Building a Short Story Part 3 – The End?

You can see more of these exercises here.

For some very good reasons, these posts will be shorter and not on schedule!

My Story So Far

In the middle of my story-in-progress, Memory Exchange, I added the interplay between the two main characters that gives two main complications to the story. In my case, the ending has already been telegraphed somewhat. Robert, my MC, has his reservations about using this power that teleports him at the cost of specific memories. Carla, his lover and mentor, appeals to his desire to be with his mother for Thanksgiving and his desire to truly use this new ability she has taught him.

Readers will probably guess that if he goes through with it, something bad will happen. The MC doesn’t get this, and so it will be his downfall. There’s a bit of dramatic irony going on – the reader understands something critical that the MC does not. The reader also guesses that Carla has a reason for goading the MC into taking a huge risk, but maybe isn’t sure what her game is.

Another common ending for short fiction is a reversal or opposite ending. Take a look at this flash fiction example by Jeff Switt, called Halloween Coming Out.

The Problem Sentence, the Complications, and the Ending sentences are:

  • A disfigured man seeks social contact after being abandoned by his wife.
  • He is terrified of making a mistake and really scaring somebody.
  • The girl dressed as Shirley Temple is also nervous, making it even more difficult to talk with her.
  • “Shirley Temple” comes back to visit him – it turns out that she is disfigured, just like him.

This story uses a reversal:

  • The reader knows the MC hasn’t been around people for a long time.
  • The MC expects to be lonely again after Halloween
  • This one girl comes back because he was brave – his bravery showed her that she didn’t have to be scared.

There are certainly more ways to end a story, but I find that endings that use dramatic irony or a reversal of expectations are easier for beginning writers. The important part is that the ending is unexpected and it follows from the setup at the beginning and the complications. “Unexpected” can refer to the characters or the reader, and often both.

Avoiding the Obvious

Looking back at my dissection of Halloween Coming Out, there is an obvious ending (and prhaps more realistic). If the “Shirley Temple” girl hadn’t come along, the MC would go back to his lonely life, presumably to await the next Halloween in sad solitude. That’s a nice linear progression of events – and it’s boring and depressing as all heck! But the writer gave some interesting details when the little girl knocked on the MC’s door – enough details to get the reader wondering about her. She became the key to a more satisfying ending – one that both follows the setup and delivers an unexpected result.

As you set up your ending, look for a key. Read the story from the beginning, and try to think of a detail in the setting or setup that you can use for your ending. Short fiction often has one little, quickly mentioned fact right in the opening lines that the writer brings back for the ending. Think about the linear ending, the most pragmatic ending devoid of meaning or purpose, and look for a way deliver anything but. It’s fiction, dammit. Stories have meaning!


I’ll be back in a bit with my ending for Memory Exchange. Then we have to talk about editing and revision!

2 comments on “Building a Short Story Part 3 – The End?

  1. jeffswitt says:

    I came across this by surprise. Nice surprise!

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