Posted by on Mar 13, 2007 in finishing fiction | 2 Comments

Getting to the end of the story …

If you’re one of those writers who doesn’t seem to be able to finish a story, and it’s not because you’re revising as you write, so that you’re interrupting your creativity with analysis as discussed previously, it’s possibly because you are one of those writers for whom a story hasn’t crystallised – or alternatively, one for whom a story crystallises too clearly.

The second option is the more difficult, so I’ll talk about that first. For many writers there’s a fear – the fear that they can’t adequately express the story as they see it in their mind. When they try to get it down on paper, it becomes flat and mundane, conveying nothing of the beauty or horror they have experienced in their heads.

The only way to deal with this is to be brave and to accept that, however well you write, you can’t control what goes on in your readers’ heads. Writers cannot dictate to readers – even if you express your story perfectly, the reader will shade and colour it according to their own beliefs and experiences; and often that shading will be wildly different to your intention. If you can’t cope with that, then stop writing. If you don’t, you’ll be constantly miserable. Let your stories stay in your head where you, and they, are happy.

If you can accept that communication is imperfect, then you’ll find it easier to understand that you will probably never do justice to the glorious visions contained in your cranium – the most you can do is try to express them clearly. Writing is not a good medium for visions; music is better, painting better still. Writing allows a lot of scope for reader interpretation, so if you learn to think of your writing as one side of a conversation, not both sides, and allow the putative reader to have the other side, you’ll probably be a more contented writer.

If however, your stories just peter out without getting finished, it’s probably because you’re being self-indulgent in the middle section. If you find you’re introducing characters or events after say, the first 1000 words of what should be a 3000 word story, then this is your problem. The solution is simple. Write the ending first!

Of course the ending doesn’t have to be the one you use – but if you nail down something, in shorthand, that is the conclusion of the story, then you’re writing to a purpose. You can change it when you get there, but the end point already exists, so you’re much more likely to get to it and then fiddle with it when you write up to it.

Alternatively, you may be one of those who doesn’t know how to end a story. If this is your problem, define for yourself what the mood (or emotional landscape if you like) of the final scene in your story is. Is it feel-good, shocking, sad, revelatory, peaceful …? Whatever it is, write down that mood on a scrap of paper, ‘this story ends with a sombre recognition that everybody dies, but has a faint hint of hope’ or ‘this story ends with a revelation that leaves the two main characters staring at each other in stunned horror’ and then keep that mood line in front of you as you write – knowing the atmosphere of the ending tends you towards writing on a scale and emotional tempo that leads to the mood you’ve defined.

Once you’ve got the hang of finishing you can dispose of props and prompts like these, but until you’re regularly finishing fiction, it’s good practice to get into the discipline of having the ending in mind while you write.


  1. Tribeless
    14th March 2007

    Mmm. If I substitute ‘myself’ for ‘reader’ then I think this applies to me. That is, I don’t think I consciously write for a reader, (only considering them after I’ve completed a story … see why I don’t get published much 🙂 ); rather, I write for myself. There is certainly a conversation going on, but it tends to be self verse self.

    I think.

    Other than genre, do you write a story with an audience, or specific audience in mind?

    Sorry to change the topic. I tend to be a very ‘selfish’ (without any bad connotation) writer, as I guess I have the luxury of an alternate income … well, for a while anyway. I don’t know that I could write for a reader as this would imperil my subject matter which I want to keep close to myself (in the different senses that such implies, for now).

    Cheers Mark … waffling – sorry.

  2. Kay Sexton
    14th March 2007

    My audience is also me! The only reader I have in mind when I write, is myself. I have a short attention span – so writing for myself as reader is good discipline, if I get bored reading it back then out it goes!

    Writing for publication and writing for self-expression can be two different things, and I believe most people only ‘suffer’ when they confuse them. Writing for self-expression is a good, healthy, creative activity – but often isn’t a publishable product. Writing for publication is fun, but often requires a degree of self-cruelty in the writer who may have to kill a few precious literary babies to get work into print.


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