This is a part of a seven part Q&A with Eric Witchey, interviewed by M.K. Martin. To see the introduction to this craft talk series click here. To read Part 4 click here.


M.K. Martin: Often stories, especially short stories, are rejected because they fall apart at the climax or shortly thereafter (For more on this, check out “Top Three Short Story Mistakes” by Kristin J. Ammerman). What are the essential elements of endings that your seminar will cover?
Eric Witchey: Generally, climax and ending fall apart because character heart and soul are not connected to thematic understanding. The character may change, but the change means nothing to the reader. Consequently, the reader feels that the story is incomplete or insignificant.

Eric Witchey speaking at Old Church in Portland, 2015

Other times, the climax or ending fall apart because they depend on arbitrary actions rather than actions that are organic to the character’s social, psychological, and physical worlds. Sometimes, the failure is something simple like the early groundwork not being put in place so the ending and the beginning are fully connected and the reader is aware of how on at least a subliminal, emotional level. Sometimes, climaxes are only climaxes for an event or sequence of events that began too late in the book, but the climactic event isn’t rooted in the hearts and souls of the characters. Sometimes, endings aren’t really endings at all and leave too many possible interpretations of what the story might have meant. Sometimes, the writer never knew what the story was about and just hoped they would sell the story based on the quality of their prose. Sometimes, they even get away with it.
In the end, a climax or ending failure is specific to the story. In my seminars, I don’t look at point fixes. I demonstrate principled techniques. That is, I demonstrate the dramatic and poetic patterns that readers need to internalize stories. I provide technique demonstration that shows how the patterns inform one another. If a writer has fully developed their characters and understood what the purpose of the story is, they can either build or revise to good effect by manipulating the textual patterns the reader uses to internalize emotional content. I find it very rare that stories built from such underlying principles fail in climax or ending.
For an example of what I mean by patterns and their effects on one another, go back up to the C1, C2 example and take a look at how the setting paragraph influences the reader’s interpretation of tone and intent in the dialog.

About Eric Witchey: Eric Witchey is known for teaching clear, useful skills that allow students to create salable fiction. His classes draw from his experience teaching at two universities, a community college, countless conferences, and in many corporate and private settings. He has sold work in ten genres with over 140 short stories and six novels in national and international markets. His work has been honored by Writers of the Future, New Century Writers, Writers Digest, Short Story America, the Eric Hoffer Award Program, the Irish Aeon Awards, among others.
His articles have appeared in The Writer’s Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and other online and print magazines. Visit Eric Witchey online at

About M.K. Martin: M. K. Martin is a motorcycle-riding, linguistics nerd. A former Army interrogator with a degree in psychology, she uses her unique knowledge and skill set to create smart, gritty stories that give readers a glimpse into the darker corners of the human mind. Find out more at