Endings

Readers can remember what they’ve read in general outline if they have a sense of closure. Without a sense of ending, readers can’t remember much of anything you said, except maybe the funny bits. So endings are not decorative, but functional. They can take many forms:

Simply stopping leaves readers with no sense of closure.
EXAMPLE: Pomegranates will also attract songbirds to your feeder.

Ending with a piece of context too boring to put anywhere else does not give closure.
EXAMPLE: Pine saplings are especially valued for their fast growth.:

Trailing off uses poetic language for a movie-like finish.
EXAMPLE: And so the Juangs plodded on, toward a sunset bright with napalm.

A quote needs to be relevant to the subject and sound like an ending.
EXAMPLE: “If all the economists were laid end to end,” said George Bernard Shaw, “they would not reach a conclusion.”

A telling anecdote needs to be relevant and short.
EXAMPLE: John recalls the day his wife left him. His father Sam waved goodbye as she drove away, and said, “Treat her like she’s dead, son.”

An information block or link helps interested readers find out more.
EXAMPLE: For further information, see http://www.savethepeccary.org.

Pointing to the future suggests ways readers can act on the information.
EXAMPLE: You can sit tight on your nest egg, you can lose it by getting back in too early, and you can watch and wait. Just don’t bury it in the backyard.

A call for action, common for opinion pieces, gives readers a way to participate.
EXAMPLE: If you don’t like the mayor’s plot, here’s his phone number: 555-555-5555.

Echoing the lead, which classicists call “ring-composition,” repeats a word or image from the lead to give a sense of closure and unity.
EXAMPLE LEAD: Sarah Palin’s supposed appeal to red-meat hunters never happened.
ENDING: A roof over your head perhaps counts more than venison on the supper table.

A returning character, usually from an anecdotal lead, closes the loop.
EXAMPLE: Meanwhile, Jane has nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep.

Answering a question posed at the beginning gives a sense of completion.
EXAMPLE: So to survive an airliner crash, sit over the wing, keep your seatbelt fastened, and get out fast.

A twist sideways can introduce a new and often ironic note.
EXAMPLE: These techniques may prevent your employees from burning out. But to make them work, you may have to deal first with your own burnout.

Restating your point cements complex arguments into readers’ memories.
EXAMPLE: No matter how tempting derivatives look, investing in core businesses lets you sleep at night over the long haul.

A summary glues long and complex material in the readers’ memory precisely.
EXAMPLE: So who rules the world? People who can read, write, think, and talk.

“Stopping at now” can end a piece organized chronologically, where “now” means the end of the action.
EXAMPLE: Serve with Ruffino Serelle Vin Santo del Chianti for a great finish to a perfect meal.

Stopping at the destination closes a piece organized as a journey.
EXAMPLE: The soldiers, despite their wounds, fell to their knees and kissed the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base.

An epilogue tells what happened to the characters later, and shows that the story continues.
EXAMPLE: Harold became the model father he had always wanted.
Jane served a 10-year sentence for child abuse.
Little Hal wrote his bestseller, “How to Divorce Your Parents.”

Zooming to a detail lets a small thing represent larger issues, a device called “synecdoche.”
EXAMPLE: “Some will always be poor, and some will always be rich,” sighed the bishop, offering his golden ring to be kissed.

Forward spin, invented by Congressional Quarterly, points to what will happen next..
EXAMPLE: The Senate will vote (again) on Tuesday, hoping to break the deadlock.

Return to normality lets readers down slowly after horrendous events.
EXAMPLE: Carla’s restaurant has reopened. The waitresses still fold the napkins into little birds. And regulars still order “my usual.”

We speak of “a sense of an ending,” which has to do with sound. Take, for example, this ending of a highly technical article on memory: “In general, one deals with internal representations (of behaviorally relevant objects, of a syntactic structure), which can be provisionally labeled by appropriately defined symbols σ, even though their relationship to the underlying neural activity variables {ri} is yet to be determined. The grand goal of elucidating this relationship is a fascinating challenge for cognitive neurosciences, and for the science of memory.” Notice how the voice changes in the last sentence from scientific diction to an elevated, enthusiastic, and a slightly florid style, creating the sense of closure.

The need for an ending also applies to sections, so here’s my ending to this section:
Which ending technique should you choose? You select the one that helps your reader understand and remember what you’ve just said.

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Published in: on April 21, 2009 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  

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