Sometimes the last lines of the story are the hardest to write. An ending has to illuminate all that has gone before. There needs to be a closure or the story has a weak effect. There’s the long downhill glide and then you’ve landed, maybe not perfectly, but the ride is over.
Using a different metaphor, we must weave all the strands together. After the “great moment” has happened where nothing will be the same, then we can wrap it up. In other words, sew up the threads and cut all loose ends.
It’s hard to know, sometimes, how to end a story. Maybe we throw in a big surprise or clever twist, leaving the reader feeling manipulated. Or we keep going with a summarizing paragraph explaining the lessons learned, or with an epilogue showing where the characters are five years later.
A quiet ending with a suggestive statement will give the reader the message. Something like:
I sat at the table with a fresh cup of coffee. I had never known those things about my mother. Now I realize that she was just another person searching for love. She had managed to give me just little more than she got. And maybe that’s okay.
An open-ended story is one where the “resolution” is not dramatically conclusive. The reader is left with an impression of life rather than with a “satisfying” conclusion. Yet it must leave the reader satisfied. There is an understanding that all that can be said has been said. For example:
A man and a woman have been canoeing on a river. Something has gone wrong with their relationship. They’re not paying attention to where they have drifted or how long they’ve been out on the river. They aren’t particularly experienced with canoes in general and with rivers in particular. Now night in coming on and the wind is cold. Suddenly they find themselves shivering in the dark. The increasing sound of rapids can be heard. In an open-ended story, there should be no need to carry them into the perilous rapids. The story is what happened between the two that led to this dangerous moment. The story could end this way:
He heard the roar of water. The river for the last two hours had been a whisper. Now it rose like soldiers shouting and running towards the enemy.
We’ll never know what happened to the couple. But if the writer has told us everything we need to know about them, we won’t require a life and death struggle in the rapids.
A closed-ended story is conclusive, often in broad, unsubtle strokes. Perhaps a problem or mystery has been solved. The reader knows exactly what happens to mark the end of the story.
Open-ended and closed-ended stories are equally valuable. The point is to choose which ending is appropriate. By the time the story gets to the end, the writer can sense the best way to finish it off. However, don’t rush the ending. Often we’re tired and want the story to hurry up and be done already. Let the piece flow to the end. A sense of timing and “rightness” will close a story successfully. Have patience for the right ending to present itself.
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