Fight To The End | StoryADay 2024 Day 10

No more unsatisfying endings!

The Prompt

Write a story about a character who is engaged in a contest that matters very much to them. You may or may not reveal the result, at the end. Your choice.

Things To Consider

A lot of writers struggle with ending a short story.

This comes down to one of a few problems

  1. They don’t know when the story is ‘over’
  2. They are afraid of tying things up too neatly in a bow and seeming cheesy

The solution to problem #1 is to figure out what the central point of your story really is.

It’s easy to keep writing, introducing new characters and new situations, but at some point you have to start making decision and shutting down your characters’ options, driving them down a funnel towards the ending. (I know, I know, making decisions is hard. But that’s what we’re doing, as writers: making a series of decisions for all of our characters. No wonder this is exhausting work!!)

When you know the point of your story, you can decide how to end it.

For example,

Winning And Winning Some More: in many movies about sports teams, especially underdogs, the team is engaged in a final contest. For a moment it seems like all is lost, until they rally and then, at the final buzzer, someone throws/hits/kicks/lobs a ball that lands exactly where it needs to, to put them over the top for a win.

This is a neat, happy, and rather cliched ending, but you can pull it off if the reader is invested in the characters and their success.

Similarly, romance stories end with the main couple getting together, but the inevitability of this ‘neat’ ending, doesn’t spoil the ride because we are rooting for each character to get out of their own way and let themselves accept love.

Failing (but also winning): SPOILER ALERT, the end of the Star Wars universe movie Rogue One is far from a traditionally happy ending, but it was a deeply satisfying ending. The characters we cared about made a huge sacrifice for the greater good, and along the way resolved a bunch of their personal demons.

If this movie had ended with everyone escaping to live happy, uncomplicated lives, I would have thrown my popcorn at the screen.

The Unresolved Ending: More SPOILER ALERT: in the finale of the long-running series Angel, the main characters have overcome a lot of squabbling to come back together as a team. They face the final conflict against terrible odds: cornered at the end of an alley facing down a bunch of demons. They’ve got out of this kind of situation before, but this one seems particularly dire.

Because this was the last time we were ever going to hang out with these characters the stakes were particularly high. Instead of creating a neat ending that would satisfy some viewers and enrage others, the writers had the characters rally as a team one last time, grin at each other and charge into the fight…at which point the end credits rolled. It was satisfying because the larger story of the series been wrapped up, but the final outcome was left to our imaginations.

Further Reading:

Three Ways to End a Story

The StoryADay Podcast episode 145: Ending Strong

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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15 thoughts on “Fight To The End | StoryADay 2024 Day 10”

  1. One of my novel characters is a hockey player, so it would have been easy enough to reach for him and write about a tight overtime period in a playoff game or something. Too easy. I went to my sparks list to see if I could come up with something better. And my eyes caught on, “I love that movie!” I’d written it down thinking of a Deep Blue Something’s song What About Breakfast at Tiffany’s? kind of thing. You know, partners struggling to find something in common with each other. But I wasn’t fully awake and my brain was a bit literal. So, I started thinking of movies with competitions. And there it was: Better Off Dead. (John Cusack as an adorably hopeless teenager who has to win back his girlfriend in a ski race, only to realize she’s awful and he’d rather get with the French girl who knows how to fix cars and throws a mean fastball.)

    I had to tweak the reasons for this ski race. Ella, the ski instructor from yesterday, wouldn’t win the ability to date her love interest by beating anyone. She’s just as hopeless as Lane, but Love Interest isn’t nearly as shallow as Beth. And Love Interest is more likely to be the person she had to beat anyway… Eventually, I went with she’s simply trying out for the school’s ski team in the belief this will lead to more time spent with Love Interest. She gets a time that secured her a spot, but she hated the experience. Then she actually talks to Love Interest about it and learns Love Interest isn’t planning to be on the team this year. She’s going to teach skiing. And now I know how Ella got into THAT. 🙂

  2. Today’s prompt began where yesterday’s left off. My female character is the main character. Getting through the rest of the escape rooms mean a lot to her but the male character keeps holding her back because he’s jealous of her. I haven’t finished it. I will pick it back up after dinner.

  3. I used a chess game as a teenage girl’s (the narrator’s) first open act of defiance against her mother. The mother had just used chess to humiliate the girl’s younger brother, which moved the girl to challenge her mother. All the time I was writing I thought the girl was the MC, but it turns out that the girl’s older brother, who had watched both games closely, may be the focus of the story.

