Toward the End: Closure and Structure in the American Short Story

Toward the End: Closure and Structure in the American Short Story

Toward the End: Closure and Structure in the American Short Story

Toward the End: Closure and Structure in the American Short Story

Excerpt

When I first began to write short stories, I was rarely comfortable with endings. After submitting these stories to quarterlies and journals, I was even less confident; following an editor's occasional generous comment came the inevitable "was among the final twenty we considered--the ending was just a little flat for my taste," or "really had me charmed--until the conclusion, which I felt failed to fulfill the promise of the rest of the story." Clearly I needed to learn the magical technique of ending before I could thoroughly charm an editor.

I looked more carefully at the endings of well-known stories and began reading about endings. Few writers of "how-to" books commented on the problem, except for critics after the turn of the century who were willing to comment on anything, and even they were unsettled by the prospect of conclusion. J. Berg Esenwein, billed as "Sometime Editor of Lippincott's Magazine," in a book that ran through eight editions from 1908 to 1928, commented: "No one can give helpful counsel here. Use your own judgment. When you are through, stop; but do your best to conclude with words of distinction." Others, too, had noted the problem; the Russian formalist, Boris M. Eichenbaum, writing about O. Henry, argued for the importance of the ending to a short story: "By its very essence, the story, just as the anecdote, amasses its . . .

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