MICHAEL J. BARRINGTON – Whatever Happened to Punctuation?

Michael was born in Manchester, England. He lived in France and joined a French Order of Missionary priests. He spent ten years in West Africa, several of them during a civil war when he was stood up to be shot. He spent a year living as a hermit in Northern Ireland, was a teacher in Madrid, Spain, and as part of the British ‘brain drain’ taught at the Univ of Puerto Rico.

The owner of MJB Consultants, he flew all over the world monitoring and evaluating humanitarian projects and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is fluent in several languages, an avid golfer, and academically considers himself over-engineered, having three Masters’ Degrees and a Ph.D. On his bucket list is to pilot a helicopter, become fluent in Arabic, and spend a week’s retreat at Tamanrasset in the Sahara Desert.

Michael lives with his French wife, who designs and paints the covers of his books, and a Tibetan terrier in Clayton, California.

 I have just finished reading my third novel by Sally Rooney, followed by Cormac McCarthy’s latest,  Stella Maris, and I’d like to report the speech marks are missing! Punctuation goes in and out of fashion, and the marking of text with inverted commas to signify direct speech seems, in the current moment, is decidedly going out of fashion.

Cormac McCarthy called punctuation, “Weird little marks. I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.” Since this was his first novel after a 16-year hiatus, I started reading it because I was intrigued by the subject matter, dedicated solely to a dialogue between two people, a woman who self-committed to a mental institution and a psychiatrist. It was a disaster. After twelve pages, I’d had enough and just couldn’t handle page after page with no italics. However, I was sufficiently intrigued to purchase the audiobook. And oh, my goodness, what a difference. I didn’t want to stop listening. I was enthralled by the female and male voices that gave color and texture to a dynamic, intriguing, and labyrinthine script.

But with Sally Rooney, not so. Why she has chosen to use this technique in her novels, only she can say. I found it gimmicky at best since her lack of italics didn’t enhance the flow of the story or blend with the rest of the text. But a greater irritant for me was her use in all three novels of another technique, the way she attributes the spoken word. No writer wants their characters to become disembodied, but attribution, clarifying for the reader who’s saying what, is key to maintaining good order in dialogue. It sustains the novel’s pace and orients and relieves the reader from unnecessary guesswork. As writers we shouldn’t have to send the reader window-shopping in search of a speaker to “assign” the script to! Distractions of that sort break the spell of the interactive flow, and are really an earmark of the inexperienced writer.

I’m speaking here, of course, of “she said” and “he said” the most common attributions, and their host of variants. When it’s evident who’s talking, the reader can readily do without them. Often enough, in a brisk exchange between two people once the talk gets rolling, it takes nothing more than a paragraph change, the customary tool for differentiating speakers, to make clear to the reader who’s saying what. Repeated attributions can serve to heighten the intent of the exchange two people are having. Beginning writers in particular are prone to suppose that “she said” and “he said” become too humdrum, are used too frequently, and need to be replaced by such alternatives as “she replied,” “he explained,” “he responded,” “she murmured,” “she protested,” and so on… all of which, when used judiciously, are useful.

Repeated indications as to who’s doing the talking can also be used for dramatic effect. And this is where Sally Rooney drives me crazy. A creative writing teacher advised, not to labor too much about attributions, “Go ahead and use “she said” and “he said” with little fear of over-use! They soon enough become mere transparencies for the reader, barely noted in passing as the reading proceeds.” If this is the case, why does it irritate and distract me from the story line making me want to stop reading? In Rooney’s Normal People on just one page I counted thirteen times her use of “he said, she said.”

An additional curiosity is Rooney’s point of view as she described her characters. In Beautiful World Where Are You much of its tension comes from the disconnect between the spare prose of the third-person sections, (I can’t remember seeing a semi colon in any of her books) with sometimes one paragraph filling an entire page, and the rambling soliloquies of the emails. Once they have been named, she ghosts her characters through page after page by simply referring to them as ‘she’ and ‘he,’ and given that she rarely fully develops them, I found it annoying and my attention flagging.

