditative essays by referring back to the beginning. Other writers begin with a question, explore the question, then you can end with one final answer. Many writer’s end with a final quotation.
Check out most literary journalism essays in the New Yorker, and you’ll discover that most writers end their writing with a final quotation from someone they’ve interviewed. In the essay, “Slackers” (July 30th, 2012), writer, Malcolm Gladwell, ends with the following quote: “None of the doctors who treated me, and none of the experts I’ve consulted since the day I collapsed, have ever heard of anybody being gone for than long and coming back to full health,” he writes.” He was back on the track nine days later.” Clearly, there are many methods you can use to end a piece of creative writing. The decision is yours to make. It is a creative choice of the writer.
David Remnick, author of “We Are Alive”, ends with the following quote: Springsteen glanced at the step and stepped into the spotlight. “Hola, Barcelona!” he cried out to a sea of forty-five thousand people. “Hola, Catalunya!”
You often read true and fictional stories about a calamity or disaster. The writer opens the story by describing a setting of normalcy. And then, the bomb is dropped, or the hurricane destroys the quiet life of the living, or the earthquake obliterates a town. The writer describes the cause and effects, and the struggles to survive and cleanup. In this sort of narrative, writers often end by “returning to the state of normalcy.”
Some writers end with a telling anecdote, or by pointing to what will happen next in the story, or tell readers where to find additional information. Other writers end with an epilogue, which tells what happens to the characters later and how their stories continue.
Other ways to end a piece of creative writing include:
- With a judgement
- With recommendation
- With a prediction
- With an insight
- With a hope or wish
There are no rules for ending a piece of writing, only suggestions. And every form of writing–whether a personal essay, poem, short story, article—has its own suggestions for ending. The final decision about how to end a piece of writing is the writer’s. It is one of the creative decisions of writing. Often the writer relies on a “gut feeling” or “intuition” or “sixth sense.” The worst thing a writer can do is overwrite or write a double ending. The best way to end is to leave your reader satisfied while giving the reader a sense of closure. William Zinsser writes, “The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and seem exactly right.”
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- The Story Within: New Insights and Inspirations for Writers by Laura Oliver
- The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction by Francis Flaherty
- Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, edited by Michelle Ruberg and Ben Yagoda
- The New Yorker, “Slackers: Alberto Salazar and the Art of Exhaustion” by Malcolm Gladwell (July 30, 2012)
By David Hood
The art of the short story is to share truth about the human condition or human nature. It is also to entertain and provide pleasure to the reader. A well written short story fulfills these dual obligations.
So the aspiring writer needs to be able to write a short story that shares a truth about the human condition and is also entertaining.
To do this, the aspiring writer needs to learn the craft of writing fiction. One of the ways to learn the craft is by reading as a writer.
How do you read like a writer? You must read like a writer by analyzing the short story or novel, understanding how the writer employs the elements of fiction, like setting, character, plot.
Reading like a writer also enables you to learn how the writer begins and ends a story, and uses dialogue, figurative language, and much more to tell the story. These are the techniques of fiction.
Reading like a writer also enables you to learn the writing style of great writers, such as Hemingway, Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro. You can learn how to use a sentence fragment, how to create a periodic sentence, a loose sentence.
Only by reading and analyzing lots of short stories will you be able to write a good short story, perhaps a great short story, that entertains your readers. Entertaining fiction gets published.
Here are 15 short stories that you should read and analyze:
- Eveline by James Joyce
- Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
- A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
- The Lady with the Pet Dog by Anton Chekhov
- To Build a Fire by Jack London
- Death by Landscape by Margaret Atwood
- The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
- Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe.
- A Story of An Hour by Kate Chopin
- Lust by Susan Minot
- Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
- It’s Hard to Find a Good Man by Flannery O’Connor
- Alaska by Tom Franklin
- Bullet to the Brain by Tobias Wolf
- The Swimmer by John Cheever
You can read these short stories in the following anthologies:
- The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia & R.S. Gwynn
- On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey
- The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction
Reading Like a Writer
You can also learn how to read like a writer by reading Francine Prose bestselling book “Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for those Who Want to Write Them.”
This book should be read by everyone that wants to write a short story or novel.
To help you learn the craft of writing a short story or novel, you should read the following:
- On Writing Short Stories, Edited by Tom Bailey
- Writing Fiction by Jane Burroway
- Writing Fiction from Gotham Writer’s Workshop
- Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
- Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor
- The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed [Hardcover] by Karen Elizabeth Gordon.
- Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- Norton Anthology of Short Fiction
- The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia & R.S. Gwynn
- Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
To become a successful fiction writer, you must learn the craft of writing fiction. Learning the craft of fiction allows you to use the various fictional techniques of storytelling. One of the best ways to learn the craft of fiction, is not by enrolling in an MFA Program in Creative Writing or taking a fiction writing workshop, it is by reading and analyzing the classics and other good fiction. In other words, you must learn to read like a writer.
By Dave Hood
What is suspense in a short story or novel? Suspense keeps the reader reading. It arouses curiosity and keeps the reader turning the page to find out what happens next. “Suspense is the most essential ingredient of plotting”, according to editor and novelist Sol Stein, who writes an interesting chapter on suspense in “On Writing.”
