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Monday, 10 February 2020

The End

On last month's 'Over to you' post I asked if there was anything you'd like me to make a post about.

New girl on the block said, I'd love to see a post about writing the ending of stories. It's something I struggle with, as I never feel comfortable just tying up all the loose ends. I want to leave room for possibility and ambiguity... as would happen in reality.
However, this can result in a weak ending to a story. I'd like some tips on how to combat this problem and also to hear how other writers feel about this. I hope this seems like a good idea.

She was offered the following advice –

Sharon Boothroyd Endings can be tricky. 
I'd say, for the womag market, it has to be satisfactory. Tying up the loose plot threads is a good way to start. 
Twist endings are the most difficult. I like to surprise myself! If I can surprise myself, I can (hopefully) surprise the reader.
There's a fine line between misleading the reader and cheating them.
I'd read lots of womag stories to get a feel of what a mag wants.

Penny A I would say that however much planning and revision I seem to do, I always end up re-writing the final paragraphs of every story several times. Eventually, (it's a just a gut feeling, I think) you know when it comes right.

I totally agree with both replies.

As Sharon says, they need to be satisfactory. That's probably the most important thing (in all genres and forms). To achieve that, the ending must come naturally from the plot, not be a cheat such as 'she woke up and found it was all just a dream' or it was the previously unmentioned identical twin brother who dunnit.

The ending also needs to answer the question, problem or issue raised in the story. (If there isn't some form of one of those, it's probably not a story!)

If it's a romance, then the reader will want to know if the couple will live happilly ever after, or at least happilly for now. You don't need their entire life story, but do end with a kiss, understandnding, proposal etc, so readers can imagine their future happy lives. 

In a crime story the criminal should be caught. A ghost story might end with the ghost revealing why they're haunting a particular spot, or with them 'moving on'. Actually a character being seen to move on is a good ending for many genres.

Real life does indeed include ambiguity, loose ends and all kinds of possibilities, as New girl says. In a novel it's possible to leave a few threads unresolved as long as the main issue has a satisfactory ending. Short stories generally only have one main plot line, so there's nothing which can be left dangling.

I read somewhere that the reader should know when they've reached the end of the story, even if it's the last word on the page and doesn't state 'The End'. That seems like good advice. Don't leave your reader thinking 'is that it' or 'where's the rest?'

On the other hand, don't carry on and write three more paragraphs once the twist is revealed, the bad guy caught or problem solved.

Endings, as well as being tricky, are important. If the reader reaches the end and loves it then your story is a good one. It's worth taking Penny's advice to rewrite until it's right, and Sharon's to read the magazines and get a feel for what's wanted, in order to achieve that.

Do you agree with all these points?

Do you have any tips or advice to add?


Anonymous said...

What an interesting topic! I think good endings engage both the head and the heart. The brain wants to see a theme resolved and loose ends at least accounted for, if not tied up too neatly, and the heart needs that instinctive feeling that a satisfying conclusion has been achieved. This is easier said than done, of course. I sometimes think of stories a bit like tapestries, where you keep weaving until it becomes clear that the picture is complete, and then you continue for a tiny bit more, to make the edging/margin that provides the finish.

Can I put in a couple of requests for future discussion topics? I'm one of those odd people who delights in filing paperwork, and I'd love to hear how other womag writers manage their admin. (I can't get enough stories about stationery, filing systems etc.)Secondly, I'd be very keen to learn how others deal with the inevitable rejections.
With best wishes to Patsy, contributors and followers from Eirin Thompson

Lynn Love said...

Good advice here, definitely. I think stories often pose questions (problems or mysteries to solve) and they're has to be some kind of resolution by the end even if it's not what the reader was expecting. The reader has to come away feeling satisfied, that's the main thing.

Liz said...

It's probably because I mainly write mysteries, but I can't begin a story until I know the ending - and often the first thing I write is the final sentence or paragraph. Working out the best beginning is the first challenge for me, then that very tricky bit in the middle...

ados123 said...

Interesting topic. I think the ending has to be different according to the place you are sending the story. Flash fiction endings have to much sharper and lingering than longer stories. I do often go back and change mind.

New girl on the block said...

Thank you, Patsy for doing this post, and thanks also to everybody who's commented. There's plenty for me to think about here. I like the tapestry analogy, so will definitely keep that in mind. I don't write mysteries, but I might give myself the task of writing the ending of one of my stories first, just to see if that helps me.