But there is a reason her books are bestsellers. In addition to her famous sex scenes, described as “the best in modern literary fiction,” she captures with unembellished, often plaintive prose, the angst of her millennium audience, albeit, her sometimes meandering chapters while reflecting the time and milieu, can be perplexing to those of us north of 40. But be that as it may, I still need my punctuation.

Michael’s latest book is No Room for Heroes: A novel of the French Resistance 1942-44.

Contact: majb7016@gmail.com

Books on website: www.mbwriter.net

3 Comments

  1. Harlan Hague

    Enjoyed the post and will welcome a discussion about the topic one of these days.

    Reply
  2. Mihael A. Black

    I totally agree. I refuse to read McCarthy’s books for exactly the reason you listed. I haven’t thought about an audio version, but I think I’ll pass. I remember struggling to get used to the James Joyce’s use of a dash instead of quotation marks in Dubliners. And what about the current “woke” trend of using the plural pronoun “they” in place of “he” or “she?’ It makes my blood boil. Writers like McCarthy corrupt the language by not following the basic rules of grammar, not that these rule can’t occasionally be ignored. Faulkner did the same thing in the long version of “The Bear,” but given his proclivity to tip the bottle, this was probably not totally intentional. Anyway, thank you for an entertaining and thoughtful blog posting. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply
  3. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    This post got me thinking, Michael. Very thought-provoking. Thank you.

    Reply

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JOHN SCHEMBRA – Veteran – Mentor – Friend – Award-Winning Author

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in 1969, I was drafted into the U.S. Army.  After basic training and military police school, I spent a year with the 557th M.P. Company at Long Binh, South Vietnam, in 1970. Upon completing my military service, I joined the Pleasant Hill Police Department. I retired in 2001 as a Sergeant after 30 years of service.  I was then hired as the lead Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) instructor for the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office.  I have earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Administration of Justice and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration through California State University.

My writing career began when another Sergeant at the police department, a fellow Vietnam veteran, and I swapped stories of our experiences in Vietnam.  The other members of the department would listen and began to encourage me to write down my stories.  They said it would make a good book.  So, taking heed of their advice, I started my first novel.  After two years, I began shopping for a publisher, choosing to go the small press route.  I was lucky enough to be accepted for publishing by Writers Exchange, and the Vince Torelli series was born with the publishing of M.P., A Novel of Vietnam.  

I continued my writing endeavors with my second book, relying on my 30 years of police experience for authenticity. I used the same main character as in M.P., Vince Torelli, now 25 years older and a homicide inspector with the San Francisco Police Department. I have written five books in the Inspector Torelli series, one stand-alone thriller with a paranormal element and a demonic possession horror story. I am currently hard at work on my ninth book, the first in the Detective Sergeant Louisa (Louie) Princeton, Richmond County Sheriff’s Dept, Georgia series.

All my life, I have been an avid reader.  I remember my mother taking my brother and me to the local library every two weeks so we could check out books.  Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes, and I have always admired authors who could spin a good tale.  As such, I get much more pleasure from hearing a reader say they enjoyed one of my books than the royalties from the sale.  By the way, my favorite author is Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I want to thank George for having me as a guest on his wonderful blog. He is an accomplished, award-winning author in his own right, and I am proud to call him my friend.

People often ask me what my favorite thing about writing is. I answer unequivocally—researching places, events, and the history of the locations where the stories take place. By making Vince Torelli a San Francisco PD homicide inspector, it is easy, and exceeding interesting, to research scene locations, like the 19th-century tunnels under the city utilized by the killer in The List, to landmarks like Mt. Davidson, where the climax of Blood Debt takes place, to extensive research into demonic possession and exorcism for An Echo of Lies. I have to say- that was VERY frightening!

When I’ve changed locations to places out of the San Francisco Bay Area and California— as I did in several of my books—to Tennessee, Atlanta, Augusta, Northern California, South Carolina, and others, it sparked my research gene to find real places—hotels, restaurants, streets, highways, etc. Most key scenes in the five Vince Torelli books are in those places. Even in my Vietnam book, a work of fiction based in part on some of my personal experiences, takes place in real places, and all the military units—American, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese are actual units that were operating in the area at the time. Using real places, streets, and buildings in my books, I think, adds a touch of realism for the readers. I have received several comments that they recognized certain places and liked it very much. It adds a visual reference to the scene and drama being played out as they read.

