Tuesday, June 26, 2007


The following is an imaginary exchange...

Jon Zech climbed down from the mare he had ridden to check the herd in the north pasture and handed it off to one of the boys. I watched him saunter to the campfire. He bent over and picked up an old can which he would use as a cup and poured himself coffee. Before sitting down, he stirred the fire and added a log. I watched him for a moment, leaning back in the hammock and smelling coconut.

"When I was a kid, I used to think a story had to have an ending, or a twist. It had to have the reader throw hands into the air and leave them speechless," I said.

"That's the 'Twilight Zone' syndrome," he responded. Jon, who couldn't play a violin to save his life, began to tune one, plucking the strings and wincing with each untrue note.

"I loved those stories. You remember how some stories had the last line italicized in some of the magazines. You know, like: ....and then he realized he wasn't looking at a mirror!!!!"

Jon laughed. "Yeah."

"Now I think the ending should just be a logical point. It should give the reader closure, or resolve the issue or conflict one way or another."

"Oh, I don't know. I think there are some stories that don't have natural endings. Some stories are snapshots. The point is to illustrate character or theme, not necessarily resolve a plot or conflict."

A shooting star passed above.

"I don't hold to that sort of writing. I think a story needs to have a story. Not just be a jumble of events or things...not just stroke the writer. You might as well call it poetry."

Jon shook his head. "Well some writers write for different reasons. Not everyone writes to try and get published in Playboy."

"Now you're just talking crazy," I said. "Look, I'm just saying that an ending should have something behind it. I think some writers are just in a hurry to get things over with, or some have an idea, but they have no idea how to finish things up. I always like to start with some sense of beginning, middle and end when I write."

"I know some people who just like to start writing and see where the creative writing process takes them."

"How many times have you seen a story ruined because the ending just sort of came out of nowhere or because the writing just trickled into nothing?"

"I've seen it," he said.

I didn't say anything else for the rest of the night. A coyote howled and Jon threw the violin onto the fire. Jim finally came riding in, but by then we were too tired to care.


SQT said...

I had to ponder this for awhile.

You know, when I write something short, say 1000, I do like to write an ending that kind of has some punch. I hope to make the reader want more. But if I write something longer I want it to have more resolution.

I'm not a big fan of cliff-hanger endings when I read a novel, so I'm not too likely to write something that would be unsatisfactory to me as a reader. So I guess I tend to write what I like to read-- though I assume most writers probably do this.

Susan Miller said...

"I didn't say anything else for the rest of the night. A coyote howled and Jon threw the violin onto the fire. Jim finally came riding in, but by then we were too tired to care."

Great ending!

Stewart Sternberg said...

SQT, that's an interesting distinction you draw between endings in short and long fiction. I know some novels (and film) that have been ruined by ending too soon. Or too late.

I think the issue of ending is catharsis..the release of tension as conflict is naturally resolved. As the reader is in the midst of catharsis, a denouement is important to tie up loose ends and allow the reader a chance to savor the aforementioned catharsis.

One person likened it to sex. "Immediately following orgasm do you want to jump out of bed, get dressed, and work on a scrapbook? Or do you want to settle back and savor the moment?"

Um..actually I just wrote that. No one ever said that to me. But it felt good.

Susan, as an ending it should have had you asking: What is Jim riding?

spyscribbler said...

The endings are always the most difficult part for me to write. I swear, sometimes I have a dorky "this is the end" paragraph.

They're so hard!

Jon said...

Jim was riding the coyote...that's why it howled. And I'd never burn a violin...a soprano sax maybe, or an achordian, but I don't mess with strings.

The story's ending is when it's over. If you've written well the ending will come as natural closure. That doesn't mean everything is tied up nice and neet, just that when it's over, it's over. Much like when Jim came riding in--we were just out of words.

avery said...

I had to write the ending of my book three times. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't great. There's certainly a feeling of dissatisfaction if the ending just ends. I feel like I've been robbed somehow. The longer the story, the greater the disgruntlement.

SQT said...

Who knows Avery, maybe we should all write at least three ending to all our stories. They could probably benefit from the effort.

You're such a good writer though. I bet your endings are way better than you think they are.

miller580 said...

Remember, just because there is closure, doesn't mean the ending is good. I think Stephen King can choke an ending yet he wraps up all his loose ends...(typically by death). I remember reading his long books, closing the cover, and saying "that was good till the last 50 pages."

I gotta agree with Jon. It's over naturally all loose ends tied or not. The major conflict needs to be resolved, but not all of life's problems. Give the reader something to ponder...leave room for a sequel.

And if Jim was riding a coyote...how could you not be amazed by his control over the beast?

avery said...

Shucks, Sqt. Ya made me blush.

Travis said...

When I took creative writing, we focused on defining characters and describing setting, and figuring out what the action was.

We plotted the story, right up to the climax. But we never went beyond the climax. The climax isn't always the end of the story, is it?

I'm one of those writers that gets an idea and just starts writing. But I write a lot of snapshots this way, and I leave a lot of stuff unfinished.

Good ideas are excellent - but they don't finish the dang story.