The Art of Fiction: Every Story Begins With an Ending

alex atkins bookshelf literatureKatherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) was an American journalist and writer, best known for her insightful short stories. She was born as Callie Russel Porter but changed her name to Katherine Anne Porter to honor her grandmother who raised her after her mother passed away. Porter has an interesting literary lineage: she is related to Daniel Boone the American frontiersman, and famous short-story writer O. Henry (the pseudonym of William Sydney Porter). Perhaps there really is a gene for great short-story writing…

Porter published several collections of short stories: Flowering Judas; Pale Horse, Pale Rider; and The Leaning Tower and Other Stories. Her complete collection of short stories published in 1964 won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (1966) and she was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In an interview with Barbara Thompson for the Paris Review in the spring of 1963, Porter discussed the importance of the ending of the story. In fact, she believed that every story begins with an ending and that until the end is known, there is no story. She elaborates: “That is where the artist begins to work: with the consequences of acts, not the acts themselves. Or the events. The event is important only as it affects your life and the lives of those around you. The reverberations, you might say, the overtones: that is where the artist works. In that sense it has sometimes taken me ten years to understand even a little of some important event that had happened to me. Oh, I could have given a perfectly factual account of what had happened, but I didn’t know what it meant until I knew the consequences. If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last lines, my last paragraph, my last page first, and then I go back and work towards it. I know where I’ m going. I know what my goal is. And how I get there is God’s grace.”

Thompson then comments that that is a very classical view of the work of art, ie, that a story must end in resolution. Porter responds: “Any true work of art has got to give you the feeling of reconciliation—what the Greeks would call catharsis, the purification of your mind and imagination—through an ending that is endurable because it is right and true. Oh, not in any pawky individual idea of morality or some parochial idea of right and wrong. Sometimes the end is very tragic, because it needs to be. One of the most perfect and marvelous endings in literature — it raises my hair now — is the little boy at the end of Wuthering Heights, crying that he’s afraid to go across the moor because there’s a man and woman walking there.”

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Read related posts: Best Writing Advice From Famous Writers
The Best Advice for Writers
Best Books for Writers
William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
The Responsibility of the Poet
The Power of Literature
Why Writers Write

For further reading: The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter by Kathering Anne Porter
Katherine Anne Porter Conversations by Katherine Anne Porter
Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley


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