As a fun thing, I’ve used the address of my childhood home in one of my books and the name and address of my best friend, a big fan of my books, in another, and knowing my friend will be reading the book, I didn’t tell him what I had done. I gave him a copy and awaited his phone call when he got to where he was mentioned. I also have dedicated a couple of my books to special people in my life, living and deceased. That is special to their families and me.

So, can you tell how much I enjoy writing?

In closing, If I could advise any aspiring writers, there would be two things. First—sit your butt down and write, write, write—the basic mantra for writers.

Second, have fun doing it! It will make your writing more enjoyable and the finished product better!

Please take a moment to visit my website—currently being updated— where the first chapters of some of my books are posted, along with a couple of short stories. And thanks for taking the time to read this.

www.jschembra.com

Follow me at my Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100023497601286

12 Comments

  1. Deven Greene

    Thanks for sharing your interesting story, John. It was very inspiring. You have many accomplishments in addition to your writing. I really enjoy your books and urge anyone who hasn’t read them to pick some up!

    Reply
  2. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I’ve several of John’s book and enjoyed them very much. Not only is John a great writer he never hesitates to help other writers. As a member of the Public Safety Writers Association, John has given me many tips to help my writing and he made a great president as well.

    Reply
    • John Schembra

      Thanks for the kind comments, Joe. Much appreciated, my friend.

      Reply
  3. Dave Wolf

    I first became acquainted with John when he reviewed my novel “Probable Cause for Vengeance” several years ago. Since then, I have read several of his books, beginning with “MP, A Novel of Vietnam”, also the Vince Torelli mystery series and most recently, “Sin Eater”. All are excellent reading and keep you eagerly turning the pages. He writes from experience and the way he tells the stories, puts you right there with the characters. John is an accomplished author and I look forward to reading many more of his captivating stories!

    Reply
    • John Schembra

      Glad you have enjoyed my books, Dave. I really like getting comments like yours, and thanks for your support.

      Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    I’ve been honored to know John for several years and can attest that he’s an exceptionally talented writer. I’ve read many of his books and I’ve enjoyed them all. He exemplifies the very best in what makes America so great. John, thanks for your service, both military and in civilian law enforcement. Stay safe, brother

    Reply
  5. Mysti Berry

    You’re a natural-born storyteller, John! Thanks so much for all you’ve given to the writing community!!!!

    Reply
  6. Nicholas Chiarkas

    Impressive story and excellent books. Welcome home, brother.

    Reply
  7. John Taylor

    Great guy & writer. Write a best seller, John!

    Reply
  8. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    This was an inspiring post, John and George. John, I love the researching bit too.

    Reply
  9. Lisa Towles

    John, Thank you for your Service and your series sounds wonderful 🙂

    Reply
  10. Camille Minichino

    What an impressive life of service, John. Thank you for all of that, and for sharing your stories through your fiction. And thanks, George, for highlighting a fellow author.

    Reply

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THE MONA LISA SISTERS – Now Available on Audible

the mona lisa sistersThe Audible release of The Mona Lisa Sisters on October 9, 2023, marked my first foray into putting my work on audiobooks.

After listening to author Alec Peche talk about the number of books she has released as audiobooks, I reached out to Lois Winston for help understanding audiobooks. Lois took the mystery and fear out of ACX in about a half hour. I was able to begin the process.

After completing all of ACX’s questions—extremely easy— I uploaded my manuscript. When these tasks were complete, I began the search for a narrator. There was a simple choice among a mere 200,000 or so. What!

I found the project tool and narrowed the search to over one hundred.

Listening to maybe twenty narrators, I narrowed the search to six or seven. The three at the top of my wish list were all royalty-sharing listed artists. I listened again to all three and dropped one. I sent an offer to my top choice. Her response was, “I belong to SAGA/AFTA. I can’t work for less than $250.00 an hour.” I didn’t care for her response when I pointed out she was listed as available for royalty sharing. I hope she corrects that before another new author wastes time listening to her.

