The End

How to End a Story

The EndStories are like relationships: the beginning is always so much fun, and the ending is fraught with turmoil.

When I sit down to start a story, the first sentence just sort of comes to me. The second sentence too. If I’m lucky, the third swiftly follows. The inimitable short story writer Kate Braverman once told a group of enraptured graduate students (they happened to be my students, and she was wowing them with her general exuberance and wonderful strangeness) that she channels her characters. A bit like spirits, some linguistically gifted version of the returning dead. They speak throughher and onto the page, as if she isn’t even there.

I, unfortunately, channel nothing. It is all rough work after sentence three. By the time I’m in the middle of the story, I’m feeling more than a little uncomfortable. Where am I going? Where have I been? Have I gotten lost in the labyrinth? Probably, yes.

Somehow, I find my way through. The characters do things. They meet with hardship and grief, or maybe they just meet some swanky fellow in a bar or a Laundromat. They get into trouble, maybe out of it. Probably not. I find myself feeling that they have done all they can do. Not much more can be said. The action has fallen. We have all had our dénouement (which, by the way, is a French term meaning untying, from Middle French desnouement, from desnouer – to untie – from Old French desnoer, from des- de- + noer meaning to tie, from Latin nodare, from nodus knot.) And here we are in the labyrinth again, attempting to untie the knot, unwind the rope, escape the not-so-fun funhouse.

It’s time to write our way out.

One wants to resolve things, after all.One feels a deeply human need toconclude. After the falling action, there is often something more. Something unexpected. And here we come to what I have been meaning to say all along: a good ending is layered. The reader thinks she has discovered everything she can possibly discover about a story, but then: another image appears, another paragraph hums along, another question begs to be answered. One is left with the feeling of having walked out of the dark theatre into the light, only to realize there was something else playing after the credits, some secret part of the film, some final moment. You can hear it through the door, vaguely, but you can’t get back in. You’re not sure what you’ve missed, but you’re certain that you’ve missed something, that the reel kept on playing, the story kept on going, after your departure. You were only an observer, a brief malingerer, there but not there. The lives within the story carry on.

Michelle Richmond is the author of four books of fiction, including the New York Times bestseller The Year of FogShe is the creator of the Guided Workbooks for Writers series. 

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What makes a great author website?

Web designer Brad Fitzgerald offers “6 Things Every Author Website Needs.”

Author Media has a similar list, 6 Things Readers Want from Your Website.

A couple of years ago, Huffington Post published a list of the 7 Best Author Websites.

My own website has been through many mutations, and I’ve tried out more than a dozen themes. A website is always a work in progress, but over the years, through trial and error, I’ve figured out what I want my site to do, although I admit it doesn’t always live up to the website I see in my head. It needs to feel clean, showcase the books effectively, have a personality, and make it easy for readers to get in touch. I’ve never hired a designer, in part because I have so much fun playing around with themes. This means I’ve dealt with a lot of funky code and unexpected blips.

I’d like to hear from readers: what do you think makes a great author website? How often do you go to an author’s website after reading his or her book? How much time do you spend there? When you go, what are you looking for? And how often do you sign up for author newsletters?

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Virginia Woolf

I am the Common Reader: Virginia Woolf on pleasure, reading, & the survival of literature

Despite her knowledge of Greek and her voracious reading of the classics, Virginia Woolf considered herself a self-taught reader. As a woman, she had been denied the illustrious Oxford education that the men in her family enjoyed. As it turns out, her lack of affectation, her insistence on taking pleasure in reading, is what makes her essays on literature so lucid, smart, and delicious to read.

Reviewing The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Volume 6: 1933-1941, for the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Benjamin Schwarz notes that, despite Woolf’s place in “the highest stratum of the English intellectual aristocracy,” her essays were written not for the academic but for the common reader, the category in which she rather modestly placed herself. The common reader, she posited, “reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others.”


Here, Schwarz excerpts Woolf’s essay “Hours in a Library”:

A reader must check the desire for learning at the outset; if knowledge sticks to him well and good, but to go in pursuit of it, to read on a system, to become a specialist or an authority, is very apt to kill…the more humane passion for pure and disinterested reading. The true reader is a man of intense curiosity; of ideas; open-minded and communicative, to whom eating is more the nature of brisk exercise in the open wire than of a sheltered study.

For all of her wealth and status–the very condition that allowed her the coveted room of one’s own–Woolf also believed passionatelym Schwarz notes, in the democracy of reading, as evidenced in her essay “The Leaning Tower.”

Literature is no one’s private ground; literature is common ground.

Woolf’s prescription for the survival of literature, which might have ruffled feathers in her time, is no less meaningful today. Literature will survive, she wrote,

if commoners and outsiders like ourselves make that country our own country…teach ourselves how to read and how to write, how to preserve and how to create. (more…)

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christmascard

Time to design your holiday cards…

It’s time to break out the camera and take the photo for your Christmas cards. Save friends the weird newsletter and order simple, beautiful custom photo cards from Tiny Prints. I love the easy-to-customize designs, bold fonts, and high-quality paper. Right now, Tiny Prints is running a promotion: get 10 free holiday cards. Click through the link below and enter the promo code HOLIDAYCHEEER at checkout.

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Beautiful Gifts for Writers

Delight the writer in your life with beautiful gifts for a more elegant desk or reading room. Gold-stamped typewriter notecards from Charles Fradin Home recall the exquisite pleasure of writing by hand. Because no one should be writing letters to their agent on Motel 6 stationery. Seriously.

 

No writer’s library is complete without the classic handbook of simplicity and elegance in writing, Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. The 50th Anniversary Edition looks as good as it reads. (I’m pretty sure there was something dramatically tragic about that last sentence.)

Roy Blount’s take on it is characteristically dashing (although I’m fairly certain the authors would not use the term dashing in this context):“Since high school, I have kept a copy of this book handy. That should be unnecessary. I should, by now, have fully internalized The Elements of Style. But sometimes I get entangled in a paragraph that refuses to be ‘clear, brief, bold.’ I dip back into The Elements of Style and am refreshed.”After Scott Simon interviewed me on NPR about whether the word ‘e-mail’ needs a hyphen (yes, it does), some listeners, including friends of mine, wondered why I had answered in the affirmative when asked, in passing, ‘Are you a drunken white man?’ Those listeners misheard. ‘Strunk and White man’ was what Scott said.”

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