Words and cover art by Ant Gray
More difficult than knowing where to begin is knowing when to stop. Pieces of writing we’re working on. Bad relationships. Eating. But when it comes to finding the best ending for a creative work, the perfect solution might be right under our noses.
“I know, in my heart, that I am not a good enough writer,” says novelist Rick Moody in his advice to fiction writers, A Guide to Revision.
“I will never be as good as the dead writers I admire, nor even, probably, a great many of my contemporaries. This is a truth that disappoints me. But I do make myself better, and give myself a leg up, by rewriting. I improve my chances, and I get closer to saying something that will last.”
Moody is probably best known for his novel The Ice Storm which became a major film directed by Ang Lee, featuring an all-star cast including Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Kevin Kline and Christina Ricci.
Moody has some excellent tips for fiction-writers which could easily apply to other art-forms as well.
He advises writers to be careful not to rush the writing process—to make sure they leave a long interval between revisions to be more impartial with their decision-making. “It’s important to build into the process of redrafting the kind of resolution that you only get from ruminating on the work,” Moody explains.
He also recommends writers read their work aloud to make sure it doesn’t sound unintentionally pompous or awkward.
This helps, he explains, because “some things that you have considered wonderful on the page are going to fail when read aloud.”
This the best way to “find the last few blobs of self-centeredness hiding out in my prose,” he says. “Affectation is bad, and affectation is what you get if the work has never been read aloud.”
The second to last word on endings
One particularly interesting suggestion Moody gives is about endings. Above all, he recommends, “Cut the last sentence.”
“This is one of my favorite bits of advice, and also the one that I have had the most trouble learning myself. The tendency on the part of many contemporary prose writers is to want to explain too much.”
Many writers, he argues, what to ensure their main point is absolutely clear, and so they have a tendency to keep adding extra sentences so their message is unmistakable.
For Moody, this advice applies equally to ending stories as it does to the last sentences of paragraphs.
“My advice, in general, is to cut the last sentence of almost everything. My advice, in fact, is cut the last sentence without even looking at it. You will likely find that the better end, the more graceful one, the more allusive one, is back a ways, awaiting your admiration.”
A friend of mine told me about an Australian choreographer who, after she had finished developing a new work, would often leave out the very first and last sections she had choreographed.
It’s a provocative idea. Being brave enough to cut things out of a finished work sounds like a good way to eliminate long-winded set-ups and explanation.
It throws the reader or audience into the action faster, and allows space for their own daydreaming.