By Daniel Hope
This is the first in a three-part series. In Part 1 of this series, we talk about the importance of a great ending. In Part 2, we cover the major kinds of story endings. In Part 3, we look at some of the common problems that ruin endings.
Writing a story, particularly a short story, is like making a great vault in gymnastics. Not sure what I mean? Watch this video of a fantastic example from the 2012 Olympics.
That’s McKayla Maroney giving a masterclass on vaulting. So, how is this like a good short story? A great story accelerates quickly from the beginning, springs into the conflict, reaches incredible heights during the climax, and nails the conclusion with confidence and class.
Now here’s an example of a bad story:
It starts off slow, has an underpowered and unconvincing conflict to escalate action, barely skids through the climax, and flops into a conclusion looking disheveled and disoriented.
But as an editor, I’m here to tell you that this is not the worst kind of story. The worst look something like this:
That’s right, the most frustrating and disappointing stories are the ones that look like this:
The start is quick, launching smoothly into the conflict, reaches a good climax, and then completely flubs the conclusion. In gymnastics and writing alike, you have to nail the landing, or it will make everything that came before seem like a waste.
If there’s something we hate even more than a terrible story, it’s wasting great potential. The stories that make us excited, expectant, and even giddy, only to nosedive into confusing, or anemic, or unfulfilling (or all three) endings are what make us punch holes in our office wall. We don’t like being giddy for nothing.
And as much as we (writers, editors, instructors) talk about great beginnings, strong style, interesting voice, compelling characters, and solid plot, we don’t often talk about how to make a satisfying conclusion.
So let’s talk about it.
This is the first in a three-part series about story conclusions. There’s no magic trick or surefire tool, but there are a few things to look for, and a few more things to avoid.
Daniel Hope is the Managing Editor of Fiction Vortex, where he’s also known as the Voice of Reason. He recently published a science fiction novel, called The Inevitable. He can be found on Twitter @Endovert, or at his author site SpeculativeIntent.com.