10 Ways to End a Story

10 Ways to End a Story

It’s Writescape’s 10th anniversary and we have lots of excitement planned for writers in 2018. This installment of 10 on the 10th is the latest in the series of monthly writing tips, advice and inspiration. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along. Share with your writing colleagues and encourage them to sign up for more.

Last month, we looked at 10 Ways to Start a Story. Let’s flip that around and consider 10 ways to bring it all to a close. For many writers, the ending is as much a challenge as getting those first few words when they begin. And for some writers, it’s even a greater challenge.

But make no mistake. Just as how you start a story is vital, how you finish is equally important. Getting to “The End” can’t disappoint or frustrate your reader — whether you wrap it all in a nice neat bow or leave the reader in contemplation, your ending should work with the whole story. Consider these 10 approaches to see how each one affects the end of any story. We’ve given examples and have done our best to avoid spoilers.

1. Back to the Beginning (Circle or Frame) Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel, Frankenstein, begins as Dr. Frankenstein is rescued in the Arctic Sea by an obsessed ship captain. The driven doctor recognizes the captain’s obsession, so he shares his story of creating the Frankenstein Monster to warn him how he came to be there, chasing his monsterous creation to the North Pole. An equally creepy modern title to check out for this approach is Fight Club.

2. Implied Ending (Walk into the sunset) Many western genre stories end with the protagonist and companion “riding off into the sunset” and presumably to live and face another day, side by side. This kind of can be a fine example of show, don’t tell. An implied ending can be ambiguous. For example, Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers offers readers the sound of water in a bathtub to set a kind of closing mood that could be “sorrow or gladness”. Our narrator chooses to think he and his brother are likely safe; the reader is not so certain.

3. Sequel (We’re baaaaack) Oh, there are so many sequels out there — trilogies, series, cross-pollination (think the Marvel Universe), prequels and so on. The good news is that writers who have long, complicated stories (The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games) can separate them into connected standalone novels. Remember, however, standalone is key. The end of each of The Lord of the Rings trilogy had to satisfy its readers, while at the same time enticing them to read the next book.

4. Open-ended (Choose your own ending) with Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 story The Lady, or the Tiger, readers must decide at the end what choice the princess makes; will she choose to let her lover be devoured by a tiger or let him live in arms of another woman. It’s a question that has troubled readers for over a century. And not a bad way to get your story to keep your readers thinking. And thinking.

5. Twist (Surprise!) A variation on open-ended conclusions, this approach builds on expectation. Author O. Henry was a master at this form and The Gift of the Magi is one of his most memorable tales when a wife’s and husband’s love and sacrifice at Christmas — surprise! — both negates and honours each of their gifts.

6. Happy Ever After (smiles all ’round) Of course, romance stories are supposed to end in this same way: girl gets guy or girls get guys (as many of Shakespeare’s romance plays end)… romance is all about love.  And there are many forms of love — girl gets girl or guy gets guy — but not all of them sexual. And happy ever after doesn’t need to even centre around a romance. Indeed, once Gretel pushed the witch into the oven, she and Hansel reunite with their remorseful father and live, we are certain, happily ever after.

7. Mirror (architecture echo) It was the worst of times and the best of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities starts off with a 119-word long opening sentence, a description of duality echoing the conflicted chaos of the French Revolution. But he doesn’t end it the same way. He echoes the basic architecture of the opening comparison but with a short and tight finality that makes clear that this is “the end” of the story and of one of the characters. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

8. Lesson (Pay attention and learn) Aesop’s Fables are all written with a moral lesson endings — that fox never gets the grapes and is sure they’re just sour anyways. Many fairy tales also have a moral or a lesson, sometimes it’s just implied like Goldilocks:  Goldie, don’t go in strange houses or Red Riding Hood: Red, don’t talk to strangers and for Pete’s sake, Hansel and Gretel, don’t nibble on strange houses.

9. Reveal (Elementary, my dear Watson) A classic ending for mystery or thriller novels, the protagonist (dogged detective or amateur sleuth or unjustly accused victim) pulls together all the clues, red herrings included, and dissects them one by one. The final clue, the moment of ah-ha, is delivered with a flourish and the reader remarks either, Gosh, I didn’t see that one…or…I knew it! The point you need to remember is to be clever and careful; today’s readers don’t expect Sherlock Holmes’ genius and acute observation skills.

10. Epilogue (Fortune teller reveals all) At the end of Offred’s narration in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, it isn’t 100% clear on whether protagonist Offred is being arrested or, as she believes, in the hands of an undercover resistance member on her way to freedom. However, there is an epilogue that helps us decide on that question — and gives us more information about the time in which Offred lived.

