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Ending a Short Story

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August 2011
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By Dave Hood

For many successful short story writers, such as Flannery O’Connor or Raymond Carver, crafting the opening, conflict, climax, and resolution of a short story was an act of discovering. In other words, the writer had no idea how the story was going to unfold or end, until the writing begins.

Suppose you write a story using this approach. Suppose you have crafted a story with a main character that has a desire to achieve some end. Suppose you have created a narrative with conflict, setbacks and obstacles, a climax.

But you don’t know how to end your story—bring the story to its resolution.

In this post, I explain how you should go about ending a short story.

Most often, a short story end using one of the following techniques or guidelines:

  • Denouncement
  • Realization
  • Epiphany

Denouncement

It refers to one or more events that take place after the climax occurs in the story. The story concludes with an end. A denouncement can be open or closed. If the writer ties up all loose ends, answers all questions put forth in the story as it progresses, he/she ends the story with a closed denouncement. If the writer ends the story with a few “tantalizing” loose ends, leaves the reader wondering what will happen after the story concludes, the writer has put into use closed denouncement.

Realization

Unlike an epiphany, it is not life altering. Essentially, something happens. Perhaps some change in the character takes place. Perhaps the character experiences some sort of revelation. In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, the story ends by answering the unanswered question.

Epiphany

Epiphany was a term coined and a technique used by writer James Joyce. It is meant to signify more than just a realization. Epiphany must reveal the “mystery” or character in conflict. (A Short Story Writer’s Companion by Tom Bailey). It is less an intellectual than felt moment. It is the moment in the story when the character gains signifigant insight or life-altering revelation, at the end of the story. It is the the instant of felt understanding by the reader.

Many contemporary short stories end with an epiphany.

A Few Words on Endings

The art of a short story is to show the reader something unforgettable—so make the ending of your story unforgettable.

Writer Kate Chopin ends “The Story of an Hour” as follows:”When the doctors came they said she died of heart disease—joy that kills.”

Edgar Allen Poe ends “The Tell-Tale Heart” as follows:”Villains!” I shriek, “Dissemble no more!” I admit the deed!—tear up the planks!—here, here!—it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

There are no rules for writing short fiction, just guidelines, and the elements of fiction that enable you to shape a story, write a narrative, resolve the story.

A good ending resonates in the mind of the reader. Therefore, choose your words carefully. Dramatize the ending. The last sentence is as important as the first in the story.

A complete story includes a resolution. It answers the conflict and climax of the story. When ending your story, use the denouncement, realization, or epiphany to help you craft the ending. A short story won’t work unless it has a good ending, one that resonates in the mind of the reader.

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2 Comments

  1. Pink Woods says:

    the writer had no idea how the story was going to unfold or end, until the writing begins… I agree with this one. Usually, in my case, I didn’t even know how the story would unfold, unless I keep on writing the story itself.

    Btw, nice tips!

  2. […] blogger Dave Hood in a post titled “Ending a Short Story” elaborates on the idea and lays out the conventional wisdom about the literary epiphany […]

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