Ending The Story

Sometimes it is as hard to end a story as to begin one. And I don’t mean find the ending; I mean acknowledge that it is over. It is not just that you must surrender that story to the rest of the world, where by the magical combination of language and imagination, it will belong as completely to anyone who reads it as it ever belonged to you. This is difficult enough in its own way because hopefully you loved that story. Hopefully you were delighted to find it and looked forward to joining it every day at your desk no matter how often it seemed that you and this story were incompatible.

It was love that brought you to the story and love that helped you tell it. There was nothing else to keep you there. Everything you might hope to gain from it—all the money and accolades and platform-building—all of that would come later if it came at all. Love, meanwhile, would be there for you in every moment of the telling, if you but turned your attention to it. There is no better, or really, other companion.

But the story must end. No matter how much you love it, it must end. And you end it not because there is absolutely nothing more that could be done with the story. You could always do more. All endings are in their own way artificial. Instead, you end it because it is no longer in service to you. There is nowhere else for you to go within this story. In fact, you have already begun thinking about the next story.

It is a little hard to believe as you close that book that it is over. It consumed your thoughts, both waking and sleeping, while you were in the middle of writing it. Your moods rose and fell with each day’s work. Sometimes removing or replacing a single word felt as weighty as picking a president. Now, it is a little hard to remember why it felt so important. Now, you feel something prickling in you, and it’s got your attention in such a way that you’re not sure if you’re actually forgetting that other story, or remembering the pleasure of discovery.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Ending The Story

Sometimes it is as hard to end a story as to begin one. And I don’t mean find the ending; I mean acknowledge that it is over. It is not just that you must surrender that story to the rest of the world, where by the magical combination of language and imagination it will belong as completely to anyone who reads it as it ever belonged to you. This is difficult enough in its own way because hopefully you loved that story. Hopefully you were delighted to find it and looked forward to joining it every day at your desk no matter how often it seemed that you and this story were incompatible.

It was love that brought you to the story and love that helped you tell it. There was nothing else to keep you there. Everything you might hope to gain from it—all the money and accolades and platform-building—all of that would come later if it came at all. Love, meanwhile, would be there for you in every moment of the telling, if you but turned your attention to it. There is no better, or really, other companion.

But the story must end. No matter how much you love it, it must end. And you end it not because there is absolutely nothing more that could be done with the story. You could always do more. All endings are in their own way artificial. Instead, you end it because it is no longer in service to you. There is nowhere else for you to go within this story. In fact, you have already begun thinking about the next story.

It is a little hard to believe as you close that book that it is over. It consumed your thoughts, both waking and sleeping, while you were in the middle of writing it. Your moods rose and fell with each day’s work. Sometimes removing or replacing a single word felt as weighty as picking a president. Now, it is a little hard to remember why it felt so important. Now, you feel something prickling in you, and it’s got your attention in such a way that you’re not sure if you’re actually forgetting that other story, or remembering the pleasure of discovery.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Big Endings

If ever you’re going to employ that old Creative Writing 101 saw Show Don’t Tell, apply it at the end of your story. Here is where you give your reader your greatest gift. Here is also where your story is most like a joke. A comedian’s joke does not end with a punch line; it ends with the audience’s laughter. The laughter is where the audience thinks what the comedian did not say but only suggested.

So, when the comedian tells the joke: “A priest, a rabbi, and a mullah walk into a bar, and the bartender says, ‘What is this, some kind of joke?’” the audience thinks, “Oh, because that’s just how most jokes start and this is a joke.” And then the laughter. Only the laughter happens faster than all of that could be thought word-for-word.

Suppose you are writing a love story. Suppose you want the story to say, in one way or another: “Yes we all die, yes people cheat on one another and are mean to one another, but in the end love matters because we cannot live without it.” You would not end your story with this statement. To do so would be telling. Instead, you would want your story to point the reader toward this idea and let that idea come to them through their own imagination.

For just as the comedian’s audience laughs faster than the thought compelling the laughter can be spoken, so too your reader will feel something bigger than you could compose in one statement. If you could help your reader feel why love matters by pointing to it within them, they will, in an instant, know more than you could ever say. Now that ending is belongs to them, now you have allowed them to connect to life for themselves. All you did was show them the door, and they walked through it.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Big Endings

If ever you’re going to employ that old Creative Writing 101 saw Show Don’t Tell, apply at the end of your story. Here is where you give your reader your greatest gift. Here is also where you story is most like a joke. A comedian’s joke does not end with a punch line, it ends with the audience’s laughter. The laughter is where the audience thinks what the comedian did not say but suggested.

So, when the comedian tells the joke: “A priest, a rabbi, and a mullah walk into a bar, and the bartender says, ‘What is this, some kind of joke?’” the audience thinks, “Oh, because that’s just how most jokes start and this is a joke.” And then the laughter. Only the laughter happens faster than all of that could be thought word-for-word.

Suppose you are writing a love story. Suppose you want the story to say, in one way or another: “Yes we all die, yes people cheat on one another and are mean to one another, but in the end love matters because we cannot live with out it.” You would not end your story with this statement. To do so would be telling. Instead, you would want your story to point the reader toward this idea and let that idea come to them through their own imagination.

