1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Do you know when it's over?

    Discussion in 'Short Stories' started by deadrats, Oct 30, 2018.

    I have trained myself pretty well to write by short stories between 3k and 5k words since that's what most of the literary journals and magazines are looking for. Checking my word count while writing helps keep me on track in terms of structure. I've written over a hundred short stories so when I say I'm trained to write to a certain word count I really mean it.

    So, I just finished a new story. But it sort of breaks my rule about length. This one under 3k. It wasn't supposed to be and I can probably get it up there while editing. Do I work with the story as it is? Or I could continue with the story. I mean things don't always have to end where we think they should, do they?

    I'm a pantser so I was just writing along and BAM! The so-it-would-seem perfect ending pops in my head. It takes things in a different direction than where I thought I was going. I think I like it, but I'm worried it's a bit of a copout to keep it so short and not really resolve too much. On the other hand, this story turned into somewhat of a statement piece due to the unexpected ending. And there is one journal I've wanted to submit to that takes stories between 2k and 3.5k so I'm right in there.

    How do you know when you've reached the end of a short story? Like the real end? I would especially like to hear from other pantsers on this. When you don't know the ending when you start writing a story how do you know when to stop? Do you always end the story at the first opportunity or do you keep going? I think I have a history of ending stories at the first chance I get. But, like I said, I'm somewhat trained when it comes to the short story structure and length. This one's throwing me for a loop. It's sort of a weird ending which makes the whole story a bit weird. But is it the right ending? How do you know when you've hit the right ending?
     
  2. Carriage Return

    Carriage Return Member

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  3. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    Well, you know what they say "writing is re-writing".

    I don't know how you write any kind of story if you don't know how it ends.
    If you don't know the ending how are you going to structure it.
    Also, theme IS important. What are you trying to say? If you have said it, then it is over.
    Now take that first draft and RE-WRITE.

    [link redacted]
     
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  4. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    Test it with readers. Also, think of all the nice stories you've read and enjoyed. And see what did you like about the ending. Usually a good story will have a satisfying ending. Like a good joke that ends with a good laugh. Of course, a story doesn't have to make you laugh, it could make you cry, or you could just be happy along with the main character. Like when Winnie the Pooh finally gets a big jar of hunny. Or when the detective catches the villain. Even if you are a pantser, your story must be about something. A horse walks into a bar. Something must happen. If the horse just drinks a whiskey and leaves, that's not really satisfying for the reader, your story will need to go on and end with something satisfactory. If your story was supposed to be funny, then the bartender might greet the horse with some amusing words. It ends when funny is achieved. If your story was about Uncle Joe goes to town, then you have to come up with something interesting happening in town, otherwise it will appear that your story has no point and the reader is wasting their time. You can't just stop the story when Uncle Joe stops to get fuel at the first roadside gas station because the readers will be asking what was that all about. Your story needs to be about something and that something needs to be worth my time.
     
  5. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    See, I think it could be a much better story if Joe never makes it into town. Maybe this is a literary vs. genre thing, but we have very different ideas on how short stories should end. And I've ended very many stories and read many stories that end without this so-called satisfactory ending. In literary short fiction, the no one ever gets what they want and often the story ends prior to that being spelled out on the page. I'm second guessing myself a bit with my new story, but that's not because of the way I end the story or where in the story it ends. It's the length that is most troublesome. But thanks anyway. I think this is one I will just figure out on my own. :)
     
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  6. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    Have you sold any of your stories? Publishers always give advice when they read it even if you get a rejection. What have the readers said about your writing style?
     
  7. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, I have sold stories. But you are deeply wrong about publishers giving advice when they reject a story. That almost never happens. And this wasn't about my writing style. I think as writers we are often second guessing ourselves. I didn't post this because I don't know how to end a story. It just felt like a copout to end it so quickly. But I think this is something I will figure out on my own. I posted this in the short story section, but I know not many others are focused on the short form and literary works.

    Thanks anyway for all the replies.
     
