Monday, 20 September 2010

The Importance of a Good Ending

Reading the shortlisted competition entries for the Wells Short Story Prize has been a real pleasure. There's been such a variety of subjects I've never once felt, ho hum, I've read this before and choosing the prize winners is going to be difficult. Right now, no one story stands out and I'm in a bit of a quandary.

But the competition is for a short story, and one of the essential elements of a short story is that it is a satisfying tale. And that means the ending has to work. The beginning sets it up, hopefully in such a way that I'm enticed into the world of the short story, and then the ending rounds it off so I put the story down with a satisfied 'ahhhhh'. Ideally what happens is something I don't see coming, but when it happens is exactly right that it couldn't have happened any other way.

What is clear to me that of the twenty of so stories I've read, well written though they are, more than a handful end suddenly as though the word limit was reached and the author just cut the story off. Others just fizzle out. A couple have been obscure enough for me to have to read again to check that I've understood what's gone on.

The ones that stand out in my mind are the ones where the ending is spot on. Think about it - the ending is the last bit you read, of course it's the part you remember most clearly. I haven't made my final decision yet, and everything could change, but I think the deciding factor is going to be not the beauty of the phrasing, nor the cleverness of plotting, but the aptness of the ending. I'm looking for, not the X Factor, but the Ahh Factor.

PS And not a single one has featured a domestic pet, so - phew - no personal factors to cloud my judgement.


badas2010 said...

There was a discussion a little while ago on an American short story site about happy/sad endings and I thought (a summary of) the best comment was that the ending is as the ending is. It must be the correct ending for that particular story and not some contrived tack-on, there just to leave 'em happy.

Sarah Duncan said...

Oh yes, couldn't agree more. My 'ahh' might be one of happiness, or an 'eek' from a spinechiller, but a good story ending feels just right.