• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Is This My Beginning or is This the End

Some books stop so abruptly that you look to see if there is another chapter or paragraph or afterword. Others have multiple endings like a hall of mirrors or a series of false floors. And some books are just right. What makes a perfect ending? It has to be surprising and inevitable at the same time. It has to feel like sinking a putt. It’s something you want to read over, not because you need to but because you want to. It sums up everything and nothing. It has just the right number of beats. If loving you is right I don’t want to be wrong. How do you find your perfect ending? Good chance it’s in the first five pages. Good chance you knew it all along and had no idea. Good chance you stop suffering.

How do you know you have your ending?

7 Responses

  1. The ending is in the first five pages . . . ? I’ve always said I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

  2. “How do you know you have your ending?”

    Endings have always been the hardest part. In life and in writing. I suspect the difficulty I find in finding the right ending for a piece of writing I’m writing may be connected to the difficulty I find in other endings that come in life. Probably has to do with toilet training. But suspecting that, or even knowing that, if it could be known, isn’t much practical help when it comes to figuring out how a piece ends.

    There are a few practical tips. Your ending always arises from your beginning, so look to your beginning to find your ending. The piece probably ended a clause or a sentence or a paragraph or a page or a chapter earlier than you think it did, so go back and murder some darlings. Look to Chekhov to see how a master hits the mark on endings time and again.

    I wrote a short fiction just the other day. How did I know when I had the ending? First, I was looking for it. Where could I find it? How could I make it? What came earlier in the story that could serve me in making it end? I had a goal. The story was like sex. It had sex in it, too, so that helped. But the story, it was an eruption of things that, some of them, had been percolating for nearly twenty years. The opening line came to me in early afternoon while I was taking a break, relaxing on the sofa, so I got up and went to my computer and started to write. I knew the whole thing had to come out in this one session. That’s the how-it-was-like-sex part of the composition. I was coming, it was coming, here it came. How to frame the money shot? I knew, just a gut feel, that I had to get the whole thing out as quickly as possible, in one sitting — but how to end it? Tie it up tightly and neatly, leave also enough loose strands, or strandlets, or allusions, to keep it alive? I kept looking up the page at what was there. How can this do it? How can that do it? When will I know it’s done? When will I know to stop? I’m coming, it’s coming, will it be good, will it be good for me, might it prove good for others, too?

    And there it was. Time to stop. I had my ending, good enough for an initial draft. I can go back and clean up the mess later, when I think to begin inflicting the finished piece on editors — but there may not be much of a mess. I may have hit my mark, leaving only the lingering wet spot of practice, skill, and love.

  3. Ha…the ending in the first five pages? How about the ending in the first line or at least the first paragraph. Sometimes the pieces I write (short form non-fiction op-eds, articles, essays and columns) circle the subject in less than five pages.

    I learned a long time ago that once we are into our journey when we get further down the road we set aside many of the twists and turns we’ve taken because the road ahead is new and needs our undivided attention. Doesn’t mean we forget our way, we simply file the intersections away because as we take a new ramp or exit another they get us where we want to be.

    I almost always (99% of the time) loop back to remind the reader that…ha…there it is, a reference to the pivotal landmark, the point in the beginning that closes the circle.

    • After rereading my comment let me add that it is my aim to end my pieces with a “hot damn” end, not a predictable outcome. It wraps the package and tapes it shut.

  4. Nope. If I can guess or know the ending in the first five pages I put the book or project down. I want to be surprised, even by myself.

  5. Sometimes I want to keep things running in a circle or a Moebius strip. I’m aware of the ending because of how it leads back to the beginning. Other times I think of writers like Robert Stone who keep the climax going longer than a rekindled love affair; it may not end well, but it’s a hell of a ride. And Elena Ferrante ends her novels leaving the reader hungry for more.

    I try to rein in my ramblings, pull it all together so it makes sense and offers a bit of closure in a world gone off the rails. If it works,I’ll let you know.

  6. I had a good opening, but something about it didn’t feel right. I thought I was beginning in a better place and now hear within the new first chapter the echoing notes of a perfect coda. If asked, I will say I planned it. Thank you, Betsy Lerner!

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