On to my second choice, Connie Elsberry, she accepted my offer. Connie was a dream to work with, responsive and always timely—a consummate professional. Her voice was perfect for my female protagonist. Connie captured the protagonist and the story as if it were her own. I especially appreciated how she was able to communicate and deliver the emotions where I envisioned them. Listening to her recordings, I had to wipe my eyes once or twice.

Will I do it again? You bet.

I created a new project for Robbers and Cops and have asked several narrators to audition.

The Mona Lisa Sisters at Audible is waiting for you.

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    Your fortitude in venturing into the realm of audio books is inspiring. Good luck with the new project.

    Reply

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GEORGE CRAMER – Shares His Latest Work

The first book in the Hector Miguel Navarro Series, New Liberty,  is available from many sources. I’m taking this opportunity to share a teaser and Chapter 1.

 

 

 

Outside Phoenix, two gangs rule…

…and one police officer is caught in the middle.

How will he stop them?

Hector’s parents, wealthy east coast college professors, raised him to work towards making the world a better place. In New Liberty, Arizona, gangs have ravaged the city. As a young police officer who lost his mentor, he struggles with the question.

Why did his partner kill himself?

Across town, a small sickly-looking man approaching fifty is about to make a move. DeShawn “The Knife” Galloway has a reputation as a contract assassin who prefers to kill with the Japanese Tanto. And It’s time to take control.

The war will start on his terms.

In a world of human trafficking, drugs, and violence, two people’s lives are about to be intertwined in a way where only one can survive.

But this story isn’t all black and white.

This dark urban crime novel will grab you as it reveals far more than just greed and power. This one will keep you turning the pages.

NEW LIBERTY
A Hector Miguel Navarro Novel

And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and
Hades followed him. And they were given authority . . . to kill with sword
and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. Rev. 6:8

CHAPTER ONE

They were alive moments ago.

“I told you to use the GPS. Why’d you buy a Lexus if you aren’t going to use the gadgets?” The old woman chides her even older husband.

“The map program takes too long. Besides, the boy’s graduation isn’t until tomorrow.”

“I know, but we’re not even in Phoenix. We should have been there an hour ago. Admit it. We’re lost.”

“Okay. I’ll pull over and set the GPS. Will that make you happy?” The man was tired from the long drive. Even breaking the drive into two days from Oakland to the Arizona city was more than he should have undertaken at seventy. His wife had suggested they spend a few days in Los Angeles, maybe even visit Disneyland, but the old man had insisted. She had been right. I should have skipped poker with the boys this time.

“Now we’re lost, exhausted, and you finally agree with me. That doesn’t help much.” She was younger by a decade and had offered to help with the driving. The old man was always stubborn and refused to give up the wheel. “This neighborhood looks pretty sketchy. I don’t think we should stop here?”

“We’ll be fine. Besides, there’s no one around.”

A minute later, absorbed in entering the address in the GPS, it’s difficult for the old man with his arthritic hands and new trifocals. Hearing a banging on his side window, and without thinking, he hits the down switch.

“Hey, old brother, whatcha doing?” Standing next to the car door is a skinny kid, fifteen or sixteen. It’s hard to see his face. He’s wearing a dark hoodie with the front cinched down. His hands are jammed deep into the pockets.

“I’m checking my map. We’ll be going.”
“I don’t think so,” the kid says as his right hand appears. He’s holding a small pistol, barely visible in his large hand.

“He’s got a gun,” screams the woman.

“That’s right, Bro. You and the sister get out and walk away.”

The man may be in his seventies, but he’s not about to let a teenage punk rob him. Reaching to put the car in gear, he says, “No.”

The old man doesn’t hear the shot or feel the twenty-five-caliber bullet that passes through his skull and into his brain. The small lead slug comes to rest against the right side of his skull, ending his life. His wife screams as another teenager opens the passenger door and drags her out of the car. Drawing her head back exposes her neck. She sees the Ka-Bar. The blade, dull and heavy, is meant for work, not slicing throats. As the boy saws her neck open, cutting the carotid arteries, blood gurgles until she is dead.

