Scott's post Friday and my own revising this weekend had me thinking about story endings again. I was revising, Bread, and I had gotten to the last few pages. The two possible endings I arrived at were both fine in the sense that they were plausible and gave the story closure (and really, how hard is that when you're dealing with a cannibal?). But, neither of the two endings sat quite right with me.
I realized that the reason I didn't like either one of the endings very much was because they represented the two most obvious outcomes to my story. In my case, my main character was committing a crime, and it was either going to go well or it wasn't.
While chatting with Michelle, I was reminded of two Jhumpa Lahiri stories in her most recent collection Unaccustomed Earth: "Hell-Heaven" and "Only Goodness". What I loved about both of these stories was how they were ended. In reading these stories, I will say that I was fairly underwhelmed a good 98% of the way through. They were deftly written, and in general the characters and conflicts were engaging and emotional. But, what bothered me about them was that they felt boring.
Until the last line.
In both cases, Lahiri managed to catch me off guard with the final sentence. They are both unexpected and inevitable, meaning, they led me to a new conclusion I wouldn't have guessed at, even though all the clues were there.
I think a reader wants to be surprised without feeling cheated. An unexpected and inevitable ending accomplishes both of those goals. It gives them a journey that they can relate to, but then something catches them off guard and makes them see things in a new light (something I think all good art should do).
So, in going back to Bread I ran through my entire story and dared to avoid the two endings that came most naturally to me. Using the earlier material, I decided to come up with that I hadn't thought about before. I wanted to surprise myself. I wanted to learn something new.
I'm happy to report that I like my current ending. I like that it makes me revisit the story again and sort of go, "Huh."
What about you? How do you go about approaching your story endings?