The Ditchwalk Book Club is reading and discussing Rust Hills’ seminal work, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. Announcement here. Overview here. Tag here.
If, as Hills stated in the previous section, the middle of a story ends with movement of the main character, then what defines the ending? And how does a writer know when to bring the ending to a close?
The first question is one of scale, and the answer for any narrative form can be found by focusing on the relationship between preparation and effect. The second question concerns sensibility, because ending a story is as much about being a good host as it is about tying up loose ends.
As should be clear by now, Rust Hills believes the short story is the shortest literary form that supports convincing movement of character. Compared with the epic scope of a novel, a short story is a literary close-up focused tightly on a moment of change. It is this close focus that allows the short story to illuminate subtle or delicate moments of transition that might be overwhelmed by a more complicated tableau.
Here’s Hills on the ending of a novel:
After having spent so long with the characters, the reader of a novel has become so interested in them, almost fond of them as acquaintance, that he is not adverse to a long “afterward” or “conclusion” that tells how they married, settled down at Milltown Manor and raised children and grew old together.
And here’s Hills on the ending of a short story:
The short story need only tell us what happened in the story itself, need only make clear the slight movement that has taken place. A lot of modern short stories don’t seem to have much of an end at all, really, not in terms of old-fashioned plotting….
In order to fully realize subtleties in such a limited form, the short story truncates both the beginning and end, concentrating on those elements that are critical to providing convincing movement of character. By doing so the short story not only limits possibilities, it also omits considerable authorial obligation. If you establish almost nothing at the beginning of your story, how much can there be to resolve at the end? [ Read more ]