“Don’t get blood on the seat,”

“That’s why I pulled her out. What about the old dude?”

“He didn’t bleed much.”
* * *
Now that they have killed the old couple, they aren’t sure whether to run or take the Lexus. Their problem worsens when three men emerge from Ernesto’s Pool Hall.

“What’re you doing?” demands Jerome. “Geronimo” Dixon. The easily recognized president of the 4-Aces. Even at fifty, he is an imposing figure towering over the men behind him. The man stands six feet five and carries three-hundred pounds—no fat—packed on a muscular frame.

The frightened shooter’s answer is a whisper, almost apologetic. “We jacked them for the Lexus. The old man gave us shit. We had to off him and the old lady.”

“Who the hell gave you permission to jack a car in 4-Aces territory?”

“No one, we didn’t. . .”

“Shut up and gimme the piece. What else you got?”

The boy hands over the small pistol and the other gives up the K-Bar, “All we got.”

Geronimo turns to one of the men standing behind him. “Get DeShawn.”
Within minutes, DeShawn “The Knife” Galloway is at his side—Geronimo motions for the young killers to stand behind the Lexus. Out of earshot, he hands their weapons to Galloway. “This’s going to bring a load of shit our way. Make the idiots disappear.”

“Forever?”

“Forever.” The tone of Geronimo’s voice leaves no doubt.

“The old couple?”

“I ought to. If they weren’t innocent civilians, I would.” Geronimo lets out a sigh. “Leave them.

“Don’t nobody touch da bodies, nothing. No DNA to tie the Aces to this shit.”

Galloway calls the other men over and tells the first, “You drive. We gotta clean this up.” To the second, “Put the fools in my Escalade. You ride with me.”

Showing false bravado, the shooter speaks up. “Why?” Stepping close to Galloway, he looks down at the much older and shorter man and repeats, “Why?” adding, “I ain’t no fool, old man.”

Galloway raises his head and gazes into the face of the shooter. His expression is as lifeless as his eyes. The shooter does his best to maintain a defiant pose and succeeds for perhaps three seconds. His body begins to shake. The shivers betray the boy’s fear; without another word, he walks to the Escalade and death.

Here’s the link to the trailer created by Lisa Towles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvrdESP4jTI

 

 

13 Comments

  1. MARIJO MOORE

    Draws the reader right in…arresting dialogue.

    Kudos to you, George!

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thank you Marijo. Glad we got your attention.

      Reply
  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    George, your dialogue is gripping! The trailer spooks the hell out of me and the bible quote under the picture of the tiny book in your hand spooks down into the bones. Truly, well done. Best of Luck with NEW LIBERTY.

    Reply
  3. Thonie Hevron

    This has my interest, George! I’ll be buying it so I can find out what happens.

    Reply
  4. Donnell

    Intriguing George! And of course fearless creating. Congratulations!!!

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Intriguing and fearless are not words I would use to describe my work. WOW!! Thanks

      Reply
  5. Michael A. Black

    I was privileged to be able to read an ARC of this one and enjoyed it immensely. i’d certainly recommend it, and enjoyed it so much I bought a copy at the PSWA Conference last month in Las Vegas. It’s the first book in what will no doubt be a great new series.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thanks, Mike. This is indeed high praise coming from you. Take Care & Stay Strong.

      Reply
  6. Margaret Mizushima

    Plenty of action in the opening chapter, George! Great beginning! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thanks, Margaret. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  7. Shelley Lee Riley

    What a great idea, a look inside. This first chapter showcases the depth of evil that lies in waiting for the most innocent among us. I was gripped by the sheer horror depicted on these pages. Explosive and compelling. I’m hooked.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thanks, Shelley. I wish I could take credit for the idea. A great friend suggested I make the post. But, thanks again.

