Getting to Grips with Short Stories Part 3

Structure - The ending

Endings are just as important as the openings of stories. That’s because the ending of a story performs more than one function.

A good ending is when the crux of the story reaches its pinnacle; that final moment before the climax. Everything in the story leads up to this moment.

More importantly, the ending of a story is formed from the natural progression of the narrative.  You should never force an ending, otherwise you run the risk of demolishing the fabric of the story and thus ruining it for the reader, but also because they will see that it is contrived and forced.

As with novels, short stories don’t have to have a happy ending.  Depending on the type of story you are writing, you can have a dramatic ending, a sad ending, a happy ending, or you can have the twist in the tail type of ending (these need careful consideration and construction in order to work – more on that next week).

But whatever the genre, the ending needs to be natural and satisfactory.  But what exactly does that mean?

In essence, the ending should leave the reader satiated, that on the whole, they agree with the final outcome you’ve constructed, that they have a sense of ‘oh that was great’, or ‘I didn’t see that coming’ or ‘that was so moving’ etc.

In order to achieve a natural and satisfactory conclusion, firstly the latter half of the story should to tie up any loose ends prior to its finale (e.g. don’t leave the reader guessing what happened to John Doe, last seen dangling from a cliff in the middle of the story, but then completely forgotten at the end).  This does happen with story construction, where writers become so engrossed in writing it that they sometimes forget what some characters were doing, so it’s important that these glitches are sorted.

In addition to that, any questions raised by the story need to be answered, so don’t leave them unanswered, otherwise the reader will become annoyed and frustrated.

Something else to consider is this: why is your character doing what he or she is doing? – remember motivation – and how have they overcome the barriers in their way?  How have they got to this high-point in the story?  What is the likely conclusion? 

The ending evolves through the main character achieving his or her goal.  They have overcome all obstacles to get to the climax (whether it’s a good, bad, sad or an indifferent ending).

The Climax

This is sometimes misunderstood by writers, who assume they must have lots of action and excitement to finish the story, but actually, a short story isn’t like a novel or an action movie.  It doesn’t have to be about explosions and mayhem and non-stop action.  A short story ending can be subtle or gentle; it can be thought provoking or it might even shocking and abrupt. 

In other words, it’s how the writer constructs the ending that gives it the greatest impact.

And of course, it should never drag on. The ending should be swift for maximum effect.

In essence, the conclusion of your short story needs to achieve several things:-

1. It needs to provide a satisfactory ending.
2. It needs to answer questions posed in the narrative.
3. The protagonist/antagonist achieves his/her goal.
4. It is a natural progression of the story and isn’t forced.
5. It is swift and effective.

And just to make sure certain elements are not forgotten, a simple checklist helps with construction.

Short story checklist:

·         Have you planned the story?
·         Whose story is it?
·         What is it about?
·         What is it trying to say?  What is the theme?
·         What kind of action is there?
·         Is there a varied pace?
·         Do you have at least one of the three unities?
·         Is there conflict?
·         What is the character’s motivation for his or her actions and subsequent actions?
·         Is the ending satisfactory?
·         Does it flow naturally?
·         Is the ending swift and effective?

The most important thing, however, is to take the time to think and plan the story, to ask questions, to know the story you want to tell.  It’s better to know where you want to place key scenes, to know what will happen to the main character and to know the kind of conclusion the story needs before you start writing.

Next week: How to write twist in the tale stories


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