14 May 2009


I'm trying to get through my subs as quickly as possible. If there's been a delay, it's probably my fault, as my partners read their stories quicker than I do.

If there's no show-stopper on the front page -- major word misuse or grammar issues and I'm still interested -- I'll read on another page or so. Often this happens without my even realizing it. The voice or the world or the character just carries me along...until I've read a few more pages, and, like as not, I realize I have no idea what this story is about. Got a character. Got a cool setting. Got no idea what the story problem is.

Or, and this is worse, I've already figured out the story problem (sometimes without the character acknowledging there's a problem) and how it's going to climax.

If this is the case, I'll check the last page or so to find out what happens. Mostly it climaxes how I think it will. Sometimes though, and again, this is worser, the last page is a sort of epilogue rather than quick resolution. I have to scroll up to see if there even is a climax. It always makes me grimace. There's not really much room for epilogues in short stories. If I'm reading a story and already thinking of cutting entire scenes, it doesn't bode well.

And here's why. We're an online magazine. A distraction from your story is a click away. Someone emails and your reader flits away, maybe never to return. Unfortunately, the writer who includes a lengthy epilogue in a short story often is the writer who hasn't learned what's important (and what's not!) to the body of the story.

Every scene must compel the reader and reinforce the main problem.

I'm reminded of a recent episode of the Tudors. There's a little boy who is in line for the throne and has the unfortunate bloodline also relating him to an errant bishop whom the king wants to punish. Two birds, you know. The king throws him in the Tower.

Lots of things happen in the episode that have nothing to do with the little boy, but we get periodic reminders (the king's son appears; the boy's father loses his head; a discussion between the king and his friend, both of whom have lost infant sons), so in the back of your mind, though you're hip to see who Lord Such-and-Such is going to sleep with next, you're wondering, pleading, you're mad to know...What about the little boy? Could the king be that cruel?

You don't find out until the last scene.

Suffice it to say, there was no epilogue in that episode.


writtenwyrdd said...

Good point. I shall try never to be in that category or epilogue writers (epilologists?) in a short story.

Lots of novels have them, though, in particular ones that are in a series. I always figured that was so any reader worries about really glaringly dangling plot thread would be smoothed over by the promise of more to come in volume next.

Betsy said...

I think they're appropriate for a lot of novels. And I don't mean you need to end the story on the very sentence which contains the climax. I just mean short stories rarely need more than a graph or two of denouement.

lesleylsmith said...

It might be a good rule of thumb: don't do epilogues in short stories. :)

Anonymous said...

hard for me to make a call without reading the story - personal taste plays a large role in this biz. Was it a real epilogue or was it simply desnouesment?

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I had a couple with what I'd call an epilogue--a lapse in time after the resolution following a climax. Editorially, I would have cut them.