Beginnings and endings are the hardest part of creating a successful story and the most important. More important than plot and character, in my opinion, especially in short stories. “Conclusions are the weak points of most authors,” George Eliot remarked, “but some of the fault lies in the very nature of a conclusion, which is at best a negation.”
“As Jane Austen pointed out in a metafictional aside in Northanger Abbey, a novelist cannot conceal the timing of the end of the story (as a dramatist or film-maker can, for instance) because of the telltale compression of the pages.” – The Art of Fiction
The closer and closer you get to the ending, the more weight every word has, so that by the time you get to the last several words each one carries an enormous meaning. A single gesture or image at the end can outweigh all that has gone before. Choose each word carefully – even simple words like dark or down, light or up drastically affect the sense of the ending and therefore the entire story. Anything revelatory or portentous at the end of the story is very heavy indeed. Heavy-handed, in fact, is the way it’s likely to come out.
In beginning the story certain tensions, ideas, and characters have been launched. These themes then fly in intricate formations. The ending doesn’t have to provide a surprise. All it has to do is land safely. – Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction
I’m rather proud of this ending to my short story Jean-Pierre, first published in Quadrant in July-August 2016. It’s the last page of a 5,000 word piece.
During that last day she thought of nothing but Jean-Pierre as she packed and cleaned out her little apartment.
‘What do you do, you have a stopover in Dubai?’ Jean-Pierre said, standing next to her at the taxi rank in the early morning chill. A bitter wind blew from the mountains. He had come over to carry her bag down the stairs.
‘I go straight through. It’s three hours on the ground in Dubai, so I walk around the airport then read my book.’
Jean-Pierre looked directly into her eyes. ‘I’ve bought you a little gift,’ he said.
‘Don’t unwrap it until you’re on the plane.’
She smiled. ‘Okay.” Then she looked at his face, to place him clearly in her mind. He was wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans under a padded coat. She kissed him on the lips, then got into the taxi.
‘Something to take with you,’ he said, leaning in the window. In his hand he clasped a small gift-wrapped box. The sun, still low on the horizon, cast an amber glow on his precious face.
‘Thank you,’ she said. She reached for his hand through the window and then put on her seatbelt.
And she thought about this all twenty-four hours of the journey across the Indian Ocean. She would keep opening the little box to admire the marquisite earrings he’d given her. She would catch a taxi from the airport and at home notice the house smelt musty; she would open all the doors and windows to let the air move through, the curtains blowing and air coming in and out. From a far-away-place, and at night, he would ring to say, resignedly, ‘My mother is living with me now.’ His gift, when she’d take the earrings out of their black box, would remind her of something that had happened to her once.
She felt like someone who she had always known, that old friend of herself, grounded in home, decisions already made, and behind her somewhere, like the shadow of an identical twin, her other self, who must remain in the far-off distance, never to be exposed to the light.
Copyright © Libby Sommer 2016
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