How to come to The End

It’s confession week, and I must confess- March, although terribly busy (here in the Southwest it is prime festival/carnival/block party/bbq time) was a really great month for me! I sold The Break to Brain Harvest. I wrote the first draft of a new short story. I got an idea for a stand-alone novel that I have written some notes and approximately one VERY rough page on. And, thanks to Save the Cat, I figured out that niggling problem with the opening to the novel I’m about to start shopping (perpetually. I am always about to start shopping that novel. When I die and go to Purgatory, it’s just going to be folders full of rewritten query letters, stretching on into infinity. Okay, maybe that’s Hell. But I digress.).

I’m the kind of writer who doesn’t put enough onto the page in my first draft. While I always make healthy cuts during the first revision, I usually end up with a higher word count, because I have to add in whatever I didn’t fully communicate the first time around. Endings are particularly bedeviling for me. Half the time I know I didn’t really hit the mark, the other half the time I think I hit it perfectly and find out via critique, that no, I only conveyed about 75% of whatever I was trying to say, which of course lessens the impact of the entire story. Bedeviling indeed.

I’m currently revising the end of a short story that I’m feeling overall pretty perky about. I do think it’s one of the better things I’ve done. But I want to nail that ending. So I have been prowling my bookshelf for short story anthologies. I spent the weekend revisiting Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Wind’s Twelve Quarters

and next on deck is Theodore Sturgeon’s E Pluribus Unicorn (such a questionable title and cover for such a wonderful collection).

After that, I’m going to read James Tiptree Jr.’s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

I’m not coming to these anthologies primarily as a reader, but primarily as a student. I read every ending in The Wind’s Twelve Quarters at least twice, asking myself some questions.

1. What does she say? – how do all the pieces of the plot fit together? What is the message of the story?
2. How does she say it? -was there a lot of exposition, or dialogue? Are we in someone’s head, or have we pulled back? Did she talk directly about emotions, or indirectly?
3. What doesn’t she say? -is everything spelled out, or are some things implied? (this is usually where third, fourth, and fifth reads come in.)

The idea is that rereading enough good short story endings with a critical eye will lead me to understand how to produce the same effect in my own work. Does anyone else read this way? What writers do you turn to when you consciously want to teach yourself something? I’m curious to know.