    Something that surprised and kind of delighted me: although I was lucky enough to grow up in a very loving and supportive family, I was able to use incidents from my childhood to paint a picture of a family that was the opposite. You never know when material may become useful, or in what way.

  4. I have finally come up with something that should read like a story. Problem is – somewhere along the line, I lost track and seemed to have left a gaping hole between the first part and the concluding paragraphs of my story. If anyone is kind enough to tell me how I could make a better version, or what really is lacking in the story – I shall be eternally grateful.
    Here is the story :
    The Last Lap:

    “Bandra-Howrah Local has been cancelled. We regret for any inconvenience caused…” There was an announcement through the PAS.

    “Why don’t you come to the Reception tomorrow?” My spouse asked me for the umpteenth time.

    “You know, I am the shy type.” I tried kidding her.

    “Now you know me,” her friend Shrabanti cut in,” you won’t be in the company of strangers anymore.” She added.

    “You’ll like my friends,” Meera hadn’t given up yet. “ Look at Shrabanti. Most of them are like her. No one can dislike my friends.”

    “Even if they do, they won’t do it in front of you…”
    And we all joined in the laughter, I could see a sea of people all around.

    We were waiting at the Howrah Station to see Meera off for boarding Midnapore Local, scheduled to depart from the station at 8.15 AM. She was on her way to attend the wedding of the only son of her best friend, Mili. Another bestie, Shrabanti, was also accompanying her.

    After some time, the display board showed Midnapore Local arriving at Platform Number 15 shortly. I took the heavy bag from Shrabanti’s hand forcefully and put my left hand through the handles to let it hang from my shoulder. ( I was already carrying the huge Micro Oven, Meera had bought as a gift in my right hand.)

    We got there barely in time as the train whizzed in. Luckily, it was not as crowded as most of the local trains to and from Howrah normally are. Meera and her friend sat down near the window opposite one another while I kept myself busy arranging their luggage on the bunker above the window.

    A phone beeped. Shrabanti addressed it.
    “Dada (elder brother) is here. He isn’t like you. He helped me keep my things on the bunker. What? No I can’t thank him on your behalf. Why don’t you do it yourself? Why don’t you invite him to our house?”

    Soon the Guard was blowing his whistle. I wished them a Safe Journey and got off the train. As the train started trooping out, I stopped waving and turned back.

    I had crossed the first quarter of my the lap since the banter was handed to me. There were three more to go…..

    On my return home, my daughter, Debosmi told me that she couldn’t find her Aadhar Card anywhere. She wondered if she had left it in my ancestral home at Deb Lane.

    “Why don’t we go and look for it at Deb Lane then? Let’s go right now. We can come back to Dum Dum by the afternoon before lunch.” I suggested.

    So, the next quarter of the lap consisted of our heading to our ancestral home to help my daughter find her footing in the world.

    Our ancestral home had been under lock and key since I bought the new flat at Dumdum. On reaching there, I unlocked our room, got in and tried to make Debosmi, my daughter, rewind a bit. Her studies, tuitions, exams were taking a toll on her.

    The room looked quite messy. I addressed to the task of cleaning the room while Debosmi asked me if there was anything she could do to help. She then took out the file containing her important documents.

    “Baba, the card is not here.” She informed me worriedly.

    “Did you look on the shelf? You might have left it somewhere up there.” I replied.

    She started putting the papers back in the file while I went out to gauge up the damage a fallen tree had caused to the garden wall. The tree had been uprooted from one of the front walls by the thunderstorm on the previous night. So, our neighbours informed us.

    “I’ve got it, Baba, got it! How very careless of me to have left it inbetween the pages of this book.” She seemed over the moon as she upheld the book.

    The second quarter of the race over, I heaved a sigh as there was still the other half to cover……

    We got back to our flat. I thought of resting and reading the book I brought back with me. It was a book called “Tuesdays With Morrie” by Mitch Albom.

    The afternoon had turned gloomy. I looked out the windows and was surprised to find them half-shut. Must be the handiwork of the person who stayed in one of the apartments above. All outside repeated requests had failed to make him keep his bike a little further away from my windows. He was least bothered and not only had he started leaving his bike against our wall but he also didn’t mind closing OUR WINDOWS from outside so that it would be easier for him to park his bike as and where he pleased.

