Recently, my husband and I attended a funeral. After the service ended, we needed to travel to the cemetery. With the funeral procession flag firmly attached to the roof of our car, we turned on our bright lights, as requested, and methodically twisted and turned our way to the cemetery.
After a brief and solemn committal ceremony, the funeral director thanked us for being part of the dedicated group who had just walked the “final mile” with the family of the deceased.
The following day, we headed to a far more joyous event: the graduation ceremony of my nephew, who was the valedictorian of a class of more than 500 students. We eagerly watched the soon-to-be-graduates march onto the field, accompanied by the glorious stanzas of Pomp and Circumstance; we clapped when each of the graduates passed through the archway to receive his or her hard-earned diploma; and we rejoiced during the recessional – a “final mile” of an entirely different sort, one blossoming with hope and love and new beginnings.
How This Applies the Writer’s Journey
Whenever we complete a piece of poetry or prose, whether short or long, fiction or nonfiction, we also experience a version of the final mile. Perhaps part of the journey will have felt like an enthusiastic sprint, while other parts will have resembled walking on your hands through shattered glass. The reality, though, is that, if we truly finish what we started, then we have walked that piece of writing’s last mile.
This analogy can be carried even further, as so many pieces of fiction writing contain some sort of final mile in their plots. These are the moments that, when written well, provide the culmination and release that the readers or audiences crave. To illustrate, I will provide some examples from my own writing; I will let the audiences and readers determine whether or not my attempts succeeded in entertaining, educating and/or informing.
First, there is a play that I wrote, titled Freedom’s Light: A Stop Along the Underground Railroad. In this play, the main character goes on a dangerous journey. As an escaped slave, Nellie needs to duck into the shadows, rely on the mercy of strangers and survive by sheer determination and courage as she travels from her master’s plantation in the South to Sheffield, Ohio – where she hopes that her journey will continue until she reaches safety, peace and freedom in Canada.
As Nellie approaches her final miles, the complications continue to escalate; other characters, who weren’t as lucky as she, see their final miles end before they even cross onto Ohio’s shores. In each of these instances, this is where the audience witnesses the most intense action and suspense.
In another play, Sisters Forever: The Burrell Family Letters, the action opens after three sisters tread along one of the most sorrowful paths that exists, that of burying their mother. The majority of the play is then a flashback of the twenty years that leads up to this pivotal point of their lives.
The last mile concept also works well for nonfiction. In another book of mine – actually a two-book series – that details the lives of iconic female athletes, each of the biographies opens with a description of the pinnacle of achievements reached by a particular athlete; her highest mile, if you were. Sometimes, the achievements can literally be measured in miles; other times, the concept is more symbolic.
Whatever you write, it’s important to go the last mile in how your proofread and fact check; how the beginning engages and the ending satisfies; how you ensure that a fictional character is truly acting in character; how you make sure that the dialogue or prose reads realistically, that the pacing is pleasurable and so on, and so on, and so forth. Skimping on that last mile can make a huge difference in how publishable, readable and/or enjoyable the piece of writing really is.
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