20 February 2013

shine your slipper: choosing the piece to end your chapbook

The OLJ Chapbook Challenge: The Slipper
Today’s task is to select the final piece in your chapbook. Since we’ve been playing with our chapbooks for a while now, you might already have your structure down, and that’s great. Some of you, though, may be feeling a little panicky about how to bring your chapbook to a close. This post, hopefully, will help alleviate some of that stress. Keep in mind that while the final piece is important, it is not a “grand finale” … it is a “happily ever after.”

“happily ever after”

What’s the difference, you might be wondering, between a grand finale and a “happily ever after”? It’s not all that complicated, really. Basically, while you sought to almost “thrust” your reader into the emotions or emotional world of your chapbook in your first piece (a grand opening), you are looking to avoid introducing grand themes at the end. Cinderella begins with tragedy: her mother is dead, her father is semi-absent, her life is awful. You don’t want to get to the end of Cinderella and learn that, yes, she married Prince Charming, but he’s actually a philanderer. No, the end here is softer, more … conclusive. (Well, in most cases ... the Grimm version has a "less-than-soft" ending, but you get the gist.) You might be left with some questions (They just met; can they really be that much in love? What happens to the step-family now?), but they are somewhat easily-cast-aside questions.

The same thing goes for your chapbook. The ending is important, but in the same way as the end of a fairy tale is important. It tells the reader your “story” is over, but it does so in a “soft” way. All this is simply to say that while there’s a lot of pressure on picking the first piece of your chapbook, there’s less when it comes to the end. The first piece is the final fastball pitch of the World Series. The final piece is the gentle underhand toss at your kid’s Little League game. 

“the slipper”

When it came to the crown of your chapbook I cautioned you from trying to “gradually” introduce your reader to your skills as a writer. There was a sense of urgency and immediacy necessitated by the crown. When it comes to the slipper, you have already built the anticipation … Now it’s time to satisfy.

Think about almost any fairy tale you’ve ever read. A character’s plight is introduced immediately: there is a sense of urgency to the need for this character’s salvation. As the story proceeds, that tension builds and builds: Hansel is in the oven and Gretel must save him, or Cinderella is locked in a separate room while the stepsisters force their toes into her glass slipper. We all know what’s coming. We know the Prince will awaken Sleeping Beauty, or slay the dragon, or kill the witch. The emotions of a chapbook are the same as the emotional wave of a fairy tale: it builds, it crescendos, but then it must smooth out.

The final piece in your chapbook is your slipper. It’s the “happily ever after” to the narrative arc you’ve spun for your reader. It tells the reader that your journey is now complete. The good news is, there’s much less pressure here than there was at the beginning of your chapbook. Why? Because while the piece must still be good, if your reader has come this far they are more willing to accept—or forgive—how you choose to end. Still, you have a responsibility to your reader to bring them not only to an end, but to a satisfying end.

choosing your slipper

So how do you choose the slipper of your chapbook? By examining the chapbook we reviewed on Friday, you hopefully noted the three key elements I suggested the final piece in your chapbook must have: it must bring the chapbook’s narrative to a satisfying conclusion; invite further thought, discussion, or action; and bring about what, last week, we discussed as your chapbook’s “happily ever after” moment. Just as there are many ways to select the piece to start your chapbook, there are also several things to consider when it comes to selecting the piece you use to bring your chapbook to a satisfying end:

1. Theme: Just as with the first piece in your chapbook, the final piece needs to be one that exemplifies the overall theme. This time, however, you are looking for a piece that both exemplifies the theme and shows readers that the discussion of this theme is finished … for now.

2. Closing Chronology: If you have been telling a story with your chapbook, the first piece in your collection provided the “Once upon a time” opener to introduce your reader to that story. Your final piece, then, should be one that indicates, as we’ve discussed, the “happily ever after” for your reader: it should show the reader that this is where things, naturally and artfully, end.

3. A “Peace Piece”: A third option for the final piece in a chapbook is to make it what I call a peace piece. A peace piece is simply a poem or story or photograph that softens the reader’s return to the world outside of your collection. Read through your work and find the piece that makes you look at your world a little differently; if it does that for your reader as well, it’s a peace piece. Or, if the tone of your chapbook has thus far been somber, or kindled any other strong emotions, your final piece should be one that returns your reader to a literal state of peacefulness: the tissue to the tears you’ve induced, so to speak.

a word of caution

Just because there’s less pressure here, don’t go and get lazy on me now! Just throwing a piece on the end of your chapbook doesn’t work. It does require some thought, and should still be chosen carefully. Laziness at the end of a chapbook shows; readers can still get the sense that you didn’t give your collection much thought, even if the first sign of that sense is the last page.

As always, remember that the goal of this challenge is to have fun playing with chapbook creation. Work with several possible endings. See how different choices change things. Play, and have fun with the process … and remember, things can always be changed later!

Now go find your happily ever after!


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6 comments:

  1. I love the way you break things down into such manageable pieces! Thanks for this challenge.

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    1. Thank you so much, Carol; that always means so much, really! I appreciate you joining in and your participation/engagement!

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  2. I'm so happy that I've found your challenge! I didn't start the same time with you and I'm on board with your challenge.

    Your posts really helped me see that I can improve my haiku chapbook. You helped me work with a little discipline, more organized.

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    1. Thank you so much, Adriana! I'm glad you're finding the challenge helpful. Best of luck with your haiku chapbook!

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  3. In looking at the collection of poems I have chosen for this and choosing the first and last, I think I can see how the rest can fit in an orderly theme taking the reader from beginning to end.

    I want to read the things you suggest in the tasks, again, then my poems, though, to better get a handle on the idea I have.

    It may even mean choosing not to use all the pieces set aside in the first place if that means more cohesiveness to the overall theme of the chapbook.

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    1. Kiril, I've loved getting to see your process as we've gone through this challenge. Thank you for sharing, and good luck!

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Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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