Openings and Closings


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In week 4 of Creative Writing: A Technical Approach, we explore the elements of a strong opening and of a strong closing.

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Openings and Closings

  1. 1. Openings and Closings<br />Setting the Hook and Finishing Strong<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />
  2. 2. First Impressions<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />The opening is your chance to hook your reader.<br />A poorly constructed opening can ruin your story.<br />The science behind a good opening is unclear.<br />The safe bet: an effective opening will typically hint at the plot, set the tone for the story, contain some action, and perhaps reveal the setting.<br />
  3. 3. Top Five Openings (American Book Review)<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />Call me Ishmael. –Moby-Dick<br />It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. –Pride and Prejudice<br />A screaming comes across the sky. –Gravity’s Rainbow<br />Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel AurelianoBuendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. -100 Years of Solitude<br />Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. -Lolita<br />
  4. 4. My Favorite Openings<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. –Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas<br />All this happened, more or less. –Slaughterhouse-Five<br />We do abortions here; that is all we do. -We Do Abortions Here: A Nurse’s Story<br />Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die. –Fight Club<br />The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. –The Gunslinger<br />
  5. 5. Final Thoughts on Openings<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />The one clear rule: your opening should be as interesting as possible.<br />Training Wheels:<br />Use your opening to foreshadow.<br />Begin your story in the midst of a tense or action-packed moment.<br />Punch your reader in the stomach with something emotional or shocking.<br />Save the exposition for later paragraphs.<br />
  6. 6. Last Impressions<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />The main goal of an ending is to resolve the conflict.<br />Ending on a philosophical note can strengthen your ending but can also hurt it, so use with care.<br />End your story once not twice.*<br />The science of a good ending is unclear. The ending you choose will be based on your style and your story.<br />
  7. 7. Top Fiveish Endings (American Book Review)<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />…you must go on, I can’t go, I’ll go on. –The Unnamable<br />Who knows but that, on lower frequencies, I speak for you? –Invisible Man<br />So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. –The Great Gatsby<br />But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before. –The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn<br />“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” –The Sun Also Rises<br />
  8. 8. My Favorite Endings<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />He loved Big Brother. -1984<br />“Poor Grendel’s had an accident,” I whisper. “So may you all.” –Grendel<br />One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, “Poo-tee-weet?” –Slaughterhouse-Five<br />The old man was dreaming about the lions. –The Old Man and the Sea<br />“It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy… let’s go exploring!” –Calvin and Hobbes<br />
  9. 9. Final Thoughts on Closings<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />Ending with action is typically a good idea.<br />Wrap up the small stuff before or at the same time as the big stuff.<br />End on a strong note. Do not fade out (in other words, only end your story once).<br />Training wheels:<br />Give yourself three lines after the conflict is resolved.<br />Go back through your story and cut as much off the ending as you can and have it still make sense.<br />Close with a dramatic detailed scene.<br />
  10. 10. The Things They Carried<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br /> First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day's march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of fight pretending. He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there. More than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were mostly chatty, elusive on the matter of love. She was a virgin, he was almost sure. She was an English major at Mount Sebastian, and she wrote beautifully about her professors and roommates and midterm exams, about her respect for Chaucer and her great affection for Virginia Woolf. She often quoted lines of poetry; she never mentioned the war, except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself. The letters weighed 4ounces. They were signed "Love, Martha," but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant. At dusk, he would carefully return the letters to his rucksack. Slowly, a bit distracted, he would get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter, then at full dark he would return to his hole and watch the night and wonder if Martha was a virgin.<br />
  11. 11. The First Line<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey.<br />Establishes a main character and tells us something about him.<br />Establishes a controlling device (“carried”).<br />Implies that Cross is at war because he is not with Martha (a conflict).<br />Hints at a setting.<br />
  12. 12. Second Paragraph<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br /> The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities of near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 12 and 18 pounds, depending upon a man’s habits or rate of metabolism. Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra rations; he was especially fond of canned peaches in heavy syrup over pound cake.<br />
  13. 13. Second Paragraph (cont.)<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br /> Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotel-sized bars of soap he’d stolen on R&R in Sydney, Australia. Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April. By necessity, and because it was SOP, they all carried steel helmets that weighed 5 pounds including the liner and camouflage cover.<br />
  14. 14. More Analysis<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April.<br />Uses the controlling device to introduce a more specific conflict.<br />Glosses over it as if its inconsequential to maintain the tone of the piece: purely objective.<br />Treating Lavender’s death as insignificant actually makes it more significant.<br />
  15. 15. Building the Conclusion<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br /> The typical load was 25 rounds. But Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried 34 rounds when he was shot and killed outside Than Khe, and he went down under an exceptional burden, more than 20 pounds of ammunition, plus the flak jacket and helmet and rations and water and toilet paper and tranquilizers and all the rest, plus the unweighted fear.<br />
  16. 16. The Action<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br /> On April 16, when Strunk drew the number 17, he laughed and muttered something and went down quickly. Not good, Kiowa said. He looked at the tunnel opening, then out across a dry field toward the village of Than Khe.<br />Dramatic detailed scene.<br />Mentions Than Khe, which we know is where Ted Lavender dies.<br />
  17. 17. The Resolution<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br /> On the morning after Ted Lavender died, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross crouched at the bottom of his foxhole and burned Martha’s letters.<br />Cross is reacting to Lavender’s death, bringing the story full circle.<br />Addresses the conflict of Cross and Martha’s relationship.<br />Cross has changed.<br />
  18. 18. The Closing<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br /> He might just shrug and say, Carry on, then they would saddle up and form into a column and move out toward the villages west of Than Khe.<br />Combines the controlling devices of carrying and humping.<br />Reveals the changed Cross.<br />Moves on from Than Khe both emotionally and physically.<br />
  19. 19. Assignments<br />Property of Marshal D. Carper<br />Using your favorite movie, write out the opening scene and the closing scene in short story form (not script form). Analyze what makes those scenes effective.<br />Revise the opening and closing of your short story, adjusting the rest of your story if necessary. Use the tips and training wheels if you need to.<br />Read “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison.<br /><br />Next Week: Active vs. Passive, Dialogue<br />