Four Gun Cartridges presented as an ending in still life
Four Gun Cartridges presented as an ending in still life
Pablo Escobar Photo by David Levêque on Unsplash

How to Write the Perfect Ending to Your Story

“We balance probabilities and choose the most likely. It is the scientific use of the imagination.” Sherlock Holmes

A while ago, I pulled out a long short story that I had been working on last year. I remember doing my best to get the characters right, to discover my journey into the story line, and to try my best to end it with a satisfying bit of action that would leave any reader happy and content.

The story was a vehicle for my two developing characters that I would like to use in a novel.

“The Colombian Brothers”, I’ve written about them in a short story that I published a couple of years ago. Their name is only a working title that I use for exploring these two Colombian hit men in various scenarios. So, I write short stories and I put them into danger and conflict, just to try them out.

It’s my way of finding out who they really are. They might be ruthless hit men, working for big money, but they are human beings who need love, warmth, and companionship from other humans. Without it, they are nothing.

The problem was, at 8,500 words, I could not find my story ending. So, I let it sink into the digital-world of my computer and I forgot all about it. This is a good thing.

When I read it for the first time in over eight months, it was like reading someone else’s work. I’d done a lot of writing in the meantime.

I had only meant to read the first couple of lines and see what it was about, but I kept reading, it was engaging.

As I closed in to the end of the story, I remembered that I hadn’t finished writing it. And that made me feel a bit sad, I wanted to know what happened to my two Colombian Gangsters in the story.

Most of my stories tend to be long-short stories, and I don’t really care whether it ends up being 10,000 words or 30,000 words, it just works the way it does, and fits my style and my needs in telling the tale.

Call it a novelette, long-short story, or nearly a novel if you like, it’s a story, that is what’s important.

I was so intrigued by the way I told this story of two sicarios, or hit men, that I had to begin working on it once again. The story itself is fine; it’s the last days of Pablo Escobar’s Cartel, he is cornered, and now hiding out in a villa in the hills. He knows he has to keep moving. He sends two of his eight remaining loyal men into the city of Medellin. They must collect bags of money that have been stashed in the walls of three different homes of unwitting occupants.

If they are successful, he will use the money to bribe his way through the countryside until he finds a resting place.

In reality, Pablo Escobar returned to the city of Medellin and hid out in an apartment so that he could be close to his family. Love overwhelmed his ruthless desires for all that money in the end.

Image for post
Image for post
By Colombian National Police —Photo:Public Domain

I spent about a day trying hard to find an ending. How? By looking at the last paragraphs that I had written, hoping that something would click and I could pick up where I left off with a fresh and enthusiastic writer’s mind.

Any good writer will tell you, that if ‘you feel strongly that there’s something in it’, an inkling of an idea to keep going and finish, then it means that someplace deep down in your mind, the kernel of the story is still waiting to be dragged into the light. It’s worth working on it.

I did immediately make the mistake of spending hours pondering the last lines of my story. Then, I realized that the ending is always found hidden in the beginnings of your story.

When we start to write a story, and present the characters, the problems, the inciting incident, we also show the reader the construction of the world we are creating, the rules by which this world functions. And therefore, we give an idea of how it will all end.

A good book, a Hollywood movie, we read it because we like it, even within the first few chapters we are pretty sure about how things will turn out.

We instinctively know the sound and rhythm of a fairy tale with its winding paths that lead into the dark forest full of creatures, the lovely warmth of the yarn about family life of long ago. The best-seller style of writing that simply tells us what happened, and will probably have a clunkily constructed ending. Yet even the best sellers tell us stories that we like to read.

Readers know the endings, it could be an ending that is exactly like the reader thought it would be, or it could be something similar to what they thought. But, it better end, more or less, in the way the reader expected — anything else is a let down on the author’s behalf.

So, when we are writing our stories, long or short, we are working with a well worn structure. A scaffold that is very complex, but follows principles that help the writer tell the yarn and finish it according to the principles acceptable to readers of that type of story.

An obvious ending can be feigned and countered when a good author places a twist into the story. This will beef up the energy and excitement for the reader and make it all worth the read.

I know that my two Colombian Gangsters can’t die at the end of the story. They are both headed for greater things in the future, and so to allow them to get caught in a gun fight that kills them off, would be stupid and a bad ending.

The story line shows my two Sicarios ducking and diving through the streets of Medellin, trying to get to the houses that contain the bags of money. At this point, we know that the money is a key factor in protecting the Boss, Pablo Escobar. He also has the “Los Pepes” gunning for him, The Cali cartel is forming into a new, improved, all powerful conglomerate as they capitalize on the Escobar’s fall from power.

Pablo Escobar is a sitting duck, and the hunters are loving the chase.

A King falls in battle, and there is always another king or queen in waiting. The take over requires great chess skills, and many pawns will be shifted into powerful positions. If all the pawns are sacrificed, then the queen or king stands vulnerable. The Colombian Brothers are strong pawns that can be enticed into new positions by whoever is really playing them, and therewith cause the King, Escobar, to become more vulnerable. The pawns benefit through mercy from their new rulers.

My story shows the Colombian Brothers working for Escobar, and expressing there loyalty by going to Medellin on a suicide mission that will only benefit Pablo Escobar.

They are in conflict about their loyalty, now. As pawns, they are like workers who really only want their pay at the end of the day. They will need a good paymaster for them to stay in the game.

But because of their loyalty and their love of a good solid suicide mission, they must go through hell while getting at the bags of money in Medellin, then come out of it cut and bruised, with at least a big chunk of the money to present to their Boss.

They will have changed. Their new thoughts will revolve around ideas of “it isn’t worth it anymore”. To risk their own lives to help a dying man run to the hills, a man who would kill them on the spot if he knew their real thoughts, causes the Colombian Brothers to change and seek a new path.

To let them die would create a fantastic story of guns blazing and high adventure. But the actions of risk, danger, and courage shown by the two brothers must lead to an expected outcome of those character traits. It must pay off for them, to show what counts in life.

Nothing in the story I write leads to the two brother’s demise, it leads to a change in fortune and circumstances.

When I began writing the story, I also began writing the ending. This ending is entwined in the threads that develop at the beginning. This is true of most stories that follow basic principles of good story telling.

To simply tack an ending onto your story and think it looks pretty good, isn’t enough to complete even the shortest of short stories.

The scaffold of beginning, middle, end, help to supports the threads of a story that create the texture of the whole fabric. We read the story and enjoy the fabric, it’s patterning, colors, and it’s feel. It either has a well hemmed ending, or it is tasseled and fancy looking.

A story with tassels at the end is one with twists and turns that keep the reader guessing, keeps them on the edge of their seats until the hammer falls and the deed is finally done — that’s hard to write without getting caught in an author’s own sticky cobweb. It can be tiring for a reader to keep reading.

Ending with a bang, is an ending that is obvious. But, it must seem so obvious to the reader, they have to admit that they never saw it coming, even though it was right under their nose throughout the book.

I never start writing a story with the ending in mind — I have a vague idea what it will be. It always seems to become clearer to me as I write my story, the story tells me where I’m going, things become tighter, clearer, and the character’s actions always lead to the most obvious conclusions in each scene.

The ending of our story will always demand that we sum up all the scenes that we have written, all the scene endings tied up into a neat little package of thought that delivers a satisfactory explanation of why and how all of that which we have read, happened.

Here is another short story of mine that you might enjoy

Written by

Berlin Notes — Writing about the Creative Art of Living

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