Exit Strategies: So How Are You Supposed to End a Story?

Exit Strategies: So How Are You Supposed to End a Story?

“I hate endings. Just detest them,” said Sam Shepard in an interview with The Paris Review. “Beginnings are definitely the most exciting, middles are perplexing and endings are a disaster.” Shepard is hardly alone in his aversion. For writers working in all mediums, ending a work can be the most challenging aspect of the writing process. Sure, there are outliers—Toni Morrison purportedly said: “I always know the ending; that's where I start”—but for many of us, finding that conclusive beat is slippery, maddening, even disastrous. As a writer and teacher of , I can attest that few fiction workshops pass without the utterance of an ending-related . What's more, those critiques tend to fall into one of two categories. The first: “This ending wasn't satisfying.” And the second: “This ending wasn't earned.” In other words: either a story's ending was a letdown—given what the story seemed to promise—or the big swings taken by a story's ending are not justified by what happens earlier. So what's a writer to do? Authors in the Tent: Jeri Westerson To start, maybe turn a critical eye upon those critiques themselves. Do we really want a story to satisfy? To earn ? Recently, I sat on a panel with Dantiel W. Moniz, who pointed out that this language smacks of consumer capitalism. She's more interested in pursuing endings with “resonance.” This feels like a better framework to me as well. Resonance is a way to talk the music of a work of fiction, […]

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