Where does your story end?

In another life (an elementary school teacher for 35 years) I was frequently asked by my seven and eight year old students, “How much do I have to write?”

Good question.

In many cases I did not restrict the length of their writing and some were happy with this. Others, however, needed the security or reassurance of a set amount of lines or pages, that is, the length their piece of writing needed to be. They needed a goal to work towards. Fair enough – I have heard adults ask very similar questions (eg “When will this meeting be finished?”).

Stop when your story is finished

I remember that quite often my reply was, hopefully not sounding too flippant in doing so, “When your story is finished you can stop.” I must admit that it was tempting to leave the poor little things hanging right there. Usually I would follow up with some individual or small group help. I’d ask questions like:

  • What has happened so far?
  • What happens next?
  • Is there something you haven’t told the readers yet?
  • How are you going to resolve the problem facing the characters?

In many cases these simple questions – or others like them – can generate a new wave of thought and ideas for where the writing was heading. Of course there will always be the one or two individuals whose creativity will need a little more coaxing and coaching. These writers need more than a life line or life jacket; they need someone to haul them into the life boat and actually start rowing for them until their confidence grows.

Where does your story end?

During the week I recorded an episode of the old television series “The Avengers”. I eagerly looked forward to watching the episode a few days later when I had some time. Imagine my dismay when the recording ended some five minutes before the end of the episode. (I hadn’t considered the possibility that the programme would be running overtime. It’s a new DVD recorder and I’m still learning the tricks of successful recording.)

Did Emma Peel escape from the killers? Will Steed come to her rescue in time? I guess I’ll never know the ending. Not knowing the ending annoys me – but I’ll live.

Some short story writers love the technique of leaving the readers dangling at the end. “What happened next?” is what I would like to know. “How did it end?” and “Did they resolve the problem?” are questions left floating in the air. That’s just me – but I do like a satisfactory ending, happy or otherwise.

Where does your story end?

Good writing.


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