In this article, I’ll explain how to create suspense in a short story or novel.
How to Create Suspense
The writer can create suspense by arousing the reader’s curiosity, which keeps the reader interested as long as possible in finding out what happens in the short story or novel.
Suspense is created when the reader wants something to happen in the story, but the writer holds off providing it. Suspense is also created when the reader wants something to stop in the story, but the writer holds off. For instance, the writer doesn’t end the danger, resolve the life crisis, or end the confrontation. And so the reader feels a sense of anxious uncertainty.
Suspense keeps the reader turning the page in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” a story about man versus nature. In the story, the protagonist sets out to hike a trail in the Yukon Territory in the winter with out with only a dog as companion. The man is warned by an “old-timer” not to attempt this hike alone because “no man must travel alone in the Klondike after 50 below.” As the story progresses, the protagonist must face setbacks and obstacles, which prevent him from reaching his destination. This creates tension and suspense for the reader.
Suspense can take many forms. Sol Stein identifies several situations that create suspense:
- A prospective danger to the character
- An actual or immediate danger to the character.
- An unwanted confrontation
- A confrontation desired by one character and not another
- An old fear about to become a present reality
- A life crisis that requires immediate action.
The writer creates suspense because the protagonist has a personal stake in what happens. His life might be in jeopardy, his loved one’s might be in danger, what he values might be lost. The point is that if the protagonist loses, it is going to cost him dearly, he is going to suffer, experience a painful outcome, an outcome he wants to avoid.
To create suspense, the writer must delay in resolving whatever is generating the suspense within the particular scene. For instance, the writer delays in bring an end to the danger, delays in bringing an end to the confrontation, delays in resolving the life crisis.
The best way to learn how to create suspense in a story is by reading and analyzing a thrillers or suspense stories that you’ve found riveting, stories that kept you interested, glued to the page. Your task is to learn how the writer created suspense in the story.
In this article, I discussed how to create suspense in fiction. Suspense arouses curiosity in the reader, keeps the reader reading, turning the page to find out what happens next. A memorable work of fiction includes suspense. If your goal is to publish a short story or novel, it will need to include the element of suspense.
In the next post, I’ll discuss Point of View.
By Dave Hood
Jane Burroway in “Writing Fiction” writes that “summary can be called the mortar of the story, but scenes are the building blocks.” When writing a short story, the writer needs to use both scene and summary to craft the story.
In crafting scenes, the writer “shows” the reader what happens by including time and place details, dialogue, action, imagery. The writer crafts scenes to dramatize the story, helping to create a vivid and continuous dream inside the mind of the reader.
The writer also uses summary to” tell” the story. A summary is the material between scenes. It covers a long period of time by compressing time. The writer “tells” the reader what happens in the story. He/she doesn’t show the reader what is happening.
A summary is often a necessary device used by writers to do the following:
- Provide background information
- Description that doesn’t occur in a specific scene
- Compress time
- Provide character reflection, such as interior monologue or stream of consciousness
- Provide narrative commentary
A well written summary can be as good as a scene. You can use concrete and specific details and sensory details to create a memorable summary. The summary doesn’t include spoken dialogue, but you can tell the reader what was spoken.
You can also use metaphor, simile to create vivid summaries.
The summary is most often used to set up the scene, such as important events that happened in the past or character details that are useful for understanding the protagonist or secondary characters.
The summary can also be used to create tension before the scene.
You can insert a summary into a scene, such as to share background information, to show a transformation in character through reflection, to provide background information to help the reader understand the character, to understand a transformation in the character, or to control the pace of the scene.
Summary can also be used to change the pace of the story. For instance, to cover a long span of time in which insignificant events occurred or repeating events, the writer often uses a summary, which tells the reader what happened.
A summary needs to be entertaining and enjoyable to read. That is why you must use sensory details and concrete and specific details, and figurative language.
It is possible to write a short story without summary narrative. But this is not common.
You can use a summary to set up the conflict or confrontation—some important event in the plot structure or three act structure.
You should move seamlessly between scene and summary when writing the story. Short bits of summary can often be added in a scene or used to set up a scene.
Many beginning writers summarize too much of the story, telling the reader too many events and compressing too much time. So the story results in a lack of depth. Many beginning writers don’t summarize enough of the story, creating scenes of insignificant events.
You should not use summary to tell the reader about an important conflict, confrontation, turning point. Instead you need to craft a scene. The scene is used to dramatize the story, create a believable story, and show how the story unfolds. Showing through scene is dramatizing the story.
You should not write general and abstract summary narratives. The summary needs to provide the reader with concrete and specific details.
The task of the writer is to balance scene and summary. The writer uses scene to dramatize important events, such as the inciting incident, conflict, setbacks, obstacles, climax of the story.
The write creates a scene by showing the reader what happened. The writer writes a summary by telling the reader what happened, such as a narrative summary or to setup a scene or to provide background information to the story.
For more information on how to write scene and summaries, read the following:
- Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway
- Showing and Telling by Laurie Alberts