Regarding leads, or “introductions,” my usual advice to students as they draft is NOT to start with the beginning. Many have difficulty doing so, but it’s ok — our revision process always includes a reconsideration of the lead and, by turn, the conclusion, so that the two are stylistically and thematically connected. I’ve turned to many mentors for showing students how it’s done. For the purposes of most readers of this blog, Beyond Literary Analysis by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell offers practical and student-friendly approaches to leads & conclusions for analytical writing. I used these lessons with my sophomores, who are writing media reviews.
Today, though, I want to offer an approach to beginnings and endings in writing that I used in my Advanced Writing class — specifically for short-story writing — but I like it because I think it is highly adaptable for writing experiences in many genres and at many levels.
I borrowed the content from articles in The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House. After students had a draft of their short story (many of which were sans endings), I presented the content from articles by Ann Hood and Elissa Schappell about beginnings and endings, respectively. In these essays, these two writers examine beginnings and endings in the short story genre and present their findings to readers — who, given this publication, are also writers. Here’s the slide we discussed in class about “Beginnings:”
Many of these beginnings I’m sure you will recognize, and so did several students! For our purposes, I asked students to experiment with three alternate beginnings that were different than the way their story opened in their drafts. Students then shared their options at their writing tables to determine which worked best.
The “Endings” slide was a bit less specific in that it did not cite word-for-word examples. Still, as many (read: most) students hadn’t written any ending at all to their short story drafts, they found the suggestions useful. In a move that is contradictory to true workshop form, I required students to identify one of these approaches to the beginnings and endings of their short stories. And in keeping with the best paradoxes, these limitations have allowed their sense of choice to flourish rather than flounder among too many possibilities. (Mariana knows about my unapologetic “taking the ‘creative’ out of ‘creative writing’ approach this year). But in a school system that seldom allows choice, for many (read: most) students, I have found that “choice among several options” is more productive than choice that is infinite. And I’m more than ok with that.
So, I hope you find this framework useful. You can find the Google Slides document here, if you would like to use my clumsy boxes and improve upon it for your own use. (I hope I did the sharing settings correctly — if you cannot access, let me know). If I had it to do over again — which I will, because I plan to use this approach regularly — I might combine it with Marchetti and O’Dell’s sticky-note activity, in which students write several different beginnings and endings on sticky notes and stick them at the beginning and end of a printed essay. Then they can try out a few options next to each other, which even further reinforces the construction of a piece of writing as a series of conscious choices on the part of the writer.