Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Short Story Endings - What Works?

Short stories need to adhere to many of the same standards as full-length novels.  They should have compelling/believable characters, an interesting plot, continuity, and be well edited.  But what makes the best ending for a short story?

I believe there are four primary options for ending a short story: happy, sad, scary/frightening, or mysterious (leaving the reader hanging). Regardless of which of these endings a writer chooses, I believe it’s also important to make the conclusion a surprise for the reader.   Most of my short story conclusions fall into one of these four general categories, and I make every effort to disguise the story’s outcome.

The one thing I don’t think vital to include in the conclusion of a short story is a message--personal, political, or otherwise.  I think it makes readers feel like they’ve been used, especially when the ending is well disguised and the reader doesn’t particularly agree with the message the author is trying to deliver. 

That said, I’ll occasionally sneak a message into my short stories, but never anything highly controversial or divisive.  While I give readers full credit for having open minds and being able to make their own decisions, I also see no reason to alienate half of my readers by taking a political or personal stance on a contentious topic.

I write primarily to entertain, so I’ll stick to surprise endings that are happy, sad, scary, or mysterious.  I’ll leave short story conclusions that deliver a message to those with personal or political objectives.

What say you?


  1. Last year I wrote a series of short stories as a self challenge. They were about a college coed who fell under the influence of two classmates. The first section was designed to be disturbing. The second section suggested that the two classmates were not a bad as they originally seemed. The last section, often a single sentence, was supposed to throw the reader back to their disturbed feeling. So that may be mysterious, as you say, and disturbing.

    Overall, I agree with your endings.

  2. My KillFile short stories end happily for my protagonist, most of the time, except that she kills people for a living, so it ends unhappily for a lot of people...

  3. I like the short stories of yours, Donn, and I have to agree with you about including a message of some type. The books and stories I've liked the least are the ones where it's obvious the author is trying to tell me why his or her way of thinking is "obviously" the right one, and the rest of the world is made up of morons.

    While much of the world may, indeed, be comprised of morons, I don't need someone to tell me why they think I'm one of them. :)