Your Short Story: Getting There or Getting Where?

Before you start writing your short story, ask yourself, “How does it end?”

Sound strange? Imagine this:  You gather your belongings, lock the house, get in the car, start the engine, and…tap the steering wheel with your thumbs, contemplating the fact that you have no place to go.

Why would you have gotten into the car without a destination in mind? Probably for the same reason that some writers write short stories without identifying an end: they want to enjoy a slow and scenic Sunday drive; to bask in the deliciousness of a therapeutic word-dump; to experiment with characters and allow them to direct the story. Here’s the problem: Readers don’t always appreciate being driven in circles, no matter how grand the scenery.

We’ve all been there: you want to write something great, have chosen a subject and researched it, concocted some interesting characters, can visualize the scene, have an engaging first line, and have no clue about how the story will end — but start to write anyway. This doesn’t usually end well (literally). Your readers will quickly get the sense that they’re being driven by a driver who has no idea where he or she is going. The reader won’t be taken up by the story. Instead, a lack of focus will intrude and the ending will feel disjointed (whether aliens descend upon 18th Century France and vaporize everyone or not).

Your vehicle doesn’t need a digital sign on the roof declaring its destination; however, the driver does need to know where he’s going. When you have the end of your short story in mind, every action, every piece of dialogue, every twist of the plot, and every character trait will work to lead your readers to an ending that fits. Even surprise endings should be accompanied by readers’ fruitful retrospection (things that once didn’t make sense suddenly fall into place).

Before you write the beginning or the middle of your short story, decide on the end. Then drive (write) with that destination in mind. Your passengers (readers) are sure to value both the “getting” and the “there.”

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10 responses to “Your Short Story: Getting There or Getting Where?

  1. this is so true. I always start and have no idea where it ends, then once i determine the ending i have to weed out so much useless middle stuff.

  2. Pingback: Writing: A Character In Search Of A Short Story « Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette

  3. Pingback: The 30 Day Short Story Writing Challenge « VeehCirra

  4. I just started a 30 day short story challenge,I agree with you about having the end in mind, I usually love to with an outline, then feel out the skeleton as I go on…

  5. Right on. I totally agree. An idea for a story bounced around in my head for 2 years. I finally committed to pen and paper. It took me a long time—years! At a few junctures, I couldn’t decided which way to turn. But I finally finished and am now editing the MS into a better story. I learned so much and am still learning. Part of the joy of writing, for me, is the journey and the knowledge accumulated. J.M.

  6. I never know where mine are going, but they always end up with a twist at the end! I think I get the same satisfaction as the reader when I figure it out halfway through. Not everyone can write like this, but for me, it is the only way that works.
    Great post!

    • I admire that, Susie. That’s a great way to ensure that your reader will be surprised — ‘cuz if you were, they’re sure to be. I commend you for that ability. As soon as I have some spare time, I’ll be popping over to your blog to read some of your stuff.

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