Short Stories Without Endings

Remember back in Chapter 6, I told you about how some writers hesitate, waffle, and try to dodge set-pieces? The same thing can happen, only worse, with endings.

No-ending stories happen a lot. They've happened to me, and lately. In my drawer I have a few beginnings I haven't been able to grow middles from yet, let alone endings. Some stories stall because they really weren't ever going anywhere to begin with. The fault was in the concept, from the first. It just takes writers a few scenes, or a hundred pages, to realize their story has run out of gas and feel it wheezing to a halt.

The only possible cure is going back and starting over. And I will, one of these days, on some of my tail-less stories. Some, I'll just leave, or cannibalize for parts, realizing that probably they weren't my stories to tell after all.

That's not what I'm talking about now.

It's the stories that seem to end, but really don't. There's no final climax, nothing that seems worth all the build-up or seems as if the whole story has led up to it. There's a little talk, a little action, maybe a little scene. Then all the characters just wander away like kids playing sandlot ball whose mothers have called them home to supper in the middle of an inning. Everything's left unfinished, inconclusive.

Such a story seems one segment of a potentially endless tube of cheese, arbitrarily cut at some point to make an end. There doesn't seem to be any reason it shouldn't be twice as long, or half as long. It just goes on for awhile. Then, for no particular reason, it stops.

Some writers claim to consider such formless finales more artistic. "Let the readers imagine their own ending," I've heard them say loftily. On that rationale, a writer could not bother to write the story at all and let readers imagine the whole thing.

Saying a story should have a definite conclusion doesn't mean it ought to have a moral, or spell out every nuance. Ambiguity, with two or more valid meanings, can work; willful vagueness, with no particular meaning at all, doesn't.

A fiction writer's business is to tell a story. The story can be as complex, interior, and subtle as you choose, or as plain as a pie in the face. No matter what it is, whether the most ambitious and literary of fiction or utter and unredeemed formula schlock, a story thatjust stops, that doesn't come to a head in conflict and resolution, is a story that's not there yet.

Write the scene. Make it happen.

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