      Reply

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JILL HEDGECOCK – WRITE A KILLER NOVEL ENDING

Jill Hedgecock is the author of four suspense novels and writes monthly book reviews and pet columns for a Bay Area newspaper, The Diablo Gazette. Her work has appeared in Bark Magazine, Books N’ Pieces Magazine, and American West. Jill twice received the Distinguished Service Award from the Mount Diablo branch of the California Writers Club and has been selected by the Club to receive the 2023 Jack London Award. Her novels include the award-winning Rhino in the Room, Queen of the Rhino, and Between Shadow’s Eyes. When Jill isn’t writing, she dabbles in the fine arts and competes in dog agility. To learn more about her books and her developmental editing services, visit www.jillhedgecock.com. Jill lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with three rescue dogs.

 

Finding the perfect ending to a novel is hard. Just ask Hemingway, who wrote 40 different endings to A Farewell to Arms. Readers will often overlook slow pacing, lackluster characters, and seemingly endless descriptions. They will sometimes tolerate purple prose and melodrama. However, their patience will evaporate if, when they turn the final page, the author fails to deliver a gratifying ending. In this post, I will discuss:

  • the importance of endings,
  • six different types of endings,
  • some dos and don’ts, and
  • when the writer should know the ending

The Importance of Endings

Readers are more likely to take issue with a novel’s conclusion than any other part of the story. They have invested hours of their time and want the time spent to be worthwhile. If the ending delivers, fans will sing their praises about the brilliance of the novel. But if the ending disappoints, readers will consider all their hard work to get to that final page was all for naught. But not all reader’s expectations are the same. Some readers are content to allow the author to leave the conclusion open-ended. Others are interested only in the author’s version of events and feel cheated if a character’s fate isn’t revealed.

Dickens learned first-hand how failure to deliver a suitable ending can incite outrage. Because of public outcry, Dickens reworked the ending of Great Expectations. To this day, most readers only know the second ending. Dickens wrote of the revised ending: “I have put in as pretty a little piece of writing as I could, and I have no doubt the story will be more acceptable through the alteration.” Even with the rewrite, the controversy continued, though. George Bernard Shaw said of Dicken’s chosen ending for Great Expectations: The novel “is too serious a book to be a trivially happy one. Its beginning is unhappy; its middle is unhappy; and the conventional happy ending is an outrage on it.” 

Six Ways to End a Novel

  1. Full Circle. In general, all beginnings in novels should link to the ending. But in this type of ending, the opening and closing similarities can be literal. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton opens and closes with the same sentence.

Hemingway used the same setting to employ a circular technique in For Whom the Bell Tolls: 

          Beginning Line: “He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.” 

Ending: “He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.”

            Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie comes close to a nearly verbatim conclusion:

            Beginning Line: “The last class of my old professor’s life took place once a week in his      house, by a window in the study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its   pink leaves.”

 Ending (in the Conclusion): “The last class of my old professor’s life took place once a    week in his house, by a window in the study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant    shed its pink leaves. The class met on Tuesdays. No books were required. The subject     was the meaning of life. It was taught from experience. The teaching goes on.”

  1. Open-Ended. Vague endings are often used in series to allow for stories to continue or in standalone novels to allow readers to fill in the blanks. This approach is also frequently utilized in literary novels. The extreme version of this option, the cliffhanger, isn’t usually advisable because readers hate cliffhanger endings, especially in a series where they feel manipulated into having to purchase the next book.

Some novelists have taken this approach so far as to conclude their books with an incomplete last sentence. The Castle by Kafka ends mid-sentence. However, this wasn’t the author’s intention—Kafka died of tuberculosis in 1922 before the book was finished. But there are other books where the unfinished sentence is intentional, such as in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, where the ending suggests the grandfather composing a letter to his grandsons has died before he completed writing his letter.

