10 Endings to Avoid
by William Miekle
A logical, satisfying
ending is always required in a short story, but how do
you ensure that yours is fresh and new? One of the ways
is to avoid the obvious. Here are some common endings
seen by editors: use them at your peril.
then I woke up.
The 'Dallas' gambit. This approach is nothing more than a
cop-out for people with no imagination. Stories should
reach a logical conclusion that satisfies the reader and
resolves any conflicts. This method does neither.
then I died.
The 'Weird Tales' gambit. This one turned up regularly in
horror tales during the early part of last century, until
it was overplayed by HP Lovecraft, among others. A diary
which ends in a string of nonsense words as a crawling
terror from beyond comes for the author was fine the
first time out, but most editors have seen it too many
found out I'd been dead all along.
The 'Sixth Sense'
gambit. This is an old one, which is why people who were
well read in the genre spotted the twist very early in M
Night Shyamalan's film. An overused variation is to have
someone breaking out of a coffin after a supposedly
premature burial. Don't do it; the editor will see it
coming from a mile away.
they called them Adam and Eve.
The 'Bible' gambit or, as Michael Moorcock puts it,
Shaggy God stories. If you start with a nuclear holocaust
or human colonists on a new planet, make sure you don't
use this ending or the story will be bounced back to you
straight away. The other trap to avoid is having a
computer become a god. That avenue was new in the '40s,
but these days an editor will laugh himself out of his
then I saw the fangs, just before he bit me
The 'singles bar pick-up' gambit. With this worn-out
ending, a person visits a bar and is seduced by a pale,
interesting stranger who turns out to be a vampire, a
ghost, a werewolf or an alien. There are several
variations seen nowadays, such as same-gender meetings
and graphic sex scenes before the revelation, but the
stories are all the same and editors know it.
then I caught up with the '@!* who'd done me wrong and
shot the @'!** out of them.
The 'Death Wish' gambit is the beloved technique of
Michael Winner fanatics and gun-nuts. It makes for a very
dull story unless you can bring style, energy and a
unique vision to it, in which case you'd probably be
better off trying to sell it as a film treatment. There's
a long tradition of revenge movies, but in the written
word they all come across as being very similar. A
variant on this handling is the Charles Atlas gambit,
where the weedy nerd becomes a kung-fu expert to wreak
revenge on his tormentors. Don't be tempted to use this
angle. Editors will know what's coming.
next day I read in the paper that he'd died.
The 'I talked to a ghost' gambit. This practice turned up
frequently in Victorian literature. It's usually no more
than an anecdote turned into a story. Variations include
talking to someone who is later discovered to be the
victim of a plane crash, an automobile wreck or a major
catastrophe. Editors see a slew of these after a natural
disaster, but whatever caused the person's death, the
stories are all the same.
was a man in a mask all along.
The 'Scooby-Doo' gambit. Pretend spooks are a cliché.
The whole story builds up a sense of supernatural menace,
only to reveal a human agency behind it all. It won't
usually get past an editor but if it does, readers will
feel disappointed and let down.
was my evil twin; we were separated at birth.
The 'doppelganger' gambit. Stephen King got away with
this in The Dark Half and Dean Koontz pulled off a
variation by making both twins evil in Shivers, but
unless you have their style and wit, you shouldn't
attempt it. Another variation, beloved of the romantics
among us, is to have the protagonist find out they're
really the son, daughter or sibling of a rich family.
This mode is really just wishful thinking on behalf of
the writer. You shouldn't be sharing your daydreams with
really a dog/cat/demon/alien.
storyteller' gambit is tried and tested. That's the
problem. If you don't leave any clues to the fact, the
reader will feel the ending is a cop-out. If you do leave
clues, the reader and your editor will spot the ending
coming unless you're very good at disguising the fact.
Remember, people have been
writing stories for a very long time. If you've read a
similar ending in a story or seen it in a film, you can
bet the editor will be aware of it, too. There are only
so many original endings to go around; make sure yours is
one of them.
Copyright William Meikle. All Rights Reserved.
William Meikle is a
Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with seven novels
published in the States and three more coming in 2007/8,
all in the independent fantasy and horror press. His
short work and articles have appeared in the UK, Ireland,
USA, Canada, Greece, Saudi Arabia and India. He also has
three shorts produced from his scripts, and several
supernatural scripts currently on option, including four
shorts, and a supernatural thriller feature.