Last Scene Last Paragraph Last Sentence

MUCH OF WHAT WAS SAID in the last chapter about endings applies to both novels and short stories. Both need endings that fulfill the promise of the story, grow out of character, come to an emotional climax, and are well prepared for by a strong middle. But novels and short stories differ sharply in one respect: the emphasis placed on the very end.

The truth is that although everything in any work of fiction should contribute to the whole, the last few paragraphs of a novel are relatively unimportant. A novel is so long that by the time the reader comes to the end, 99 percent of the plot, character development, theme and everything else are over. And since the structure of a novel usually requires a climax followed by a denouement, the very end of a novel is a time of decreasing tension. Nothing startling, new or highly emotional is likely to turn up this late in such a lengthy tale.

A short story is much different. The climax may be the ending, as we saw in previous chapters. Even when an additional scene follows the climax, it is likely to carry heavy symbolic significance. And the shorter the story, the more important the last few paragraphs become.

In a certain kind of short story, the last sentence is especially crucial. To understand why, we need first to understand the distinction between two kinds of short stories—a distinction that applies much more to endings than to beginnings or middles.

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