  8. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I was also just curious of how other short fiction writers know when a story is over. Pantsers especially. It could be an interesting discussion for those who write in short form given we're always ending stuff. Just a thought.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2018
  9. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    The bar man says "why the long face" then the horse is joined by a dachshund which says "I'd like a beer...….and a pie please" The bar man says "Why the small pause ?" and the Dachshund says "I was born with them". Then Shakespeare walks in and the barman says "Get out, you're Bard" … shortly afterwards the city lifts the liquor licence for crimes against humour
     
  10. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Contributor

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    I used to be a pantser, and sometimes I still am. I've written stories flying completely by my pants, without any idea where they'd go to. Even most of the others, I might have had an idea about events, but events doesn't mean that the ending is satisfying. And almost always I didn't have an idea how to resolve the conflict I had created, and... pantsed to fit the theme. [Those of you who've read, remember 'Crossing Borders'? I believe this is my most satisfying short, and I pantsed it completely. I just knew I wanted to write a story about Daniel at the airport.]

    I've written about twenty short stories, none published or even attempted at publication, and I know that's no comparison to your record. But I've given most of mine to Alpha readers, trusted and experienced writers, and they consistently said the same. My shorts get the most approval if they are of one piece. If there are breaks in tension there, they get admonished. It's when there's a subtle build-up to a breaking point which gets resolved in the last 400 words, then the story will be received well. Guess the question is how many stories get woven into one short. In a novel, I have the werewithal and word count to weave several storylines together. In one short, I can't.

    Or I should say, I can only examine and resolve one specific line (I'm not that good), and maybe reference other storylines that on their own won't intrude on the reader's attention. If the reader thinks that something is left open—a hint, a dark atmosphere that got created, a named character that acted oddly but then vanished—then the story needs to end at another point.
     
  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Okay, you get it. Sometimes you can write a story without really knowing where it will go or end or even what it's really about. It's just the way I work. The whole pre-planned approach throws me off. So, with your story about the guy in the airport how did you know when you reached the ending you thought was fitting? Did you question it at all? Or did you ever question the endings of other stories you pantsed? I think my problem is a little self doubt. But now that I've had a few days to really think about the ending... I don't hate it. However, I go back and forth between thinking I'm so stupid and thinking I'm brilliant. Neither of which are probably true.

    I do sometimes get nervous when I've written a dozen pages into a short story and I'm not sure where I want to take it. But I rarely abandon a story. I believe it's good practice if nothing else to finish what I start with writing.

    I'm not exactly sure what you mean by one piece. I think there are layers in my short fiction, but I see them as one piece or one story.

    I also read a lot of short fiction and it seems more often (in literary fiction) that endings are more implied than spelled out. I don't feel like I need to always know how it works out for a character or every character. But what has to make sense is the framing of the story. For example, why is this story being told from this point to this point. That in itself can say a lot about a story.

    Also, I'm not saying I have any sort of great record. I've been serious about writing short stories for years and gotten lucky a few times. Twenty stories is impressive so good for you! :)
     
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  12. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Contributor

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    This specific short I didn't question at all. I wrote and tension mounted in one long breath—then came the turning point and suddenly tension rises sharply, we're now at these famous last four hundred words—and it reaches a peak, hangs in balance without need to question anything. It's hard to describe.
    It stands at 3.020 words, and with that it's I think my shortest short. But all it needed to say it did. There are questions open at the end, but strangely not questions that need to be answered. Go figure :rolleyes:. None of my readers admonished that they were dissatisfied or left hanging.

    I would be very suspicious about this line you wrote here. If I say 'I don't hate it' my gut usually means: No, it's not good at all. If something really is good, I'm feeling it bone-deep. If that makes sense :p. There might be other things wrong with a short I'm satisfied with, say more descriptions added in, but the bones of the thing will line up.

    Sometimes while I'm writing I take several approaches. I get three quarters in and this feeling of wrongness starts. That's my gut, telling me that I'd better think about what I'm writing before I'm writing. Then I might start new, or question if I've the correct locations; or whatever. This process, to figure out what exactly is wrong with the story is not trivial and often takes me a lot of time. I might even take several approaches, just to write and through writing, try out different approaches. One of them, or sometimes all of them combined will provide the solution.

