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The Mechanics of Short Story Writing (The Ending)

Updated on June 12, 2014

Writing a short story is not nearly as easy as one would assume, its composition differs massively from a traditional novel. Editors will often look at the ending of the story and conclude whether it is satisfactory or not based on that. This is because any writer can churn out a piece of text that goes in a rough direction, appears to have a beginning, middle and end, and yet the same piece in the eyes of the editor is strangely lacking. Whilst writers may argue that not every story needs to end well, editors will always argue that whilst some don't, they are the same short stories that audiences are not that interested in. Short stories in their truest form must always be neatly packaged. This doesn't mean the ending must always be happy, but there must be a clear ending and a clear point; otherwise the reader will get to the end with a strange feeling of emptiness. That feeling of emptiness is because the story wasn't written properly in the first place. So let's say I am writing a short story about a character, who is actually no longer living, they are a ghost, and thus the goal of the story is to get the character, and the audience to realise that they are in fact no longer living. It will come as a surprise to the reader too who will naturally assume the character is alive, therefore I must then write with that goal in mind all the way through.

Just before the end of the story is when you twist it, there should always be a red herring, something to put focus on that topic, that teases at a different ending. It's like Scooby Do, there is always someone who you think, it's that guy, but it never is that person. Leaving you surprised and provided an explanation is given by 'Scooby and the Gang' you are unlikely to be disappointed because there is a pay off; that was the reason you were watching the episode, if you knew who the guy dressing up as a ghost was at the beginning, why would you be watching it? So surprise endings are always the best way to end short stories. To make this work there must be two points in opposition to each other, you think one is happening, but actually something completely different is happening.

A man thinks he has been rescued by a cute girl down an alley from muggers, only to realise she nicked his wallet. As a reader, you might find that quite comical and so it gives you a reason to read. That's how to end well when writing a short story.

Other examples are:

The person you perceive to be an enemy is actually a friend.

The person is a ghost but doesn't realise it. (The Others, Six Sense)

The person believes they are a super hero, only to find out they have no special powers at all and have been beating people up in their own strength.

It requires more thought, but ultimately your short stories will get a lot stronger if they have an element like this in them. It's about creating an impact on the reader, a memorable ending will leave a mark. So there we go, I've given away the trade secret, somewhere there is a person who is making money from their short stories that is now cursing me.

Why not check out my article on, The top mistakes made submitting short stories to competitions.

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    • A K Turner profile image
      Author

      Joseph A K Turner 5 years ago from West Yorkshire

      They do a better job of explaining it than I could! Especially Tom's one, it is superb.

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 5 years ago

      Great advice even if i hadn't considered writing a short story. Your week as an editor has clearly served you well! Lol! Love your generosity in promoting other's works..

    • gmaoli profile image

      Gianandrea Maoli 5 years ago from South Carolina

      I don't know if you've seen them already, AK, but I've posted a couple of short stories on my hubs. They are actually one of several I've done on other crowdsourcing sites (which I'm transferring to here overtime). I think they have the element of a solid, clear ending, but I think your tips here would probably make my endings for future short stories far cleaner and more definitive. Most importantly, it would spark a strong emotional response from the reader, which is the effect I'm hoping to achieve. Whether it be joy, surprise, or tears of happiness, I hope my endings will be strong enough to create some kind of response where the reader is left saying, "Wow!" Then I know I've done my job. Your article has given me some excellent advice on how to better achieve this goal. Thanks for posting this!

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 5 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      These are good tips, A.K. I write classic western fan fiction on a couple different sites. A new twist on any tale will interest your audience, especially if it is a story they think they already know something about. The element of surprise will keep the fans coming back for more.

    • Stephen Ulibarri profile image

      Stephen Seth Ulibarri 5 years ago from Albuquerque

      My story Tes and Caligula would be good, if you're interested.

    • A K Turner profile image
      Author

      Joseph A K Turner 5 years ago from West Yorkshire

      i'll take a look, let me know if if there is anything you'd like to put into the magazine

    • Stephen Ulibarri profile image

      Stephen Seth Ulibarri 5 years ago from Albuquerque

      I've written numerous stories, some of which I have on hubpages as hubs.

    • A K Turner profile image
      Author

      Joseph A K Turner 5 years ago from West Yorkshire

      i am glad you liked it!

    • Vitallani profile image

      Bryony Harrison 5 years ago from UK

      Great hub, A.K. Scooby Doo is a good example of how create a satisfying ending. Your examples illustrated your point very well.

    • A K Turner profile image
      Author

      Joseph A K Turner 5 years ago from West Yorkshire

      cheers stephen!

    • Stephen Ulibarri profile image

      Stephen Seth Ulibarri 5 years ago from Albuquerque

      Good advice.

    • A K Turner profile image
      Author

      Joseph A K Turner 5 years ago from West Yorkshire

      Cheers Judi!

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 5 years ago from UK

      Another good article - voted up and sharing

    • A K Turner profile image
      Author

      Joseph A K Turner 5 years ago from West Yorkshire

      thank you so much! I am glad you liked it, and agreed with it, I have written it to help the writers who are submitting to Dark Places magazine.

    • profile image

      Website Examiner 5 years ago

      Very nicely written and informative. I agree that teasing the reader in this fashion is a big part of what short stories are all about.