This post part of a series, “Don’t Do This” – posts aimed at helping you avoid bad writing habits, identify and steer clear of the pitfalls of poor writing, and become the writer-communicator that people want to follow.
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the end in mind.
Answer this: What do the following have in common…
1. The second Hobbit movie.
2. A blog post.
3. A Christmas card.
Answer: Each has an incomplete ending.
(The movie and post were incomplete for many, I presume; the card, that was incomplete just for me. But more on that in a sec…)
Incomplete is not good.
(Okay. You know that.)
Think about it, though.
Your writing, with a “bad ending,” is empty.
Hollow. Hanging. Not memorable, and left with negative emotion.
Incomplete writing is a piece that shouts, “Wait for it!”… but nothing happens. Zip. Nada.
It’s pretty obvious:
The ending with a disconnect to your audience’s needs is silence that’s not golden.
And in order to have a great ending to whatever we write,
we must begin with the end in mind.
Because an incomplete ending is more than silence. An incomplete ending is like hoards of crickets, all sitting around with blank looks on their little faces, rubbing their skinny legs in absentminded la-la-land endlessness…
Another analogy: Writing without a solid ending leaves the reader listening to the pointless drone of an orchestra warming up before its concert. (The orchestral warm-up exists for the players, not for the audience.)
Your unfinished, unfocused, no-ending writing leaves the reader in blank-look endlessness, in warm-up droniness (new word).
The warm up goes on and on, and the concert (the connection with the audience) never begins. Bad news for the readers — I mean, concertgoers.
Sorry. I like crickets. And orchestras. Really.
But I digress.
Your writing needs to satisfy the reader.
And you satisfy the reader
by identifying ONE SOLID NUGGET
to communicate at the end.
No matter what you write — a card, a note, an email, a web page, a marketing piece, a book, a script — you must find the nugget that will satisfy the reader’s expectations and needs.
>>Take the Hobbit movie #2.
When Smaug flew across the water toward the town and the screen went black (an abrupt ending), the entire audience in our theater groaned. Shame on you, Peter Jackson. Peter cheated — leaving us unsatisfied. A cheap shot, since he knew we’d go back to see the last movie. (Tsk, Tsk)
What was the audience’s expectation? We wanted at least one interaction with Smaug and the city, before closing off the storyline for another year. The ending was Cliffhangeritis. The director needed to give the viewers what they wanted.
>>Take the blog post that I read last week.
The author wove a wonderful analogy, a story with a point moving the reader forward. I held eager anticipation for the ending. (How she was going to wrap it up? What would be the clear moral of the story to resonate with, to feel good about, and to apply to my life?) But the great ending never came. Instead, the writer said, what do you think the moral of this story is? (Gah! No! You need to tell me! You wrote the piece!) And just like in the movie theater with The Hobbit, I left, empty.
What was the blog reader’s expectation? We wanted the moral of the story. I wanted to be able to ponder the ideas, before moving on with my day. The blog ending was Open-Endeditis. The writer needed to finish the thought, to see it through to the end, to spell out the key idea in its entirety.
>>Take the Christmas card I received.
The card giver and I have an elephant-in-the-room relationship. The card was an excellent opportunity to acknowledge the elephant, express meaningful words, and move forward. But what was inside the card? Nothing but a signature. (Yikes! Move the elephant out of the way, please!) And, as with The Hobbit and the blog post, I left the card feeling empty.
What was my expectation? I wanted the I-care-about-you words at the bottom of the card. This card had Lack-of-Meaningitis. The writer needed to fully express emotions and ideas — going deeper into the meaning between the writer and the reader (me). In most situations, you and I can’t afford to write fluff. You and I have to write something powerful and memorable.
Now excuse me while I raise my voice quite impolitely, emotionally, and every other adverbially-strong kitchen-sink -ly emphasis that I can grab onto:
When you write —
in whatever you write —
CREATE a STRONG, WORTHY ENDING.
A strong, worthy ending contains ONE point. ONE feeling. ONE action step. It’s the bottom line for the reader’s sake.
(News Flash: My writing is not about me; your writing is not about you.)
Strong, worthy writing gives an answer for the reader’s sake:
* What one thing do you want me, the reader, to understand?
* What one feeling do you want me, the reader, to feel?
Your best ending has a core, a center, a crux, the essence of what you want — no NEED — to get across to the reader. You absolutely have to come up with the fundamental hold this in your hand thought.
In order to be great writers, you and I must spell out exactly what we want the reader to walk away with. Our perfect ending meets all of the reader’s expectations.
(Pardon my repetition, circling the answer over and over with eagle eyes. I think I’ve said it enough, now. Let’s end this baby.)
In order to write strong endings:
Don’t do this: Don’t give a bazillion ideas in your email, post, web page, or nonfiction chapter. And don’t let your fiction characters wander all over the place.
Do this: Focus on one bottom line idea for your blog post. Focus on one key take-away in your email or your web page. Zero in on one piece of conflict on the fiction page or chapter that the reader can mull over and get emotionally tied into.
KISSS: Keep it simple, streamlined, strong.
Don’t do this: In your post, web page, article, and email…Don’t write about your feelings, your experiences, your amazing aha! moments with flashes of personal brilliance.
Do this: Focus on the reader. Only write experiences and aha!s making a point that clearly benefits your reader. Fully place the limelight on your reader’s needs. Your reader’s experience. Your reader’s benefit. Your reader’s outcome.
TRNR: The Reader’s Needs Rule.
Don’t Do This: Don’t start writing and “see where it goes.”
Do This: Write (or, at least, plan) your end first. Then begin.
Such end clarity brings readers back for more.
You’re so right. Couldn’t agree more! I HATE flat endings or when writers get lazy and tie up something poorly. UGH! Great stuff, Erin 🙂
Mm-hmm. So right. We simply MUST leave the reader with a final thought that echoes and follows the reader home :).