  1. Metaphorical. If done with finesse, metaphorical endings can be brilliant. Richard Wright employed a shining example of this method with his metaphorical and circular ending to Native Son using the sense of sound. In the opening scene of this novel, Bigger Thomas, a poor, uneducated, twenty-year-old black man in 1930s Chicago, is startled awake by an alarm ringing (Brrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinng!”). The book concludes with a metal door clanging shut, another jarring sound. These opening and closing lines are in complete balance with the violent nature of this novel.
  1. Thematic Conclusion. Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild, which chronicles her journey hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail, provides a great example of a thematic conclusion. In the beginning, the narrator admires the view from a mountaintop and describes herself as taller than the trees, setting up the idea of a “human versus nature” theme. The novel closes with the sense that she is at peace with the wild nature of the world.
  1. Revelation/Surprise. Character-driven books often end with a revelation about themselves or the human condition. Mysteries and thriller genres are conducive to surprise endings. But literary fiction has also employed this technique. In Sara Gruen’s. Water for Elephants, the novel opens with an elderly man trying to remember his age and closes with a more confident man who knows that he’s 93 and that his age doesn’t matter. Twists must always be set up throughout the novel and well-executed to work.
  1. Ironic/Rhetorical. Rhetorical or ironic endings, especially those that end in questions, are usually aligned with an open-ended approach. However, a writer that relies on rhetoric should be aware that this approach can result in two-dimensional characters and weak plots. Just like ending a novel with a twist, using rhetoric to wrap up a book can be a slippery slope unless done exceptionally well. Humorous novels, such as Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where the main characters ironically head toward the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, have successfully pulled off this type of ending.

Dos and Don’ts

While there can be exceptions, there are general dos and don’ts a writer should abide by when drafting the conclusion of a chapter. A writer should also be aware of expectations specific to their genre. For example, romance novels must end with a happily ever after or happy-for-now scenario. A humorous novel can end with the punchline of a joke. Still, that approach would most likely be an inappropriate concluding line in the murder mystery genre, especially if the narrator is a somber detective.

Do:

  • Tie up loose ends and resolve the main conflict
  • Keep description to a minimum
  • Show how characters have changed or not changed
  • Include trivial details early that will play a role in the finale
  • Continue the story after the climax

Don’t: 

  • Introduce a new character or subplot in the last 50 pages
  • Create an Improbable Ending (don’t leave the reader with an eye roll)
  • End with “It was all a dream.”

When Should a Writer Know the Ending? 

It’s best to have a solid sense of your novel ending at the outset, but don’t be afraid to shift directions and allow yourself to trust the process. It’s worth repeating that finding the perfect ending to a book is hard. A great exercise is brainstorming ten different endings to your novel and then selecting the best one. If you’re stuck, try writing ten endings that wouldn’t work. Regardless of what type of ending you ultimately choose to wrap up your book, make sure that you resolve the main plot and tie up the loose ends of your subplots.

As I said at the beginning of this post, finding the perfect ending to a book is hard. But with a little bit of brainstorming and by understanding the various ways to wrap up your prose, writers can find that killer ending that will leave their readers happy, satisfied, and searching for your next book.

A similar version of the content in this blog post appeared as an article in the May edition of Books N Pieces Magazine.

ARTICLE: How to Write Chapter Endings That Make Your Readers Turn the Page and a Book Ending that Leaves Your Readers Satisfied – Books ‘N Pieces Magazine

 

 

 

7 Comments

  1. Dita

    Loved this post, Jill. A valuable one with the examples of the books. Now I need to read as a writer. Sometimes I just quit that hat! Thanks a lot for this post. Dita

    Reply
  2. Carol L White

    Excellent post–and timely, because I’m preparing to rework my ending. Thanks much!

    Reply
  3. Bruce Lewis

    Believe what she says. Her writing is great and her novels are proof that her wisdom works.

    Reply
  4. Violet Moore

    Jill, your ending advice and examples reinforced that the beginning and ending of my mystery novel in progress are in tune. Now, all I have to do is polish the middle so it’s strong enough to hold the reader’s attention to the end.

    Reply
  5. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Great blog post, Jill. I enjoyed trying to fit stories I’ve written into one of the categories of endings you’ve described here. I was thinking it might make a nice follow-up for you to tell us which ending each of your books used but then… ‘DA.’ realized that would make for spoilers. I guess I’ll have to read them each to see for myself. Mighty well done, I’d say. Thanks, Jill and George.

    Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Wow, this was by far one of the best and most informative blogs I’ve read in a long time, Jill. Excellent job. My only regret is that you didn’t talk about your books more. The titles sound fascinating. Thanks for the wise words and best of luck to you.

    Reply

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