When Do I Write “The End”?
I love short stories. I love reading them. I love writing them. You can experiment more with your writing in a short story. You’re not investing 100,000 words to see if something works. You’re investing 2,500 (or less, maybe more). They can be a peak into the life of a character.
I’ve read short stories from across genres. From Alice Munro to Stephen King and everything in between. They’re a great way to discover new authors. I often read a short story, then look up the other works of an author (P. Djèlí Clark, N.K. Jemisin, Aliette de Bodard).
One of my problems with short stories: How do you end them? Sometimes I write a story and the end comes naturally. The arc is complete. The main character learned something. A villain was defeated. Someone says something semi-profound or insightful, then BAM! It’s done. Too often, I find myself staring at a paragraph, at something the main character has said or done and wondered: Is this it? Are they done? The story is over, right?
So, how can you (I/we) know when a short story is finished? Short stories often end like novels (but with less words). When I’m not sure if I should continue, or if the story is getting out of control, I need to ask myself some questions.
Has the main character reached a “happily ever after” or “happy for now” point in their lives? Has the conflict been addressed and at least partially resolved? If yes, then I think it’s done.
Is there a twist? Is that little girl not so innocent? Was the kindly neighbour the killer the whole time? The twist has to be carefully crafted, but if it’s done right, surprise! Then the story is over.
Is it a “slice of life” story? Are we opening the door to a moment in time? When the character is ready to move on from the scene, the story is likely over.
Have I written too much and gotten lost? I overwrite. I know I do. Many writers do. Write the extra bit. Maybe it’ll help give reason to a character’s earlier actions. Cut it back during edits.
Can the main character or the very important secondary character walk away? If they turn away from the situation, the story can be done.
Is there an emotional explosion? All that’s been happening takes its toll, then boom! That main character blows up. They yell at everyone, or has a breakdown, or declares their love. When the emotion has run out, the story can too.
Does the main character realize the answer to the question that has been plaguing them all along? If the question is answered, the conflict is over. I can write "the end."
Has the story come full circle? If the main character is back where they started, for good or ill, the story can be done.
I have eight questions I can ask myself when writing (and ending) a short story. Am I an expert in ending short stories? Nope. Part of the reason I started the research was because I was struggling with how to end a story. Why not share what I learned, right? Has this helped me with ending the story? Yes!
Does anyone else struggle with ending short stories? How do you like to end yours? When do you know you’re done?