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When I was in school, my English teacher told me that a short story's beginning should mirror its ending, or at least the conclusion should in some way parallel the starting point of the story; but I was never told why. Is this a well accepted rule of thumb or is this just one type of writing style? If it is generally advisable, then please tell me why.


More information: At the time I automatically rejected it as her style, but now I am older I willing to find out if she had a point. Sadly I cannot just go ask her, thus I came to ask here.

Here is a very short example. It is only to give an example of the concept, please do not critique, I know it is very rough.

'Babies cry' I groaned at my wife 'go back to sleep'.

'But,' she yawned 'I just thought our neighbour was childless'.

I gasped, we dashed out the house to peek over his fence.

'It is only a cat singing a midnight song,' I gritted my teeth 'what waste of an hour'.

But when we returned to our house, guess who needed a lullaby.

  • It's a little hard to judge exactly what your teacher intended without more detail. Did she give any examples? – Standback Sep 14 '14 at 11:32
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    Yes she did give examples, but this was 10 years ago, so I cannot remember them, I will try give a short example. – Strategy Thinker Sep 14 '14 at 14:59
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There are many types of endings. The one your professor is referring to is just one kind. What I really want to know, though, is what he means by should? If should means it should be like that so the story is successful, then no. For a story to be successful it has to grip the reader. So the opening sentence has to be gripping. If by should he means it should be like that so the story becomes a classic, then no again. There are many classics with open endings, or with endings that have nothing to do with the opening. It all depends on the meaning of should. In my opinion, the most important purpose of the opening is to hook the reader. What good is a story if no one wants to read it?

  • She was not saying that if the ending mirrors the beginning, then it will be a good story; but she appears to be saying that if the ending does not mirror the beginning, then it would be harder for a novice writer to write a good short story. – Strategy Thinker Sep 14 '14 at 15:03
  • Oh, I see. Well, maybe she is right. But I still think it's more important to make the opening gripping. Plus, if you write a gripping opening sentence, the rest practically writes itself. But that's just me. It may not work for everyone. Just remember rules in writing are just scaffolds to build upon. No scaffold suits every building. – Alexandro Chen Sep 14 '14 at 15:12
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Yes.. That is one type of writing style. Some stories have the concept at the endings as they have at beginnings as you said. This is because to tell the truth or concept whatever it is strongly to readers.

Assume that you want to say something in a story, which is right. But, the people in the society do wrongly. So, You need to add this concept at a incident in the story wrongly at either the beginning or middle as the people do. Then, at the end of the story You should mention the same concept correctly that the people will change the habit of doing something wrongly.

  • Your answer isn't very useful. Can you explain why this should be done and what techniques can be used to achieve this? – Philipp Sep 14 '14 at 12:19
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It's very hard to guess what precisely your teacher meant, but here's the closest piece of advice that I know: A story's ending should mirror its beginning, because otherwise, you have probably begun or ended you story in the wrong place.

Consider: where is the best place to begin the story? Usually you want to begin it with the introduction of the central conflict. Otherwise you're just marking time until the conflict actually begins.

And where's the best place to end the story? Pretty much as soon as the central conflict is resolved. Readers won't stand for you ending the story before you resolved the primary conflict, and if you continue for long after its resolved, then the main tension is gone and the reader doesn't really understand why the book keeps on going when the story is over.

Add to this that the reader will generally understand the first conflict presented as the story's major one. It would be very confusing to begin a murder mystery with a scene focusing on a romantic relationship, or a romance with a scene focusing on solving a crime - while these would be fine as secondary plots, whatever you introduce first is usually what the reader will understand as being the more important, central conflict.

So we could phrase all this advice as: Clearly set up your primary conflict in your opening, and clearly resolve it in your conclusion. You don't always need to follow this advice to the letter and down to individual line - but particularly if you're talking about short fiction, which needs to be very concise and free of flab, it's a very good guideline. And making the mirroring very explicit is a good tool to make the conflict and its resolution clear and powerful.

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