No matter how you end your story, remember that it is always a story that the reader wants. A great story will pull your reader along to the end. So a clever and creative ending will make little difference if what comes before it lacks energy, doesn’t have compelling characters or loses its way to reach that ending

And for now, that’s got to be The End.

Stories of Life

Stories of Life

Gwynn Scheltema

As often happens in life, birth and death go hand in hand. Last week I wrote about the birth of my baby granddaughter, Elle, and all the wonderment and creative promise that comes with that.

But our family has also been touched these past weeks with the news of terminal cancer. Many of us in this situation feel the helplessness of not knowing what to do or what to say.

And then an email from an oral story-teller I know told me about a “storyteller-in-residence” at Baycrest Health Sciences.

Storycare

For the past three years, Dan Yashinsky has been telling and listening to stories at Baycrest as part of their “storycare” program. He explained in an article for The Toronto Star that: “Storycare means creating times and places in the hospital for people to tell, hear, imagine, and remember stories.”

His article explained that storytelling encourages imaginative responses even from dementia patients who have forgotten the names of their loved ones; that suspenseful wondertales can help patients with severe depression “regain their desire to discover what happens next — in the story, and in their own lives.”

He recalls that Yukon Elder Angela Sidney once told him, “I have no money to leave my grandchildren. My stories are my wealth.” For patients in palliative care and their families, telling their life stories can be a comforting and enriching experience.

Life Stories

When I was a young woman, it seemed to me that biographies and to a lesser degree, autobiographies, were the only source of “life stories.” And to make it into book form, the subject life had to be a famous one: great achievement, great adversity, great discovery and such. Today, I have noticed that memoir stories abound. Stories still of great achievement, great adversity and great discovery, but stories from “ordinary” people. The kind of people I might know. The kind of lives I can recognize.

What I like about this trend is the underlying inference that everybody’s life matters. That we all have something to offer. And that in each life I read about I find echoes of my own. This connection through story can, at different times, inspire, comfort, educate, amuse, awe or humble me. It’s all good.

The Power of Story

An article in The New York Times says “Telling and listening to stories is the way we make sense of our lives.” The article tells of a study on the positive effects of storytelling on people with high blood pressure. Dr. Thomas K. Houston, lead author of the study said, “That natural tendency may have the potential to alter behaviour and improve health.”

The International Storytelling Centre (ISC) based in Tennessee, agrees with that power of story, and not just for health, but for attaining any goal because it is the most effective way to communicate both with others and with ourselves.

ISC began a movement to revive oral story telling over forty years ago. The cornerstone of their belief is that “People crave, remember and honour stories.” They say, “We are an organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering people across the world to accomplish goals and make a difference by discovering, capturing, and sharing their stories.”

Tell your story

Many cultures have a rich and active oral storytelling tradition, and increasingly oral storytelling groups are forming the world over. Each year, March 20 marks World Storytelling Day, a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling. World Storytelling Day began in Sweden in 1991 and Canada joined the event in 2003.

On this day, people tell and listen to stories in many languages and at as many places as possible, during the same day and night. This event has been important in forging links between storytellers and in drawing attention to the art of storytelling.

Isak Dinesen said, “To be a person is to have a story to tell.” So throw off any thoughts of “my story isn’t worth telling.” It is. In writing or orally, tell your story as only you can tell it.

And when I next visit the hospital, I think I might ask, “Tell me about…”

 

Explore this topic further:

Storytellers of Canada/ Conteurs du Canada: Devoted to connecting people, reflecting culture, and inspiring discovery through the art of Storytelling.

First nations Storytelling.  Storytelling is a traditional method used to teach about cultural beliefs, values, customs, rituals, history, practices, relationships, and ways of life. First Nations storytelling is a foundation for holistic learning, relationship building, and experiential learning.

Oration, singing and storytelling are a source of both of delight and solace within the Maori culture.  ‘Healing Through Storytelling’ is a grief support programme created with Maori and delivered alongside Maori authors.

Healing Story Alliance explores and promotes the use of storytelling in healing. Our goal as a special interest group of the National Storytelling Network is to build a resource for the use of story in the healing arts and professions.

Paula Abood, a Community Cultural Development (CCD) worker, writer and educator, discusses the importance storytelling in developing confidence, empathy and communities.

Nicole Stewart started the live storytelling series Oral Fixation (An Obsession with True Life Tales). She has produced 19 shows, each with a different theme and featuring regular Dallas folks reading aloud their stories

Dave Lieber is a newspaper columnist, a prize-winning author and storytelling expert. For his investigative newspaper column, Dave receives 50 pitches a week for story ideas – and takes the best two. He knows how to find and identify memorable stories that people care about.

DID YOU KNOW

Among the many workshops offered by Writescape is a corporate workshop called “Sell with Story” that explores effective marketing and promotion through storytelling.