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How to Begin and End a Short Story

Updated on July 23, 2014
How to Begin and End a Short Story
How to Begin and End a Short Story

Lure the Reader Into Your Short Story With the First Sentence

While some writers come up with their first line or paragraph spontaneously, others are more deliberate. Usually, the first line comes to a writer after the story idea has been brewing inside his head for a while (usually a couple of weeks or a month). The writer may find that he is haunted by his story in the making. His thoughts as he goes to sleep at night and rises in the morning revolve around his story.

The first sentence has more to do with the writer than the reader. It is the writer's voice, his confidence and strength that makes the reader trust him and want to read on. Confidence will give the writer a strong, bold opening sentence. Confidence is 'voice' - it belongs entirely to the writer and readers will recognise it as unique.

Writers should begin a story with the conflict and begin the story on the day that is different. Or use intrigue to draw in the reader. Or begin with a scene that makes the reader expect a dramatic unfolding. The writer must craft the first sentence or paragraph to gain the attention of someone he values.Just like a public speaker seeking out a sympathetic face in his audience and speaking to him.

Franz Kafka’s first sentence of The Metamorphosis is often taken as a model of the perfect beginning. It is the day that is different:

"Gregory Samsa woke from uneasy dreams one morning to find himself changed into a giant bug."

Kafka's bold, confident voice is irresistible. The pessimistic author ultimately causes Gregory’s death, even though Gregory dies naturally. Despite the fact that Gregory has slaved at a dreary job to provide for his family, he is shunned by them and kept under lock and key.

When the first sentence or paragraph is memorable, it is easy to make every sentence thereafter relevant to the beginning. This naturally leads to a credible ending.

A good first sentence like Kafka's raises important questions in the reader's mind. And in the process of writing the story, the writer answers these questions.

For example, the question raised by the first line of The Metamorphosisis: How will being a bug change Gregory's life?

Franz Kafka's Story 'The Metamorphosis' Has An Arresting First Paragraph
Franz Kafka's Story 'The Metamorphosis' Has An Arresting First Paragraph | Source

Write the Story at One Go

Some writers, when they finally put pen to paper, write the complete story in one go. For them, getting it all down when the creative energy is at its peak is important. This will help it read like a cohesive whole. So it is sensible to try to continue writing the story after that first sentence.

If he does this, the writer will find himself propelled forward to discover where it will lead.

The Beginning Of Heywood Broun's Short Story 'Gawaine le Coeur-Hardy' Has A Beginning That Connects With The Ending
The Beginning Of Heywood Broun's Short Story 'Gawaine le Coeur-Hardy' Has A Beginning That Connects With The Ending | Source

How to End a Piece of Fiction

Many writers know the ending of their stories before they write them. Others prefer not to know. They believe that the process of writing is an adventure; an exploration of the vast recesses of their minds.

There are writers who plot their stories in detail before they put pen to paper, a technique which can be helpful for most beginning writers.

However, whether the writer knows the ending of his story or not, he must create a connection between the beginning and the ending. A connection proves that he is are capable of lucid, purposeful writing. A story must end at the right point – at the moment of change. In a short story, change must happen, either subtly or obviously. The protagonist must undergo some sort of change.

Heywood Broun's The Fifty-First Dragon begins:

"Of all the pupils at the knight school Gawaine le Coeur-Hardy was among the least promising."

And ends:

"Fifty pairs of dragons' ears are mounted upon the shield and underneath in gilt letters is "Gawaine le Coeur-Hardy," followed by the simple inscription, "He killed fifty dragons." The record has never been equalled."

The beginning of this story foreshadows the end when Gawaine proves his mettle. This is the change and the connection. While reading the first sentence of the story, the reader wonders what the future holds for Gawaine. The end gives the story a completeness.

Another Example of How to Begin and End a Story

A story can begin with:

"When I was a little girl, I loved the beautiful Mulberry tree in our wild, rambling garden. "

And end with:

"The following night I dreamed of the Mulberry tree. There it stood in the garden, a hopeful stump with tender shoots sprouting from it like my sister come back to me, not in sorrow but in joy.

All of us must bear our crosses. Today we have lost our loved ones, but how the earth softens every blow! It is as though they are renewed in the tears we sow. "

Begin the Short Story With Drama and End at the Moment of Change

The writer must begin a story with a dramatic, intriguing first sentence or paragraph, and try and write it in one sitting. He must end it at the point where a change takes place in the protagonist.

Of course, if you want to master the short story form, you should delve into the subjects of conflict, dialogue and sound , as well as watch out for common errors in the writing of short stories.


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    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Hi Arun, many thanks my friend.

    • ARUN KANTI profile image

      ARUN KANTI CHATTERJEE 3 years ago from KOLKATA

      @Anita-Those of us who have not gone through any effective course on creative writing will stand to benefit immensely from the excellent piece. Unfortunately there are not many takers for such brilliant works on creative writing but nevertheless you should continue to write short stories and impart valuable tips. Thank you very much.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Thank you for the kind words KoffeeKlatch Gals.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 3 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I enjoyed this tutorial. It did explain something that many people don't know. The beginning and end do need a good connection. Too many times a writer will pay too little attention to the ending of a story.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Thank you for the kind comment Memuna!

    • profile image

      Memuna Umber 3 years ago

      your hub shows your skill as a writer. I really did learn a lot from this hub, especially the connection between beginning and end thing. I did not know that before!