You’ve set everything up, you’ve gone through the character development, and now you just need to tie things off. The ending is the easy part of a story, right?
Yes and no. Any part of writing is easy if you’re not worried about doing it well. But the end of the story is the part that will most shape how your readers remember it. This will colour how they view all of your writing.
If you want to create a satisfying ending, you need to put in some careful thought.
Don’t Make It Too Easy
If you’re a planning writer then you’ve known from the start how you were going to end this. Even if you’re an improviser, you probably know where you’re going by now. So when you get to the final act, it’s tempting to write that event and be done.
But that can make your climax anti-climactic. If it’s too easy then readers won’t care.
Take the time in the final act to include some emotional swings for the reader. You’ve already had a big revelation or setback leading into this act. Build on that. If the heroes are going to win then give them a moment of doubt. Not just them questioning themselves, but the world giving them reason to think they might fail. If there’s an unhappy ending coming then flip this around. Create false hope, a moment of relief before everything falls apart.
Whatever the ending is leading too, don’t make the final act too smooth.
Something Has Changed
Stories involve change. The status quo is disrupted and something else emerges. It can be a change in the world the characters live in, a change in their relationships, or a change in their circumstances. Just because it’s a short story doesn’t mean you can avoid this. Without some sort of change, there is no story.
The final act is when you show that change. Depending on how short your story is, you might only show the change beginning to happen – the first kiss of the new relationship, the first shots of the revolution. Or you might be able to show something of the new world emerging.
Stories are about character, and for a story to have substance it should affect the character living through it. Show how the story has changed them. Do they have a different attitude? A few new scars? A skill they lacked before? Tie that in to the change in the world and show it in action.
There are occasional exceptions to this. A few stories get away with avoiding change, but only by snatching it away at the last minute. Even then, there is a change in how the reader sees the situation. Action heroes may get away with not changing as people, though even here, your story will be more satisfying if they do change.
Unless you want to make a very specific point about things not changing, bring your change in in the final act. Show your readers that something of substance has happened.
Matching the Beginning
Your story should end in a way that reflects the beginning. So look back at how the story started and make sure that your last act matches the promises you made with the first act. If it was set up as an adventure story, end on an adventurous note. If you started by exploring a relationship, come back around to that relationship in the end.
Use this reflection to express the story’s main theme or idea. If you’re writing about the challenge of living passionately, show the consequences of that sort of life. If you’ve been writing about a cyborg revolution, have an ending that’s deeply embedded in that big idea and that says something about the revolution.
But don’t take this as a reason to drag things out. Once you’ve reached a satisfying climax, end the story as quickly as you can. Get out early while readers are still feeling the emotional punch. Don’t use up your precious word count by dawdling.
The tools for a good short story are much the same as for a longer story. But the limited space means that you have to be more disciplined with them and aware of how they work. Hopefully these articles will help you with that. And if you have any tips of your own then please share them in the comments, so you can help others with their stories.
Rachel Brooks •