For just as the comedian’s audience laughs faster than the thought compelling the laughter can be spoken, so too your reader will feel something bigger than you could compose in one statement. If you could help your reader feel why love matters by pointing to it within them, they will, in an instant, know more than you could ever say. Now that ending is belongs to them, now you have allowed them to connect to life for themselves. All you did was show them the door, and they walked through it.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Happy Endings

I received an irate email from my good friend Pete yesterday about Monday’s essay. What, my friend needed to know, was the real ending? What happened to the fellow in the story, the one with the wife and kid who was starting his Internet business? Did he leave the restaurant? Did the business succeed? Did he relapse into drugs?

For the record, not long after I left that very same restaurant my friend’s business was going strongly enough that he was able to leave as well. And he stayed married. And I believe he remained off drugs. I can never know for sure what role our conversation played in the rest of his life, though I do know what role it played it mine, which is why I ended the story the way I did.

I feel for Pete, however. I may have started this story, but he was finishing. This is what human beings do. Our imaginations light upon what interests us. While I was turning the narrative car down one road, his imagination began shouting, “Look at that road! Look how many interesting questions lie unanswered down it!”

And in this way, Pete was glimpsing himself in this story – not in me, or in my friend, but simply in what interested him. What are we but what interests us? A meat sack with bones and a useful frontal lobe? I don’t think so. We may look static in the mirror, but this is a trick of time and space. We are a direction, not a thing, for which all endings are no more real than beginnings.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Faster Now

I finished my last book project several months ago, and I don’t like to leap into my next until it has simmered sufficiently in my creative pot. In the meantime there are blogs to write, and videos to edit, and calls to my agent and all the other business of being a writer/editor/interviewer. Finally, it was time to start the next, and always there is the slow beginning, like a competitive cyclist taking the first uneven, momentum-building rotations to start his race.

Eventually, I get going full-speed, and once I am there I remember that as much as I like to write these columns, and interview writers, and edit videos, for me there is still no creative experience that can match being in the middle of a book. I say remember because I really do forget. My last memory of a book is always my clearest, and every book ends with the same fussy tidying anything that size requires, just as the painter stands back again, and again, and again from his canvas until with a mixture of exhaustion and a little disappointment declares it finished.

Once I am in the middle I recall that same sentiment echoed by so many of the writers I have interviewed. There is so much that is nice about being a writer: making your own schedule, meeting your readers, being paid to do this thing you would certainly do for free. But none this, not the awards or the advances or the reviews, can match the act of writing itself. To be in the middle of a book, to leave the desk when you can still feel the writing you will do tomorrow, to carry that feeling of the book with you, wondering what the feeling will become in words the next morning, is as complete a pleasure as I have ever known.

Oh, the complaining we will do in between such pleasure. Oh, the worrying and uncertainty, the bad reviews, the missing readers. As if this job were forced upon us by an unseen hand. Perhaps it was. Perhaps this is why it puzzles and pleases us so. Every story reaches some crux of momentum and uncertainty, where the ride accelerates at every turn, and as a writer you know the only way forward is to pray for more speed, and so you lower your head, and learn once again what faster really feels like.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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Never Ending

I have always loved to tell stories, particularly stories from my own life. When I was a boy and a young man, however, I frequently ran into a recurring problem. I would begin my tale with great enthusiasm, launching into whatever incredible event I felt demanded both my and my listener’s attention. Everything would usually go swimmingly as I mimicked my character’s voices, paused for dramatic effect, and allowed myself to feel again the joy, shame, or frustration of that moment.

Then I came to the end. Then I arrived at that moment I had somehow never anticipated, that moment that, like it or not, asked, “And why are you telling this?” My answer usually amounted to: “Can you believe the kind of crazy shit that happens to me?” This was not a horrible ending, but it made my life feel like the tale told by Shakespeare’s idiot, just a bunch of sound and fury.

And so perhaps it was. I sulked about the world for a time, disappointed with stories and with life. It all ends with a whimper, doesn’t it? Why, it hardly even seems worth writing about. I would not be the one to disappoint others; let them figure out Santa isn’t real themselves.

But life itself does not end merely because you have become disillusioned with it. It goes on and so did I, and from time to time in my sulking I would remember those stories I used to begin with such enthusiasm. I could still feel within me that same pull to tell them. At my gloomiest, this pull felt like a relentless siren song, a stubborn betrayal, and I would see myself as a kind of tragic hero doomed with unfortunate insight.

Self-pity is a drug with a very short high, and even I grew sick of it. Meanwhile, these stories still asked me to tell them. Perhaps, I thought, the true ending was in the beginning. Perhaps I’d had it right from the start. So I began telling the stories again. This time, however, I didn’t try to end them. Instead, I merely looked for a point on the horizon that confirmed my enthusiasm, an excellent vista from whose perch the rest of life was still visible.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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The Last Ending

I have just returned from a visit to my hometown of Providence where I saw my family and a large group of friends I have known since high school. It had been seven years since I’d been to Providence, and seven years since I had sat in the same room with my entire family.

