Today, we are excited to share this excellent essay from Jennifer Dupree on how to approach endings in fiction. Dupree writes, “I once asked a writer friend for feedback on a story which had a surprise ending. ‘I took a left turn,’ I said, meaning I threw in a twist. ‘Left turn?’ she said. ‘You got in a different car!'” “No Left Turns” breaks down ways to avoid those surprise endings.
Let there be loose ends. Don’t make everything too perfect, too wrapped-up. Leave some things undone.
I have trouble with endings.
I once asked a writer friend for feedback on a story which had a surprise ending. “I took a left turn,” I said, meaning I threw in a twist. “Left turn?” she said. “You got in a different car!”
Most writers have heard that endings are supposed to surprise the reader and at the same time feel inevitable. But, how does that translate to the page? If the ending comes as too much of a surprise, it feels abrupt and out of context and the reader ends up feeling tricked or betrayed. If the ending takes the inevitable route, it feels like a letdown, like the ending wasn’t earned. How, then, do writers find that sweet middle ground?
Recently, I saw Lauren Groff, author of the novels Monsters of Templeton, Acadia, and Fates and Furies and the short story collections Delicate Edible Birds and Florida at a local bookstore. When she opened the room to questions, I asked Groff how she approaches her endings. She offered three metaphors which I’ll explore here.