Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Finishing your article well

What's the big deal about writing the end of a story?

The ending is as important as a headline, the lead or the mass in the middle. It supports and substantiates the rest of the story, and it's the last lingering (or not) memory that a reader takes from the story.

For years, journalists would use the last sentence of a story as the headline. That's out nowadays, replaced with a quote. If I can find a great quote, I'll often save it for last. A great ending can make a good story even better.

How can you tell a great ending? You just know it, the same way you know a great headline or lead (often spelled lede in newspaper parlance). The difference is that some people can quote a great lead, but almost no one can quote great endings.

I've often asked editors how long they want the story to be, and they'd say, "Write until the story is finished." You don't put everything you know in a story. Be choosy. Somehow, I've always known when a story was done, and the story is rarely overly long.

I've seen long endings that I thought were great, but most great leads are short.

Unlike a short story or a novel, a newspaper or magazine article doesn't have to have a happy or sad ending. The story has been told, and it just feels right. It makes you feel you've resolved whatever you started at the beginning.

What's a great ending? "Louie, this is the beginning of a great friendship," from Casablanca, is a great ending. I knew it the first time I saw it, more than 40 years ago, and everyone who has seen the movie will agree.

I once was writing a story on NASCAR drivers surviving the heat in Daytona Beach, Talladega (Ala.), Darlington (S.C.) and other hot spots. The computer screwed up, and I had to read the ending to my editor. When I finished, he said, "That's a great ending!" I told him, "If it's a great ending, move it to the lead!" I was kidding; I knew that a great ending doesn't make a great lead, or vice versa.

A great ending stands alone.

Contact: I can be reached at or Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

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