Much has happened to me in those seven years, and as I listened to us reminisce and amuse one another I was reminded what habitual storytellers we were. Conversations in my family were a linked series of stories, and as the conversational baton was passed we learned what had happened to us, and what interested us, and what made us laugh.

No surprise, I suppose, that I should have sought storytelling friends. Only these friends told stories differently, their jokes were more language driven, they used more details, and I remember as a boy noting this difference and bringing this new breed of story home to my family to see if they worked as well in my living room as they had in the cafeteria.

I loved to tell stories, but always for me there was the problem of the ending. I was quick to participate, but so often I would find myself on a narrative path – down which my friends and family had willingly followed me – only to realize I was heading toward a conclusion I did not understand how to share. So I would fudge the ending, find some joke that wasn’t there, or offer an obtuse, life-is-strange shrug.

For many years I carried a sense of failure and frustration at these non-ended stories. Sometimes I blamed my audience; mostly I blamed myself. In this way I had no choice but to become a writer, if for no other reason than to test my true endings out in private. I couldn’t worry about who might be uncomfortable, of if I might be embarrassed, or if something was appropriate—I needed to hear it for myself so I could learn at last why I wanted to start telling these stories in the first place.

I came to understand that the only story I ever wanted to tell went like this: everything is all right. I never tire of story; I am always moved by it. As I have gotten older, it is also the only story I believe. As I have gotten older, all other conclusions feel like middles—the drama we thrash around in when we forget where everything must end.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Really The End

I watched a romantic comedy last night for which I had seen previews a year or so ago when it was released. The film had big stars and a cute premise, but when I saw the previews I thought to myself, “Well, I already know the entire story.” The movie then came and went as predictably as I imagined the story was.

But there I was last night with nothing to do and looking for a little light entertainment, and I liked the actress in particular, and it turned out to be set in the publishing industry of all places, so why not? As soon as I began to watch, I noticed something odd. It was funny. Laughing-despite-myself funny. What’s more, I believed that the male and female leads disliked each other at first and then, as the movie progressed, I believed that they were both softening to one another and falling in love. The dialogue was surprising, and the characters were real. Why hadn’t this movie made a bigger splash?

Then, as they say, we came to the end. It wasn’t one of those horrible, tedious, Hollywood endings where nothing is left to the imagination and you see the leads getting married, having children, then grandchildren, then being buried in matching plots. But it was flat, despite all its efforts to make the characters’ declaration of love dramatic. It got the job done, but nothing more, and that was when I understood why the movie had not done better.

Regular readers of this column may know how I feel about endings. In general, whether in novels or movies, I believe they are often the least-attended part of a story. I think writers often tighten up at the end, especially in genre stories (which a romantic comedy certainly is), where the ending is somewhat predetermined. Even if you are writing a story where you know the killer must be caught or the guy must get the girl, you should still allow yourself to be surprised.

There is no formula for an ending that is, as Aristotle put it, both surprising and inevitable. These endings are a consequence of the writer trusting her story, trusting that what she had to share is valuable and that a satisfying ending will naturally flow from it. Life is surprising and inevitable. We never know what is going to happen, but somewhere in us we always know why it did. You can never control the end of your own life, don’t control the end of the story. It will be as beautiful, touching, scary, or poignant as you like, but only if you let it.

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All Right

I’ve been on a Monty Python jag of late. It began when I discovered, Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut), a six-part documentary about the comedy troupe’s life and work. Being such a process junky, it was a treat listening to the Pythons discuss how they arrived at the concept for a style of comedy the Oxford English Dictionary now defines as Pythonesque.

The main innovation, it turns out, was to use “only the good stuff.” That is, once they were out of funny things to say in a given idea, the writers would simply end it, without burdening the sketch with some creaky punch line. Thus all the collage animation, which were used for transitions, as well as the iconic, “And now for something completely different.”

One of the beauties of humor is that a laugh is a kind of beginning and end by itself. Humor inserted into a conversation that gets a good laugh has done its job, unlike an idea (school children should be made to wear uniforms) which requires exploration and explanation and then, preferably, a conclusion. A good joke contains within it an emotional completeness.

Stories can sometimes be viewed as a joke. The storyteller provides the needed information through the beginning and middle so that the end has its desired emotional conclusion. I know why the Pythons avoided endings to their sketches. True endings are the hardest parts of any story; true endings are where you must decide why it is you’ve taken your audience on this journey.

My own philosophy is this: how can I show that everything is all right? If that sounds overly simple, good. That’s exactly the point. But of course it is not so simple. Stories by necessity complicate things; stories by necessity put characters in situations that seem empirically not all right. The challenge then for the author is the same of any person in their daily life, to step back from the grisly details, to not complain, and to gain the broadest perspective possible.

I usually don’t have a definite idea of how to end my stories, only the abiding belief that everything is all right. For me, this is enough. It will only not be enough when my belief in the all rightness of things wavers. The gift to me in writing a true ending is being called back to my most authentic self, the only part of me I wish to share, the part that always reminds me that I am going to be all right.

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