When we speak of short story resolution, we are simply talking about the ending of a short story—that proverbial time when everyone ‘switches off the light and goes to sleep’.
Reading this article first will assist you to get an understanding of the basic structure of a short story:
The resolution marks the final part in the plot. But a short story is not so simple a work of art, and it does not follow one determined structure.
Like I said in an earlier article, every short story has a purpose to it—the reason why it is written. The writer almost always wants to produce a single concentrated emotional response in the reader. These responses may range from a sigh of contentment, a frown, surprise, shock, horror, sadness and even sheer, overriding happiness.
In short, the purpose of the short story will determine its resolution. It follows therefore that the ending may be ambiguous and inconclusive—as is the case with many modern short stories, paradoxical, ironical, or it may be straightforward and unambiguous.
Even though this is the case, every resolution involves a demise of conflict, or an apparent movement in that direction. Even if the story seemingly ends at the height of action, therein is a subtle but discernible end to the conflict introduced at the onset. Truly, an ending without a resolution of conflict is not an ending at all.
To illustrate what I mean, let us look at several endings.
We will start with the French Author Guy de Maupassant, who is well known for surprise endings. I have read one of his stories before—“The Necklace.
In this story, a woman by the name of Madame Loisel and her husband, are invited to a reception. However, she does not want to be noticed as being poor. So in an apparently clever move, she borrows an ‘expensive’ ‘diamond’ necklace from her rich friend. However, as she leaves the reception, she loses the necklace. Distraught, she and her husband borrow heftily to get enough money to replace her friend’s necklace. And for the rest of their lives, they work like donkeys to pay back their debt. However, after about ten years, Madame Loisel meets her friend again. Her conscience free, she decides to reveal to her friend the troubles they had gone through to buy back the necklace. However, the way her friend responds makes for a very surprising ending:
Madame Forestier looked very upset and, taking both her hands in hers, said:
'Oh, my poor Mathilde! But it was only an imitation necklace. It couldn't have been worth much more than five hundred francs!…' --The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant.
Shocking, huh? Do you see, in this short story resolution, a resolve of conflict?
Maybe it’s a bit hard to see. But we do see that Madame Loisel, or Mathilde, had an inordinate amount of pride that landed her in unnecessary and sheer hardship. Otherwise, admitting her error would have saved her outright. Do you also see, in this very short story resolution, a subtle moral?
To read the Necklace, follow this link…
Girl Power by LJ Kundananji is another story with a surprise ending. It is a pretty short story and I would recommend that you read it first. Click on the link below to read it. After you are done, you will find me right here.
Did you enjoy the story? How did you enjoy the resolution?
The main character, Bessie, is a very pretty but arrogant girl. She loves making jests about others.
In this story, she and her friends are talking deridingly about a certain Big John Sleepy Head. He, they ascertain, can only go out with Mary, who is equally as ridiculous as he is.
Bessie, on the other hand, boasts of attracting the most handsome boy on campus. The surprising and paradoxical ending, however, reveals that there is something that she has overlooked:
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. They all froze. “That must be him,” Bessie said with large round eyes. She stood up quickly and smoothed out her clothing. “Come in!” she said as sweetly as she could. The door flew wide open and in walked Big John Sleepy-head. The girls stared at him in horror and sheer disbelief. “Hi girls!” he greeted merrily, “Is this where I can find Bessie?” -- Girl Power, by LJ Kundananji
Do you get the essence of this short story resolution?
I am sure it struck you as you read. Here is one very pretty girl forgetting that she will attract not only the handsome ones, but also the undesirable ones!
What a dramatic show indeed.
As you have noticed, short story resolution that is surprising is often inconclusive as to end of conflict. But the writer does provide enough information for the reader to discern the moral, to react in the manner that he desires, or to reach a conclusion herself. In any case, there is always that element of realization—that outcome that dramatically alters the perspective of the characters, and that of the reader too.
So what do you need to create short story resolution that is surprising?
Well, if you paid attention to these two stories referred to above as you read along, you were lead to anticipate that things will move in a certain direction. But just at the moment when you think what you’ve been thinking will happen, BOOOOM!!! things go in the opposite direction.
Talk about element of surprise!
And that is what surprise is all about—the happening of the unexpected. It follows therefore that to create a surprise ending, make the reader think that things will go in a certain direction. Don’t dish it out until the very end, when the reader is least expecting it.
However, creating a surprising ending starts with as early a thing as the title. The title you choose will determine how effective your surprise ending will be, or if it will be surprising at all. The title, though succinct, actually tells a lot about the story.
For example, the story Forgotten, by LJ Kundananji immediately informs the reader that something, or someone will be forgotten. Thus, when the main character is forgotten by a close friend, it comes as no surprise at all. However, the fact that he can be forgotten by so close a friend still makes for a surprise ending. And the reader is left to conclude for herself what led to this peculiar outcome.
So for that surprising effect, the title should not give away too much information.
To read Forgotten, click the link below:
Creating a surprising short story resolution is more like making the reader blind to a certain aspect. Yes, it is like blindfolding someone as you lead them along, and then removing the blindfold when you reach the destination. And since they weren’t expecting what they are now seeing, the scream out:
Another trick of creating surprising short story resolution is to heap terrible misfortune on the good character. Since most people are used to the proverbial ending where the ‘good guys’ triumph, and the ‘bad guys’ go down, they’ll be surprised when the latter take the day.
It is not a good idea, though, to imply the ending as you develop the narrative. For example, in Bill Happy, LJ Kundananji, implies not once, but many times, the sad outcome that eventually befalls the mighty little prank star. In more than one place, he quotes the main characters as saying:
“Bill Happy is a naughty little boy: if he does not change, his pranks will make him very unhappy one day.”
When eventually something bad happens to Bill Happy, the reader has actually been expecting it, and so she simply says:
“The little rascal deserved it!”
However, the nature of the misfortune still produces surprise, because apparently, the good parents are the ones who get directly harmed, and not the rascal.
Most of LJ’s stories employ surprise endings and paradoxical endings. You can read most of these stories for free on this very website.
Some short story resolution, though, is straight-forward, conclusive, with a clear and anticipated end to the conflict.
The story Emily’s Hidden Terror is an example of short story resolution that is straight forward and conclusive. The bad boy, David, gets what he deserves and Emily is vindicated. It has the ‘happily ever after pattern’, where the bad guy gets what is coming.
To read the story of Emily, follow the link below:
What can I say in conclusion about short story conflict?
This: often, there is a no clear distinguishing line between the climax of the conflict and the resolution. Sometimes, the resolution and climax seem to be blended together, with the ending seemingly coming just after the climax, or at the climax of the action.
But that’s what makes a short story a short story. The plot is swift, and the story has to come to an end in a short period of time. Within this short period of time, the writer has to create tension, develop the climax and find a resolution. The ability of a writer to do this in a few thousand words makes him a truly gifted writer.
The secret to writing effective short story resolution, I reckon, is to read a lot of short stories, and study how these skilled writers manage to do it. The short stories of PG Wodehouse can give you a very good understanding of the craft of writing short stories, a craft which is no less than an art.
You can find PG Wodehouse’s short stories at:
In the end, however, it all depends on you. Are you up for the challenge? If you are, you are on your way to developing good short story resolution!
© 2012 Kundananji Creations