June 1, 2017

There are endless ways to end stories, but few hard and fast rules. Yet every writer knows that the story must reach a satisfying conclusion.

Here are a handful of strategies on which you can rely.

  • Closing the circle: The ending reminds readers of the beginning by returning to an important place or reintroducing a key character.
  • The tie-back: The ending connects to some odd or offbeat element earlier in the story.
  • The time frame: Create a tick-tock structure with time advancing relentlessly. To end the story, you decide what should happen last.
  • The space frame: Rather than time, focus on place or geography. The hurricane reporter moves readers from location to location, revealing the terrible damage from the storm. To end, you select the final destination.
  • The payoff: This does not require a “happy ending,” but a satisfying one, a reward for a journey concluded, a secret revealed, a mystery solved.
  • The epilogue: The story ends, but life goes on. How many times have you wondered, after the house lights come back on, what happened next to the characters in a movie? Readers care about characters in stories. An epilogue helps satisfy their curiosity.
  • Problem and solution: This common structure suggests its own ending. Frame the problem at the top and then offer readers possible solutions and resolutions.
  • The apt quote: Often overused, this technique remains a sturdy tool for ending stories. Some characters just speak in endings, capturing in their own words a neat summary or distillation of what has come before. In most cases, you can write it better than the source can say it. But not always.
  • Look to the future: Most stories are about things that have already happened. But what do people say will happen next? What is the likely consequence of this decision or those events?

Taken from The Writer’s Workbench: 50 Tools You Can Use, a self-directed course by Roy Peter Clark at Poynter NewsU.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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