Today I read Nelly Reifler’s excellent essay on ending stories, a theory I’ve had the pleasure of hearing her advance in person and heartily agree with:
To my mind, a story’s ending ought to acknowledge the ever-moving quality of life; that is, I want it to engage change rather than finality. Your final word and the void following it on the page are as close as you’ll get to conclusion. The best endings to stories have a sense of hovering in space and time; even a dark ending can be uplifting, exhilarating, as long as it seems to hover in space and time — because then it reflects life to us as it is: unresolved, eternally unresolvable.
Here’s another way I like to look at endings. Inhale. Your lungs inflate, your chest rises, you feel the pressure pushing outward inside your chest. If you hold your breath at the end of an inhalation, your body tenses with the pressure, your throat locks. Now exhale. Your chest deflates; your shoulders slump slightly, your belly is soft. The best stories end on an inhalation, or at that moment after you’ve inhaled but before you exhale. It’s a kind of hovering, too. Often, when you think you’ve reached the end of a story you’re writing, the truth is you actually ended it a page or pages before, or sometimes you need to continue writing a few paragraphs farther.
— Nelly Reifler, “Endings That Hover“