Monday, July 16, 2012


I used this F word in a yahoo writing group and it caused an uproar. Apparently, I've stumbled upon something interesting and I should share.

Editor Cheryl Klein uses the term: Fermata.

It's a musical symbol she borrows to explain how to end a chapter, scene, short story, novel, or any piece of writing that doesn't use the cliffhanger. (I'm sure I don't need to explain that one.)

So what is it?

In terms of music, it means to hold the note.

Lot's of cute things floating around the internet with the phrase: I'm a fermata. Hold me. plastered all over them. Coffee mugs, onesies, t-shirts. Very clever.

There's a band named Fermata, a book titled FERMATA; it's a popular concept.

Fermata is nicknamed the bird's eye, but the history of the symbol goes back through the middle ages all the way to the Assyrian's design for a crown - as in a crowning moment.

If we take this symbol back to the realm of writing, it means we're ending with an idea that embodies the purpose of the piece, in way that resonates with the reader. They hold the note, if you will, because it carries with them after they finish the chapter. It makes them keep reading to find out what other truths your character will discover. And I'll bet lots of fermatas are e-reader highlights.

I also noticed that when a writer takes me 95% of the way there, ends without a good cliffhanger, and skips the fermata, I toss the proverbial yellow Volkswagen at them. I stop reading.

Granted, crafting the fermata is a tough job. I'm guilty of the 95% crime myself.
(See confession below.)

After learning about the fermata, I went back to my manuscript and looked at each scene. There was always logical progression, but nothing to tie the ideas together at the end. I was missing the opportunity for some serious interiority.

I'm revising.

Any thoughts you'd like to add about the fermata? I'm thinking somebody called this concept "The Good Tell", but I'm not sure where I read it.


Sarah said...

I'm not a hundred percent sure I understand this concept, but I have been working a lot on powerful chapter endings. I've never done gymnastics, but I think of it a bit like that, where there's all this twisting and flipping and then somehow you must bring all that movement in the air down to a perfect, solid landing with serious impact, even when you can't exactly see where the ground is. Anyway, it has kind of a feel to it, I think, and maybe that's what this is? (sorry if I've gotten it all wrong!)

Connie Keller said...

I really like it when chapters have a great hook at the ends. It really does propel you through the novel.

With regards to writing, I have a hard time adding these hooks during revising. I try to write them in the first draft. Otherwise, it's soooo hard.

Lydia Kang said...

I have never read of this technique as being described as a fermata, but it makes so much sense! I get it.

Deniz Bevan said...

Oh! I heard about this, then forgot about it. Thanks for the timely reminder. Will check each chapter of the latest MS that I'm editing... And I hope the word sticks in my brain this time!

LTM said...

Hmm... I'm not sure I get this. I'd need to see an example. But you know. That's me. :D

I think we should always be working toward a really strong ending, though. However we get there~ ((hugs)) <3 said...

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