Multiple Endings

For maximum power and memorability, you need a simple ending. A piece with multiple endings sounds wishy-washy.

We use a technique called “The Hand Test” to discover multiple endings. You scroll to the end of your piece and cover everything but the last paragraph with your hand. You read the last paragraph aloud and ask yourself, “Does that sound like an ending?” If the answer is “yes,” you move your hand up one paragraph, read the next to last aloud, and ask again, “Does that sound like an ending?” And so on until the answer is “no.”

Try this technique on the following passage, the bottom of a story about a man who bowled his first perfect game and dropped dead:

“Don was on cloud nine,” after the perfect game, Mick Doane told well-wishers. “And he liked it so much that he didn’t want to come down.”
As the story was related on Thursday, Linda Doane turned to him.
“He was halfway to heaven when he hit the floor, wasn’t he, Dad?” she said.
The ring ceremony lasted only a couple of minutes, about as long as Doane had to enjoy his perfect game after his 12th consecutive strike.
It was almost 6:30. Someone, somewhere, pushed a button, and the stoic silence of the bowling alley was interrupted by the sudden rumble and whir of the automatic pin-setting machines.
A moment later, the room filled with bowling’s familiar clatter; the thunk of balls hitting hardwood, the hum as they spun down the lanes, the crack of the impact.
Pins were falling. But nobody got them all.

I count five endings. How many did you find? See how using all those good endings erodes the power of each one?

Having discovered your multiple endings, you decide which one leaves the readers with the thought you want to emphasize. Remember that whatever the readers read last is what they remember most. Then you recycle the other endings into appropriate places above, or cut them.

Published in: on April 21, 2009 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is another great writing tip. I borrowed this one for my feature writing students after attending a Poynter workshop a long time ago. (I think Gutenberg was in attendance.)

    I also advised my students to use the hand test on the opening. My feeling was that many writers use the opening paragraphs to find their way into the story and don’t hit their stride until the third or fourth paragraph.

    Of course, the more analysis aforethought you put into something before you arrive at the typing stage, the better the process will go. I’m about to write a feature story on a golf pro and I have finally come up with the lead–while walking my golden retriever.

    I may not write the story for a couple of days, but all will go well because I’ve got the lead. Or, as Don once said to me about book chapter that hadn’t been put on paper yet but which he considered written: “It’s in my head.”

  2. Good idea, using the hand test on the top. I’ll incorporate that into another blog soon. Thanks, Tom.

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