Bridge to Story

Short Stories and Endings

Your endings might have to do with the payoff of the story. But, they can also be open-ended, stopping on a question. Either type of ending can be satisfying to the reader. But make sure you’ve written your ending so it is.

How do you end your short stories in satisfactory ways? How the piece ends is secondary to if you've ended it at all.

As a new writer, before you try for a surprising twist, or a funny coincidence, or a shocker, or a moral, you have to set a place where the tale comes to a satisfying close.

If your short story begins with Melody wanting to get out of the arranged marriage her brother has conned her into with a weak old man, and you end it with her musing about how she’ll bring herself to do the deed, you've only gone half way.

The difference in where you end your story has to do with Plot vs. Premise.

A premise is a "What if" question. A plot show motivations and outcomes.

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A believable ending is where your readers’ emotions are stirred up at the same time that the expectations you've led them to are not betrayed or ignored. You, the writer cannot cop out on this matter.

If your short story begins with Melody wanting to get out of the marriage, but changes her mind, then your first draft ending might look like this:

The old man finds a young girl to stay with until he dies (and the writer knows that’ll never happen). You end the story where she smiles at him and holds his hand as the sun sets.

 You’ve led us to emotion, (hope for the old man, dread for Melody) but not to a payoff yet. You've left us dangling.

You might revise to take things farther:

Focusing on what will/has happened to Melody and Frank, (they needed money and Melody won the lottery with a five dollar bill Frank gave her) you might keep writing.

But tacking on newer scenes, or twists still don’t deal with the vital piece of story payoff.

What is still missing is how Melody and Frank deal with what will or has happened (She sees it as a chance to kick the weakling out of her house, while He sees it as a chance to revive their limp marriage).

What does a payoff look like?

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Lesson Exercise 1:

The point of a Short Story is to tell your reader about a choice, while novels tell them about a change.

The point of a classic short story is to convey One Thing, some life-altering moment in a character’s world.

  •  A Moral
  • A Snapshot
  • A Glimpse
  • An Incident
  • A Symbol
  • A Postcard worth of information

As a novice, try keeping the number of characters in your short stories between one and three characters. Secondary characters beyond that number should not be tossed in willy-nilly while you try fixing an ending.

If you chose to include more than the antagonist, protagonist and a third character, any additional characters must be written in such a manner that they pay their way, so don’t pad your story with them to try correcting things.

Remember that your short story will never tell the whole story. Just one selected view will be revealed. Therefore, the details you add must be very precise in the work they do. After you feel you’ve gotten the piece down on paper the way you want it, and it is time for your first revision ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the story’s detail hint at or symbolize a state of mind for your Character by the end of the piece?
  • Does your detail serve to fill in unspoken background about your character by the end of the piece?
  • Does it foreshadow, or unveil backstory, about the characters’ circumstances by the end of the piece?

Following a weak ending with the outcome of your character’s competing goals gives you stories with full-bodied character studies. You can explore the ‘fixed’ ending to the “What if?” question you left the reader with and bring things to a more satisfying end.