So I’m working on a short story right now.
It’s going to run around 12,000 words when it’s finished, and right at the moment, I’m working towards the ending. Those aren’t easy for me, but they’re something I’ve improved upon over the years with a lot of practice.
I have some choices to make.
I’m not really a big fan of happy endings. They can be a little too trite, sappy, or obvious. I’m a fan of fantastically disastrous endings, of gritty endings. Endings that rip your heart out and make you want to hide in your closet and eat comfort food.
Yeah, that kind.
I also enjoy ending stories with realistic and ambiguous conclusions. But happy endings? Yuck.
One of my favorite stories of Stephen King’s is Thinner, and the reason it’s one of my top ten King books is because of the ending.
If you haven’t read it (which likely means you’re not a horror fan or younger than 25 years), here comes a SPOILER alert — they die at the end. They all eat the pie that contains the curse. The whole ending backfires so spectacularly it’s beautiful. Of course, the whole story is just one cruel irony after another, but that ending…it’s the icing on the cake. Or rather, the top crust on the pie.
Anyway, it stuck with me since the first time I read it (nine or ten years old), and my father asked me what I thought. I said “a happy ending.”
He looked at me puzzled. “You think so?”
“For the Gypsies,” I told him. He laughed. I had originally just been sarcastic, but it kind of evolved from there.
But it stayed with me. The ending was a calamity for the main character and his family. Just desserts, all over, and I found that to be much more satisfying than a happy ending where the main character gets away with all his or her bullshit.
So this ending coming up in my new short story…I’m having a hell of a time deciding what kind of ending I want to develop. I’ve grown attached to the two characters, but I’ve killed off characters I’ve loved before, so do I want to do it again? Possibly.
When I have a dilemma like this, I typically write three different endings, then find the ones that just don’t work, and toss them aside. If it turns out that two, or all three of them work (which doesn’t usually happen, but sometimes it does by a freak accident), I’ll keep them all and let the publisher/editor decide which one to use. In my short story that’s coming out in October, I chose just one ending and sent it in. Luckily for me, the editor liked it.
If you have trouble with endings, write those first. I used to have a lot of trouble rushing to the end or getting stuck and not writing one at all. It’s something I still have to work on, but it’s much improved than it used to be.
Practice. That’s the craft of writing. The art is in the words themselves, but piecing the story together is the craft.