The other day I posted a short story here called Airborne. If you haven’t read it then you may want to go back and take a look, it’s only short, and the rest of this won’t really make sense otherwise. Here it is: https://gamboling.co.uk/2011/02/08/airborne/
After reading the article on the site, my friend Fourstar let me know what he thought about it offline. One of the things he said was that he wasn’t sure the story needed the last line:
“Well, um, well… Honestly, I thought I had been dreaming, but…”
It’s an interesting point and something I thought about before I pressed ‘publish’. Without that line, the story has a very formal ending. If you imagine it like an episode of the Twilight Zone, this would be the moment that the opening title sequence kicks in with some music and the cheesy graphics.
The problem, for me, is that removing that line makes the story the main character is telling emphatically true to the reader. Ending it on that line would fit so much into the pattern that it would make the whole situation true. But is it true? Did he really see what he thought he saw? That’s what I was aiming at.
Perhaps shorter isn’t the way to go either? If, after where the story currently ends, there were an extra line, it would probably have involved the air stewardess looking at him unbelievingly. Then she’d probably say something about how she would just have to keep looking and our character would realise that both he and the stewardess are looking at his empty vodka and tonic glass.
Now if I had added that, it would have been more deliberately ambiguous. I tried to have my cake and eat it by stopping half-way between these two normal places to end. I probably overthink these things (this story was first written in October), and in this case it probably means that it satisfies neither set of reader (the ones who want it to be true and the ones who suspect it was a dream).
When writing this kind of short story, you are trying to arm a slingshot. What I always want to do when writing these very short mysterious stories is to set you up so that you can finish the story. Getting the last line correct is key to this. I’m always trying to find a good way to get you to wonder, ‘what happened next?’. I want to store up kinetic energy of plot and character in your head and then with the last line pull the trigger for you to continue the story yourself.
So I’m always wary of ending the story too formally because then you don’t get that effect. I think that if I had stopped a line earlier it would probably have been a better story. I think on balance I probably should have written more and made you deliberately question if he saw the man or was dreaming or drunk. That might have set you all going more. But I don’t know, what do you think?
Please do let me know, remember Fourstar mentioned what he thought and that might make the story better. I’d love to hear your comments, whatever they are.