Ever since I began writing — and we are talking book reports in second grade — I have struggled with how to end things.
(This also applies to relationships and other experiences, which have a roundabout impact on my writing, but I will save that blog post for another time.)
My preferred ending is rather like you find on a grocery list. “Here are all the facts you need.” Notice, it isn’t “here are all the facts you need; the end.” Just the facts, ma’am. I write until I have said everything relevant, and then I drop you and run like a kid with a crummy toy who saw the ice cream truck.
I know this is not a good way to operate, however, and the problem is that I tend to overcompensate for it. I will try to find a clever way to bring the whole shebang full circle and end with an echo of my first sentence, or I will gather up all my loose ends and try to tie them into a big pretty bow. (I have never been good with ribbons on gift packages, either. Perhaps this is a deeply ingrained thing for me.) The problem is, I rarely manage to do this with grace or style. I meander around in the weeds like a senile and decrepit old hound dog who was only really put outside so he could take a quick pee but caught a whiff of something and now he is inextricably stuck in the briars at the far back of the property.
When I started writing longer pieces, I discovered I also had trouble with introductions. I’ve always known that you start with the action — but I would have trouble deciding what the action WAS. I’ve written four novels and every single time, my first draft started the story in the wrong place. I wanted to set the scene, so I’d start everything up with an action scene that occurred three days before the real story got going. I wanted to build the characters, so I’d start everything too late because I wanted their reactions to be foremost. Etc.
Fortunately, I have good people around me who generously donate their eyes, ears, and brains to my plight and help me work out what it is that I’m really trying to do.
So you will understand why I am so blown away by great beginnings and endings. By people who can start every single chapter in exactly the right place, with a sentence that drags you along even though you really wanted to put that book down and get at least a couple hours of sleep before having to go to work, dammit.
And I am delighted (if more than a tad jealous) to discover that my son has this concept down cold. He has written a few stories over the years, and while his content can be highly derivative and he lacks a certain grasp of how the world works, I’ll be dipped if he doesn’t know how to start with a bang and end with a flourish. It’s beautiful — if, as I said, a little irksome for his struggling-writer mother.
Recently, he has been on a James Bond kick. He has been tearing through the Ian Fleming books. (Yes, with that content, and yes, he is only 10. Don’t judge.) When he disovered that the franchise lived on through other authors, he decided he would take a stab. His first outing was 5,000 words. And let me tell you — it was short, but it was packed. There was action. There was suspense. The chapters all began and ended in the right places. His grasp of structure is uh-freaking-mazing, y’all.
His first paragraph: “The alarms were already going off. As soon as Secret Service agent James Bond took the tape from the security office, nearly the whole building was flashing red.”
I mean, it would be hard to find a better starting place, right? Whereas I probably would have started with How to Sneak Into A Security Office and Steal a Tape. My way wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but it isn’t nearly as exciting as “Alarms! Lights! Oh No!”
And his last paragraph: “The three thanked him and filed from his office. That was the last they would see of M for a while.”
He doesn’t leave you at the scene of the carnage, but there’s no going out for coffee or bright talk of what lies ahead. The interview is over, and so is this story. Satisfying, but neat. Tidy. No weeds.
He’s going to be so good, you guys.