Mike Massa and I have been bouncing around the ending moments for the first 'book' in his/our Black Tide novel. He had a line for the ending that he admitted was 'trying to channel' the way I do endings/transitions. Those noticeable and memorable closing lines and scenes.
There are scenes you just write. They only have to be 'good enough'. But to really get things solid, there are scenes that have to be as perfect as possible. Openings and closing tend to be the most important scenes. Transitions, moments that are major such as climaxes. One of my favorites, I put days of work into a few words, was 'the last charge of the Kildar'. And it worked. It ended up being perfectly...right.
So I put him through a class. I'm going to replicate it for those interested in the craft of writing.
As originally written:
He felt alert, alive and the helm was rock steady as the boat cruised on step. In his wake, Durante expertly cox'd the second RHIB.
They arrowed into the glooming night.
From his email:
"Yeah, I firmly believe that you have a great eye for the words that paint the end scenes of books / major breaks in action.
'Glooming' was my attempt to channel you. Imperfectly, natch.
There is Smith, for the first time since hell broke loose, finally alone with his thoughts, without pressing tactical concerns. And he is heading from a brightly burning city into a darkness that us deepening to pitch black.
I've done something like that - there's a feeling, you know?"
He's right. There's a feeling. The need for the scene was to capture that feeling. Going from light into darkness was the key. From danger, but light, into the unknown, but dark.
So fire behind them, sun's setting, darkness ahead. They're at sea. There are waves. Waves reflect. Hmmm...
So I started with the last line.
'The waves reflected the sullen red of flames as the boats arrowed into the glooming night.'
'The shadow of the boats broke the sullen red of the waves as they arrowed into the glooming night.'
Yeah. Glooming's just not working for me. Neither is the shadow.
'The waves reflected a sullen red as the boats arrowed into the night.'
Not 'arrowed.' Something...
'The waves reflected a sullen red as the boats /// the /// of flame for the cover of night.'
Starting to lose the feel. Go to the thesaurus. Synonyms for 'left' as in 'left the city behind.' Oh, Jesus, they're ALL political?... Synonyms for 'departed'... Abandoned?
'The waves reflected a sullen red as the boats abandoned the warmth/security/light of flame for the cover of night.'
Okay. So. Cover of night seems to work. The rest, though... it's all too long. Too much to read...
And... security of the flames? What's on fire? Civilization? Left behind civilization?
'The waves reflected a sullen red as the boats abandoned the memory of mankind for the cover of night.'
Okay, we're getting there. I like 'memory of man'. That's good. That'll get the goosebumps going on the readers...
'The waves reflected sullen red as the boats left behind the memory of man for the cover of night.'
Too long. Cut 'left behind'. Sounds too much like a Rapture novel...
'The waves reflected sullen red as the boats left the memory of man for the cover of night.'
It stayed that way for quite a while of some other discussion then I looked back at Thesaurus.com and scanned through 'departed' again.
Ooooh... Yeah. Better.
'The waves reflected sullen red as the boats quit the memory of man for the cover of night.'
They're not just 'leaving' they are quitting. They've failed and they've quit all bounds of civilization. Quit totally works.
But... not quite enough. The original last paragraph... wasn't quite right. There were...things. I don't do this by any learned 'school' of writing.
Just a gut feel. There was a lack of...poetry. I actually started out by writing poetry back waaaay before I got published (though there is one prose poem published in a HS yearbook) and this moment required a more poetic approach. It needed a bit of...lyricism. Which mostly comes down to pacing of the prose as well as a bit of rhyme or alliteration plus putting stuff in counter to other stuff. (Best I can explain it.)
The city and New Jersey are pretty fully involved at this point. (Mile Seven left hours before. In fact, Tom was pretty sure he wasn't going to make it and was going to die in the city when he sent the 'Goose' code.)
Final version as the survivors are leaving NYC:
"He felt alert, alive and the helm was rock steady. In his wake, Durante cox'd the second RHIB. The wind from the river brought the smell of things not meant to burn.
“Smoke on the water,” Tom whispered softly. “There’s fire in the sky…”
The waves reflected sullen red as the boats quit the memory of man for the cover of night."
And those are the moments you go: 'Yeah. I'm good.'
Now if I could just get back to doing my own books. Sigh.