"The end of a melody is not its goal: but nonetheless, had the melody not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Writing a good and compelling short story that readers can’t stop reading is an art in itself.
It’s when many elements come together and when executed well, you might reach this with your story.
And then you reach the ending of your story. Your solution and answer to the promises you made to the reader early on in the story. A great character moment where he or she has overcome some sort of flaw and changed their world. But how do you write a great ending?
Setting up your story for a great ending
“You begin with action that is compelling enough to draw us in, make us want to know more. Background is where you let us see and know who these people are, how they've come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story. Then you develop these people, so that we learn what they care most about. The plot - the drama, the actions, the tension - will grow out of that.” – Anne Lamott
When you start off your story you introduce your character and the predicament they find themselves in. Usually, there’s an inciting incident that draws the character out of their ordinary world or state of mind. Here you make some promises to your reader as to where the story leads to.
In your story, you make promises to your reader, usually at the beginning. You want twists and turns but you don’t want to disappoint the reader by turning the story into something different by the end. At the end of your story, you want to make sure you fulfill the promises you made to the reader.
When you plot your story, it’s important that you have your ‘solution’ - your ending - in mind and write it out. At least a rough idea. That, way you can create a buildup that moves your character from point A to point B.
The main character Malcolm was the first human being born on Mars after his parents fled Earth because of climate change and a devious organization called ‘The Quartet’.
Young Malcolm asks his parents why they had to flee Earth. The story his parents tell him, give Malcolm more background information about who they are and how they got on Mars and built a settlement there.
Malcolm represents the curiosity of the reader. So all the promises made in the beginning deal with learning more about why they had fled Earth and what The Quartet and its leader (Maximilian Redfield) did (along with climate change) to make them go.
Through thwarts and twists, your character faces trials on their journey from point A to B. Usually there is one or more confrontation the character has to face. Usually, things need to get worse before your character is able to find ways to tip the scale.
The first part ends with the leader of The Quartet lands on Mars with an army to take over the settlement.
In the middle part (the ending of part 1 and the first half of part 2) we learn more about how the settlement came into place and what the intentions of Maximilian are. They want to take over the settlement by force and Malcolm and his parents need to stop that from happening.
“You your characters along until everything comes together in the climax, after which things are different for the main characters, different in some real way. And then there is the ending: what is our sense of who these people are now, what are they left with, what happened, and what did it mean?” - Anne Lamott
The payoff is what your main character tries to do in the last act. He or she is actually doing something to tip the balance, face trials, solve problems. He or she has accepted their fate and takes action. As a writer, you have to build towards a satisfying conclusion here that is living up to the promises you’ve made early on in the story.
In your ending you must achieve the following things:
Answer questions you posed (at least some of them, you can keep some mystery alive)
Deliver on the promises made to your reader at the start of your story
Your character must have conquered a huge flaw of theirs
You solved the main issues your character faced and there is a satisfying climax where everything comes together
Bring your message – the point to your story – across
In the last and third act of your story, the character is faced with one last trial or obstacle that keeps them from arriving at point B. Point B can be a revelation, overcoming a flaw, conquering an antagonist, realizing something important about life, getting the boy/girl, etc.
The last act is usually a bit faster in pace because the tables will turn and everything will change. You’ll arrive at a resolution, the destination of your story. Make it satisfying to both your reader and yourself.
In my story, Malcolm plays a huge part in trying to overthrown Maximilian Redfield and his army. All that he has learned about the past must now be used to save the Mars settlement and keep the peace.
Will he be able to help his parents save the settlement?
At the end of the story, I’ve answered all the questions I posed at the beginning. I delivered on my promises so readers are satisfied at the end of reading part 2. Malcolm, my main character has grown into a man and solved the main issues at hand. In addition, I bring across a message about the effects of climate change and corruption on our planet.
"There is no real ending. It's just the place where you stop the story." - Frank Herbert