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The End -- Writer's Poke #129

For Writers:

One of my students told me that he didn't like short stories. "I'm just getting into the story," he said, "and then it's over. And I'm like, what happens next?"

I pointed out to the student that readers of War and Peace might feel the same way, wondering what happens next. In fact, all endings may seem somewhat arbitrary, and that's because -- at least on some levels -- they are.

In writing, the writer has the power to decide when to begin and when to end. Worrying about "what happens next" should not be the main objective. That's just plot. The main objective should be: Does the "middle part" that makes it to the page serve a purpose? Does it have continuity? A discernible and meaningful theme?

Bottom line: Does it make the reader think?

And is leaving the reader wanting more such a bad thing?

Start with the end in mind -- be it your life, a relationship, a piece of writing that you're working on. How do (or did) you get there, and how do (or did) you know it was the end?

"In my end is my beginning." -- Mary, Queen of Scots

"In my beginning is my end." -- T.S. Eliot


  1. I've noticed that a lot of works from Indian authors have this type of ending. At first, it was offputting because I wanted things in a nice neat little package, but then I grew to enjoy it since this is more how life works. Things don't just end, they keep going.

  2. "All stories," Hemingway said in Death in the Afternoon, "end in death, and he is no true story teller who would keep that from you."

  3. John,

    While I certainly respect Hemingway's view, I still must say: is death really "the end"? If, to paraphrase Faulkner, the past isn't dead, then can the dead really be dead? In other words, if the dead continue living, in what way is death "the end"?? :)


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