“The Lady or the Tiger,” a 19th century short story by Frank Stockton, tells of a commoner who falls in love with a princess in a semi-barbaric kingdom somewhere in the East. When the lovers are caught, the commoner is subjected to a trial by ordeal in which he is led into an arena and forced to choose one of two doors. Behind one door is a beautiful woman whom the commoner must marry. Behind the other is a hungry tiger. The commoner’s choice will determine his innocence or guilt.
But the princess has learned which door holds what. She’s also learned that the beautiful woman is a hated rival. So when the commoner is escorted into the arena, she nods to the door to the right. The question is, does the princess want her lover to live, or would she rather see him killed in front of her than married to her rival? The commoner opens the door . . .
And that’s where the story stops.
I’ve written a lot about how important it is for your writing to feel like real life. If it feels at all contrived, your readers will lose their suspension of disbelief. This is most critical with your ending. Readers expect you to start out your story by presenting some sort of problem that needs to be resolved. Then, as you develop that problem and the characters it’s happening to, it’s not too hard to make events seem as haphazard and ad hoc as real life. But your ending is where you pull all your plot threads together, often with some unexpected twist you may have set up chapters earlier. All the contrivance in your story gets distilled into your ending. [Read more…]