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  • In reply to Jaga's prompt on the art of storytelling, here are two stories passed along to me by wonderful writers. Ryan Harty was one of my mentors in college, and Jon Fink has been a friend and colleague over many summers at Phillips Academy. Fink is a poet, and edits a terrific literary journal called The Panhandler; the latest edition is available here for free.

    Harty: The most important thing is not to employ a trick ending. You've got your reader invested in a narrative of some kind; to me, a trick ending is like stealing that from them. Trying to make them feel bad for trusting you with the story. I know you all probably love The Usual Suspects, but I don't, and you better not turn in anything like it. The worst trick ending I ever got went like's a nice story about a couple having a fight, told in the third person. There's a husband and wife. They love each other, but they've grown apart. The old passion isn't there. They've begun to bicker, and it all boils over on the night when the story takes place, the night of a huge, climactic fight. I thought it was fine; actually, it was quite good.

    It ended with, "But hey, what do I know? I'm only a houseplant!"


    Fink: I tell students to be as subtle as possible when deploying imagery. Otherwise it can really undermine the story. I had a student write about a character who, at the end of the story, commits suicide by jumping off a cliff. As he's falling to his death, he looks up: "Up above me, high above in the sky, I saw an eagle. And the eagle symbolized freedom."
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