    I believe it's different with you. You write for a market and not in a timeline like me, so you should have more leeway which location and characters/time/style you use to tell what you want to tell. Because...
    I'm writing in a timeline, and in one 'universe'. I've my set of characters, and I follow their stories through a lot of years, choosing points in their lifes I want to examine and have the reader understand. So my short stories are really one big story, not unlike a novel. Just chopped up and served as stand-alones. The reader shouldn't need to read the others to understand the story he's currently reading. But, as in a novel, secondary characters in one short will be main characters in another short, and so tell their stories in the background of other shorts. You'd probably define them as layers.

    My shorts almost never have a definitive ending. The reader is always left with the question what happens next. But strangely enough it seems as if they are satisfied with the answer to each short's specific question. As you say, the theme gets resolved, the immediate question answered. But the wider picture is still there and beckons. I want the reader to get curious and think about how this specific character would go on with his life. He should want to read more, just not because he needs to.

    I hope I make sense. If you want, you could bounce this specific short off me, but I don't have any kind of formal writing education or experience. I'm making it up as I go.
     
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  13. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    @Lifeline -- When I said I don't hate it I meant I was starting to actually like it more than I thought. Sorry about that. Thanks for the offer to take a look. I have a habit of showing things too soon, but if it's okay, I'm message you in a week or so and see if you're still interested or have time. Thanks.
     
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  14. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Contributor

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    Ah.. that kind of not hating :p.

    I also know about that showing things too soon, and I've often hated myself for giving stuff out before it was ready. So take your time, and I'll be there if you should want me to take a peek. Good hunting/writing!
     
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  15. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    When I feel comfortable -- there's a kinda awww feeling of satisfaction typing in those last few words. And if I don't get that feeling it's usually cause I'm not completely settled with it and have to keep going. When I wrote my robot story he was supposed to be 'dead.' Beaten till he broke. The end. I didn't get that satisfied feeling leaving him in the garbage and wrote another page or two till I knew I now had my proper ending. With my WIP I had to keep writing and writing and writing till I hit that right end note.
     
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  16. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll I said I write, didn't say good. :P Supporter Contributor

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    When I get past the last page and don't see that there is another 500 books in the
    story line. :p

    Short stories are kinda tricky, since you have such a small amount of time to get
    everything setup and developed before you bring it to a close. While it can be tricky
    to decide to end one on a cliff hanger or some random event that simple allows the
    reader to wonder about the story that is left to be told, or to be able to hit all the notes
    and then bring it all to a close.
    Either way it is never a simple choice to make, nor something to simply do in the first
    place. :)
     
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  17. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I can only speak as a reader, because I don't write short stories. But I know nothing annoys me more in a short story than where a situation starts up, gets going, then—rather than coming to some sort of resolution—it just stops. You know—that moment when you turn the page and ...nothing there. You wonder if maybe the printer made a mistake and left the last couple of pages out. It doesn't feel right. It just feels squirmy.

    I don't think it's necessary to resolve all issues, by any means, but I do think that an unresolved issue should be one that's never going to BE resolved. You've watched the situation play out to the point where you know the issue is not resolvable. Or watched enough to know that the main character is never going to make up his mind, or never going to change her ways, etc. I'm not a fan of the author who just walks away to 'leave it up to the reader to decide.' That really irks me.

    Even the classic The Lady and The Tiger annoyed the hell out of me. I wanted to know what the AUTHOR thought the lady would do—not hash over my own beliefs about love vs revenge. I feel that kind of non-resolution often means the author is too lazy or too undecided themselves to commit to an ending. So they just 'leave it to us.'

    We never had enough information to decide about that particular lady anyway. Not everybody would react the same in that situation, would they? I thought the ending was quite the cop-out, even though it did stimulate discussion in classrooms and other places ...and I can almost forgive that author because I think provocation is what he ultimately intended. But I honestly detested that non-ending, and still do.

    I'm a big believer in the 'author/reader contract.' In short, it means that a story needs to fulfil the unspoken promises it made at the start.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2018
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  18. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Ahhh... I might be a master of the non-ending ending. I guess the way I see it a little is that the way a story ends can change what it's about. I don't know if that will make any sense to people. With this one, I've decided to keep my ending, but I'm sort of fattening the story up which is changing the length. And the length was my main concern.

    And I'm so sorry @jannert. I'm behind on emailing you. Life and my forgetfulness. But I am on it now. :)
     
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