17 Writing to the End
Helping the reader complete the journey
“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”
For most writers, the ending is easy.
News writers end an inverted pyramid story when they run out of information.
Academic writers end their articles with a conclusion that wraps up the main focus of the piece.
For feature writers, the ending is anything but easy, as some would argue it is the most important part of the piece.
“The ending is your final chance to nail the point of the story to the readers so it will echo there for years,” writer Bruce DaSilva wrote in “Telling True Stories: A nonfiction writer’s guide from the Nieman Foundation.”
Simplistically, the ending signifies to the reader that the story is done. But more than that, it needs to let the reader feel fulfilled like they have completed a journey with you, and they sigh with satisfaction.
It needs to leave the reader with something that resonates and clings to the edge of their mind after the page has been turned, and that can be a tie back to the lede, a reflective moment or a twisting surprise.
Many of the best endings tie back to something reflected in the lede, like this example from Esquire on Jon Stewart:
Lede: They gather under the tall Jon Stewart. They gather under the Jon Stewart who takes up the whole side of a building on Eleventh Avenue in Manhattan and is about three stories high. They gather under the Jon Stewart who has his hands clasped, his chin lifted, his eyes narrowed, his lips drawn in a tight line. They gather under the Jon Stewart who is professionally skeptical and won’t take any bullshit. They gather under the Jon Stewart who is imitating a self-serious news anchor and who, while imitating a self-serious news anchor, has this message: “For Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, go one block down and take a right.” They gather under the Jon Stewart who is funny and who, with his dark backswept hair set off by graying temples, is a few years younger than the Jon Stewart of today.
Conclusion: Jon Stewart has made a career of avoiding “Whooo” humor. He has flattered the prejudices of his audience, but he has always been funny, and he has always made them laugh. At the Juan Williams taping, however, at least half of Stewart’s jokes elicited the sound of Whooo! instead of the sound of laughter. He’s been able to concentrate his comedy into a kind of shorthand — a pause, or a raised eyebrow, is often all that is necessary now — but a stranger not cued to laugh could be forgiven for not laughing, indeed for thinking that what was going on in front of him was not comedy at all but rather high-toned journalism with a sense of humor. Which might be how Jon Stewart wants it by now. But outside the building, there’s still a giant version of him standing with clasped hands, and he looks ready to take the piss out of anyone, including the gray-haired man inside, talking seriously to a Fox News analyst about starting a network something like Fox, without the laughs.
The ending of your article, much like the lede, often reveals itself in the course of your interviewing. For the lede you are listening to moments a source shares that can best pull your readers into the nut graph, but with the conclusion, you want the moment that the story comes to a resolution or a lesson is learned, or experience is completed.
The goal, however, is not to wrap the story up in the conventional sense. We need the reader to feel like they have come full circle like you have finished telling a story over a cup of coffee, and at the end, they set that mug down, sit back in their chair and go, “Wow.”
A popular and often effective ending device is to use a quote from one of your most significant sources. It means giving a source the last word, which some writers don’t support.
Sometimes, however, they say it best, like this article, “Art of the Steal: On the Trail of World’s Most Ingenious Thief (Wired)”
Conclusion: The judge had a similar thought during Blanchard’s plea hearing. The banks “should hire him and pay him a million dollars a year,” he said. And right before sentencing, the judge turned directly to Blanchard.
“I think that you have a great future ahead of you if you wish to pursue an honest style of life,” he said. “Although I’m not prepared to sign a letter of reference.”