A logical, satisfying, ending is always required in a short story.
But how do you ensure that yours is a new one?
One of the ways is to avoid the obvious. Here are some of the common
endings seen by editors. Use them at your peril.
"And then I woke up."
The "Dallas" gambit. This 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 does
"And then I died."
The "Weird Tales" gambit. This one used to turn up regularly in the
horror genre in the early part of the last century, until it was
overplayed by, amongst others, H P Lovecraft. Having a diary end 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
"And I 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" in the film very early
on. A well-used 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 a mile off.
"And they called him/her Adam/Eve."
The "Bible" gambit or, as Michael Moorcock christened them "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 at you faster than you can say "Let there be light". The
other thing to avoid is having a computer become God. That was new in
the Forties, but these days an editor will laugh himself out of his
"And then I saw the fangs, just before he bit me."
The "Singles bar pick-up" gambit. Person visits bar. Person is seduced
by pale, interesting stranger, stranger (or person) turns out to be a
vampire/ghost/werewolf/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
"And then I caught up with the b**tards who'd done me wrong and shot
the cr*p out of them."
The "Death Wish" gambit, beloved 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. And then 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 samey. A variant
on this is "The Charles Atlas gambit", where the weedy nerd becomes a
Kung-Fu expert to wreak revenge on his tormentors. Don't be tempted -
editors will know what's coming.
"And the next day I read in the paper that he'd died."
The "I talked to a ghost" gambit This turned up frequently in Victorian
literature. It is usually no more than an anecdote turned into a story.
Variations include the person talked to being a victim of a plane
crash, an auto-wreck or a major catastrophe. Editors see a slew of
these after a natural disaster, but whatever caused the death of the
person, the stories are all the same.
"And it was a man in a mask all along."
The "Scooby-Doo" gambit. Pretend spooks are a cliche. The whole story
builds up a sense of supernatural menace, only to reveal a human agency
behind it all. Your readers, and the editor, will feel disappointed and
"And it was my evil twin, separated at birth."
The "Doppelganger" gambit. Stephen King got away with it in The Dark
Half and Dean Koontz got away with a variation of having both twins
being evil in Shivers, but unless you have their style and wit I
wouldn't attempt it. Another variation, beloved of the romantics among
us, is to have the protagonist find out they are really the
son/daughter/sibling from a rich family. This is really just wishful
thinking on behalf of the writer. You shouldn't be sharing your
daydreams with editors.
"I'm really a dog/cat/demon/alien."
The "Non-human storyteller" gambit is tried and tested. And that's the
problem. If you don't leave any clues to the fact, then the reader will
feel the ending is a cop out. And if you do leave clues, the reader,
and editor, will spot the ending coming unless you are very good at
disguising the fact.
Remember, people have been writing stories for a long time now. If
you've read a similar ending in a story, or seen it in a film,, you can
bet that the editor will have too.
There are only so many original endings to go around. Make sure yours
is one of them.