JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

How to end a story

road-sign-dead-end-photographic-print-c12196565

If there’s one thing I’ve battled through the years (in a journalistic sense), it’s wrapping up articles. I’ve never struggled too much with ledes, or quotes, or structure. I mean, I’ve struggled like everyone else—but I inevitably find my way.

But the endings—well, the endings can be a bitch.

Having grown up reading Sports Illustrated throughout the 1970s and ’80s, I was sort of brainwashed to follow a certain popular trend of the era/genre—beginning a story with an anecdote, drifting away from the anecdote throughout the piece, then returning to the anecdote for the wrap-up. For example, if my lede was about, say, C.C. Sabathia loving to drink 10 cans of Coca-Cola before his starts, I’d end the piece with, “And that’s all pop to Sabathia.”

I did that for a long time, until one day I sorta came to realize that the device, uh, sucked. So I started experimenting: Ending with quotes. Ending with witty jokes. Ending with bland nothingness. To this day, I still struggle with endings. Too often, I fear, my stories sorta drift off into the abyss, with no real conclusion. Maybe that’s OK, maybe it’s not. Sorta uncertain.

The reason I even bring this up is because I recently re-read a story I wrote a few months back, and decided that it is, without question, my best all-time ending. In fact, I think it’s probably the best ending I’ll ever write. And here’s the funny thing: It just sorta happened. There was no thought that went into it. I wrote the line, read it and thought, “Done.”

Here’s that piece.