    We, my wife and I told him about the problem we had been facing due to his bike. One of our glasses had been cracked. Without any concrete evidence, we couldn’t blame anybody!

    “Do whatever you can. I won’t leave my bike anywhere else.” He told me while parking as usual nonchalantly.

    I was livid. My entire being was consumed with an immeasurable fury. Luckily for me,( I was no match for him. He was a giant of a man and could have easily turned me into pulp.) it was time for me to go pick my son, Dip up from his school.

    I kept silent on our way back to the flat while we were sitting side by side in the rickshaw. The afternoon incident had left me bitter and vengeful.

    “Baba, this is where we’re going on the study tour. The gate to the temple was opened only yesterday. It’ll be accessible for the next six months…” He blabbered on, pointing to a picture on his mobile.
    It was the picture of the Badrinath Temple, he told me. Badrinath is another name for Lord Krishna, the Hindu god.

    I casually looked at the red cone-shaped temple in the backdrop of the snow-covered mountains and for the first time since the day broke out, my heart was filled with absolute peace.

    Though it didn’t last long, I clung on in the belief that I had covered three-fourths of the race. Just the last 100 meters or so were left before I touched the finishing line.

    I could hear spectators shouting my name, asking me to catch up with the only competitor in front. I had been reserving my energy for this last stretch of the race. I knew it was time to accelerate and put my all into the contest. They were vociforously chanting my name, egging me on : Come on, you can do it. You can beat him hands down….”

    Upfront, I could see the officials holding the tape. I’d narrowed the distance between the one in front and myself drastically by then. I could see him tiring, his legs wobbly. That was my last chance. As I started running neck and neck before overtaking him, there were scenes of absolute mayhem in the stadium. People, standing up, were clamouring hoarse, jumping, going crazy!

    We crossed the line almost at the same instant. Unsure, who had actually won the race, I sped on for a few more yards before sqatting down on the laine. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t keep myself from falling flat on my back. Looking up at the overhead clear blue sky, I could feel my lungs bursting for lack of air.

    Eyes closed, I could sense, through my mind’s eye, my co-runners running up towards me with the national flag, and the tears coursing down.

    “He was a warhorse.” Someone sobbed. “So, his end was as graceful as it could be…”

    The end

    1. Ruthin,

      For me, I unfortunately could. Or follow the story, first appeared there was some discussion about going to a reception, then someone’s brother, then a daughter turned up, a locked house, a book, then a neighbour with a bike, then a study tour and suddenly the character was running in a race.

      I, even glanced back at the prompt. What was the central point you had in mind for the story? Getting clear on that may help you with the connections and flow?


      1. Dear Andrew,
        Thanks for the feedback. We were supposed to write about a contest without any direct mention of the end result.
        I liked the idea and decided to write about Life itself. Like life is a race and we all are the participants. I was writing from the perspective of one of them. In his case though, it all ended in thriumph and final glory.
        But you are right. I couldn’t make it quite clear. I guess, I still have a lot to work on the story.
        Keep writing and inspiring, my friend. Stay happy.

    2. I had to read this twice to realize what was going on. Once I recognized the race as an allegory for life, it made more sense and struck me as rather clever. And I think I like that the clips from the quarter marks aren’t big events. For example, it would have been easy to have his wedding rather than a casual conversation with his wife marking the first segment, but it would also have been more trite. I like the idea that the important points of life are actually everyday things. Joking with your spouse. Helping your child. Dealing with your neighbors.

      I’m not sure what to recommend to make it go more smoothly. Tightening the events in the mini-stories might help. And could it help the allegory click if the people shouting at the end say things a person would hear on their death bed? The disconnect of him sprinting as his wife calls, “Please don’t go!” or someone keeps yelling for a doctor would make the reader question what was happening rather than assuming we’d somehow gotten to a literal foot race.

  5. You wrote this prompt just for me, right, Julie? 😁 Anyone who knows me will not be surprised that I used my baseball players(particularly Rhys) for this one. Even though it ended up being more about Rhys finding faith in himself again(and his teammates) than the actual win. And it’s also my new longest one(at 1191 words). I really do love spending time with these characters.

  6. My story ends by the MC losing the game but then realizing she’s won in the long run because of not only what she’s learned, but understanding the reason she lost is because her mind doesn’t work in the evil way the person who beat her at the game works. The way the antagonist won the game finally gives the MC the excuse she needed to break free from her. Blood is not thicker than water.
    I love thinking of the ending as a game.

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