Endings are Such Sweet Sorrow

Usually when a story comes to me, I see the beginning and end clearly. It’s the middle part that might give me a tough time.

The stories that give me the most trouble are the ones where I feel I have a great idea but no idea where or how to end it. I can write pages about what the characters are doing and thinking. But then I get to a point where it feels like someone turned out the lights and I’m groping around the room for an exit.

What ends up happening is that I give up and pull the emergency cord: I just stop writing.

This failure has been painfully evident lately as I work on stories for my next collection. I have about 20 stories planned for the book. Seven have already been published. I look at these now as “the easy ones.” As if they weren’t each difficult in their own way.

Three more are done (so I thought) and I’ve been submitting them for the last couple of years. Another seven are in the writing process. And still another three to five stories are on the horizon.

It’s the ones I’ve been submitting and currently writing that have been giving me fits. And while rejection is never fun, two editors recently told me WHY they rejected the stories, and of course, it’s the ending.

We found a lot to like here, but readers were confused by the ending.
– My epitaph

One editor asked me to review and resubmit a story I’ve been writing for a few years. No guarantee that they will publish it even with the revision but what a great opportunity to see the story through someone else’s eyes. The actual final paragraph was a great way to end, they said, it was just too abrupt.

So I spent a week revising and it is so much stronger for it. Even if they don’t publish it, I have confidence it will find a home.

The more recent rejection encapsulated my problem:

“Thank you for the opportunity to read your work. We won’t be accepting The Jumping-Off Point for publication, but invite you to consider sending us other work in the future. We found a lot to like here, but readers were confused by the ending.”

I believe it comes down to basic plot or, really, the lack of a one. The stories that come easily have a moment where something happens. It’s not always big and dramatic, but there is a moment that, when you finish the story, that’s what you remember.

The ones I struggle with have a common problem – nothing happens. It’s so elementary when I acknowledge it but what a relief that someone outside of me (and my husband) pointed it out. 

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