Short Stories: You’ve Got to Earn the Ending

I’ve been working on a science fiction short story for the “Write Michigan” contest. About a month ago I finished a draft of the story and sent it to a friend of mine who is a copy editor at Zondervan. In addition to his professional editorial skills, my friend is also a published poet and loves to read and write truly “literary” works. He was the perfect candidate to read and critique my story. When I gave him the manuscript I told him that I was particularly unsure about the ending.

Last week I had lunch with him to discuss how I can improve the story. I expected him to tear the whole thing apart. Honestly, I thought he would tell me it was total junk. I was thrilled to find out that he liked all of the basic story elements, and most importantly, that my protagonist was intriguing.

Here’s what he said that I’ve been mulling over since our meeting: “You’ve got to earn your ending.”

When I asked him to clarify he said something along the lines of: “You’ve got to put your character through more trials before you can wrap it up. The story was actually too short. Your ending was okay, but I felt robbed. You didn’t show me the character working through the issue enough before it was all over. You need to show him struggle more.”

During this lunch I shared with him the premise of another sci-fi short I’ve been working on. I told him I was struggling with the ending to that one too. After listening to my description of the action and how I planned to end it he just nodded and said, “You’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to put your character through more trials.”

Have you ever struggled with the ending to one of your stories? What did you do to eventually find resolution?

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4 thoughts on “Short Stories: You’ve Got to Earn the Ending

  1. Bob Evenhouse

    I am struggling with the end to my series of books now. I have put together a few synopses with different endings. Both seem right. I know there is no correct way to end it but I want it to be natural. The only thing I can think of is to go back to my beginning and tie it in. Maybe the beginning is the key to the ending? That way my readers have a sense of restitution. I don’t know.

    Reply
    1. Andrew Rogers Post author

      Bob,
      I’m no expert, but as far as I know the beginning should definitely speak to the ending. All stories have that natural arc of tension, climax, resolution (or denouement). I would say, especially for long novels, we need to look for that natural story arc. What is the resolution that “needs” to happen in your story?

      I’d also add, that because I’m working on short fiction my friend was focusing on the character. Short fiction is done best (I think) when only a couple of characters are really explored. So, he encouraged me to really get inside my protagonist’s head…he told me to write a new scene in which my protagonist did something totally different. He asked me to think, how would my character respond if X happened? Or what it Y happened? And in the searching I will (hopefully) find that “natural” ending to my story arc. Does all of that make sense?

      Again, I’m no expert. As you know, I’m just learning all of this right now for myself, so I could be way off in what I’m saying.

      To put practical legs on my friend’s advice, this morning I wrote the beginning of a new scene that happens before the end of my story. In this scene my protagonist is put into a very uncomfortable situation. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m trying to see how he will react when he forced outside of his comfort zone. Hopefully, his reaction will lead me to a stronger resolution. Or as my friend would say, an ending that I’ve “earned.”

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Help needed: Mulling over one line in a short story « Tell Better Stories

  3. Pingback: Please Vote for my short story in the Write Michigan contest! « Tell Better Stories

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