Five Tips for Improving Story Endings

Nancy Kress in her book Beginnings, Middles and Ends offers these exercises for improving your endings:

  1. Choose an anthology of short stories. Read the last paragraphs of the first four stories. Out of context, do they seem evocative, emotional, significant? Now read the four stories. In context, do the final paragraphs imply more than they seemed to at first?
  2. Classify each of the four stories as “traditional plotted story” or “contemporary literary short story.” Do the stories fit neatly into categories, or not? How do the endings of the two types differ?
  3. Study each story’s opening and closing paragraphs. Are any of the same symbols, motifs or images present in both? If so, how has their meaning expanded or changed by the end of the story?
  4. Study the final paragraphs of three of your favorite novels. Do they seem to carry thematic significance, or do they merely round off the action? Do you see any differences in the closing paragraphs of the novels from the closing paragraphs of the four short stories you examined in exercises 1 through 3?
  5. Look at the last paragraph of one of your own finished stories. Does it imply as much as it could? Even if the answer is “yes,” write three or four different last sentences for your story. Which works best? Why?

Read more advice from Beginnings, Middles and Ends, and be sure to check out Kress’s monthly “Fiction” column in Writer’s Digest magazine.

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