Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Long Form: Strong Finish

Writing Wednesday

We occasionally say, with a touch of nostalgia, that all good things must come to an end. But the way a thing comes to an end determines, to a large extent, how good the thing was.

The ending matters. No matter how beautiful the prose, how evocative the characters, or masterful the dialog, if a short story fails to deliver a satisfying ending, you walk away feeling cheated out of your time. Given the far greater investment of time required by the long form, readers expect a commensurate payoff--as we discussed last week when we considered the obligation of transformation.

The long form is the most powerful medium for strong, satisfying endings because it affords authors the time to develop multiple story strands, each significant in its own right, and then weave them together for a strong finish. All those strands also mean, if you're not careful, that you've got enough rope to hang yourself.

Finishing, however, is much more than the ending.

A year ago, in the context of the question about the nature of good and bad writing, I said:
Of the few network sitcoms I've enjoyed, nearly every one of them stayed on the air for one or two seasons too many. In some cases the final season was so disappointing that it soured the entire series for me. The best programs delivered consistently and came to a graceful and satisfactory ending. Similarly, in sports, the players generally considered to be great are the ones who were consistent performers.
A strong finish is the capstone of a consistently good performance. That's why world-class gymnasts are expected to make a perfect landing after everything else in their routine. 


Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net