How to End a Short Story: Crafting A Satisfying Conclusion

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how to end a story

For some writers, starting a short story is usually easier than writing the ending. For others, it’s the end that falls into place quite easily.

But with fiction writing, every part of the story takes huge amounts of creativity and effort, so I wouldn’t conclude that the ending of a short story ought to be the easier part.

As a matter of fact, we―more often than not―write the ending to our short story lastly. By this time, we are probably tired, have exhausted a lot of time trying to approach the conclusion, and are likely out of ideas.

So it’s okay if you usually don’t have the littlest ideas of how to end a short story.

Don’t sweat it though, I have you covered. In this post, I have included the best and worst ways to end a short story. And… I have also added some examples of short story endings, among other tips.

Let’s get started.

The best Ways To End A Short Story

1. A Cliffhanger

A cliffhanger ending leaves the story unresolved, the end still leaves an aura of suspense, and it is said to be cliff-hanging. This plot device is used to compel the readers to anxiously wait for or, if it’s already published, rush for the story’s next installment.

A cliffhanger can end the short story with a main character facing peril, or it can end the short story with a very shocking revelation.

2. Resolved Ending

This is the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” type of ending. A resolved ending packages the whole story in one read, and everything is concluded once the reader finishes reading it.

A resolved ending leaves no speculations or questions; all the plotlines and character stories are closed with the ending.

3. Twist ending

Writers can introduce an exciting surprise at the end of a short story, a set of unexpected events that catch the reader off-guard.

This type of ending can turn the narrative on its head and reveal the mirage in the story. In some stories, a twist may involve a villain turning out to be the hero (or vice versa), or a character being someone else who had disappeared in the early stages of the story.

A twist ending can either disappoint the reader or offer them relief from a tragic scene (in which a character ‘died’ but wasn’t dead). Either way, this type of ending evokes an emotional response from the reader.

4. Implied ending

An implied ending involves some sort of explicitness in the way the story is concluded or ended.

This type of ending can frustrate the reader or get them in all sorts of conversations with other readers, trying to figure out what really happened.

Authors hold back some of the details or intentionally cut out bits of logical explanations, leaving the readers some clues to piece the ending together on their own.

With no clear ending, readers usually end up with a blizzard of questions.

An ending like this works effectively for the story and author because it leaves the readers talking and thinking about the story longer than they would if the story just ended normally. This means that the author can reap some rewards because the story solicits engagement long after it has been read, and that may lead to an increase in the number of people looking at your work.

5. A Bare Ending

The writer reveals the ending at the beginning of the story. Although the reader is robbed of the suspense that comes with an unknown ending, the writer can still throw in lots of twists and turns as the story fleshes out.

A bare ending provides the writer with a clear direction of the story, and they can enjoy writing it, knowing where exactly the story is headed. Any event added to the story is intended to counterpoise anything that might have seemed to steer the story in a different direction, thereby leading it toward the known ending of the short story.

5 best ways to end a short story
Five best ways

How to Write Great Closing Lines

Closing lines are important in short stories because they complement the perfectness of the delicious story you’ve just dished to the reader.

Fiction is all about creativity, and as such, there can be no rules on how to write final sentences, but there are tips that help you write good closing lines:

1. Be Poetic

Fiction doesn’t need to be overly flowery, but with the final sentence, you can unleash the poet in you and give the reader an aesthetic ending.

Don’t get carried away; maintain the simplicity. Do not stuff the ending with ineffectual decorative words that will leave the reader looking them up in a dictionary.

Simple words, if used creatively, can take on a poetic, symbolic form. It’s not a must that you end a short story poetically, so don’t try too hard. Sometimes, a poetic ending can happen by chance.

2. Use Impeccable Wording

It’s not that easy, but you have to make sure that you revise your last sentence over and over until every word in it sounds perfect, and every period, comma, or dash is in its place.

The truth of the matter is you are not a poet (well, some of you sure aren’t), and coming up with a poetic ending is a tough ask. But, you can still give your most important sentence—the closing line—some time and effort and keep housekeeping your ending until it’s just perfect.

Good Story Endings Examples

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which

Animal Farm, George Orwell.

George Orwell’s conclusion of his novel Animal Farm is one delivered on a plate of parables, and it indirectly, cleverly, and touchingly remarks on human nature.

charles dicken

Charles Dickens created some of the best cliffhangers of all time. He gave both the readers and his fellow writers the allure of a cliffhanger. And he did this in the early nineteenth century when cliffhangers were really a thing.

He served his novel The Old Curiosity Shop in weekly installments. The most exciting, one that kept readers waiting for weeks, was about a character called Little Nell whose death was used by the author to play with the reader’s emotions—effectively, might I add.

The Worst Ways to End a Short Story

1. Abruptly Introduce a Resolution

You can easily ruin things when you suddenly introduce a resolution to a seemingly impossible situation. There should be no magic wand with the way your story is resolved; it doesn’t have to be realistic, but the way it is eased into the story has to have a logical connection with the rest of the story.

2. Have a predictable End

In an earlier section, I talked about a bare ending that involves the writer disclosing the ending before the story gets there. If you start that way, the end isn’t predictable but known.

However, if you haven’t disclosed the ending, it’s not going to do you any good if the average reader can predict the way the story is going to conclude. Your readers aren’t looking for a plainly realistic ending; they want you to surprise them.

3. Take too long to end the story

I always emphasize the importance of ending a story just after the climax. The story doesn’t have to die down completely; you have to end on a thrashing wave.

If your story takes longer to end, it might bore the reader and force them to leave the story before they get to the end.

4. End a story too soon

Ending a short story should neither take long nor be rushed. A good ending concludes naturally, following a logical sequence. Most often, a writer can feel when a story nears a logical conclusion (if you end it sooner, you’ll ruin it).

Of course, we all know that a short story has a small word count—usually not enough for an extensive plotline—but you have to compress the story in a way that ends it no sooner or later than natural.

5. Kill Favorite Characters

The worst psychotic murderers that I know are writers. It’s like they get intense pleasure from killing characters. They usually do it so masterfully that they get away with it most of the time, but if they kill favorite characters at the wrong time (like at the end), they might upset readers who are emotionally invested in the story.

Killing a favorite villain is more excusable (maybe because the story has to carry a moral element) but killing the hero’s baby right at the end does the writer no favors.

6. Tie Everything Up Too Neatly

Your readers aren’t dumb (well… at least not all of them). You can’t just give the end every detail there was, let them establish some things by deduction. This way, you let them feel clever and relate to the story more.

What Are Cliff Hangers and Why Are They Important?

cliff hanger

As I introduced it, a cliffhanger is a plot device that ends the narrative without a definitive end (unresolved) and leaves the reader with a lot of suspense.

A cliffhanger can be used to end a short story, chapter of a novel, a movie episode, a movie scene, a play, et cetera.

Usually, cliffhangers are used to keep readers or audiences engaged in the story. If the story is delivered in installments, the prequel usually ends in an exciting cliffhanger so that the audience comes back for the next installment.

Cliff-hanger endings might come in the form of the main character facing peril or a shocking, narrative-changing revelation being introduced right before the story installment concludes.

Tips for Writing Cliffhangers

There are many tips for writing cliffhangers, but here are a few of them:

  • Move the resolution to the installment (quite obvious, right?).
  • Introduce an event or scene that the reader didn’t anticipate.
  • Employ the use of brusque sentences or phrases to cue in some perilous events/scenes.
  • Use flashbacks to introduce new bits to the narrative. These bits have to help you leave the reader on tenterhooks.

Ending the ‘How to End a Short Story’ Article

Short fiction doesn’t give you a wide ground to loosen up your writing; everything is in limited supply—character arcs, plotlines, action. Therefore, every sentence should prove to be effective.

Most importantly, the finale has to be some sort of big bang; you have to try your best to give your short story a killer ending. But, I also have to tell you that you don’t have to force lest you should ruin the short story.

Always craft a natural end; neither too realistic nor overly fantastical.  

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Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories. She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.