This is the last Fantasy Author’s Handbook post of 2016, which got me thinking about some of my past year-end wrap ups and New Years resolutions, and so on. I won’t belabor the general crappiness of this past year, when actually just as much good happened as bad, and so on. But I’ve started working through another run of my online Pulp Fiction Workshop—and those classes, by the way, always tend to renew my faith in humanity as I read some amazing stuff and learn as much from the students as they might pick up from me—and that got me thinking about endings.

This will be a bit of a spoiler for this class’s students, who will see this as part of the daily additional material for the course in week four, but . . .

I’ve spent some time here and elsewhere talking about how to start a story, but not so much about how to end one. That’s a big discussion—a satisfying ending is vital to the success of any story, of any length—but let’s start by dipping into Lester Dent’s Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. Dent’s final bit of advice reads:

HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line?

The MENACE held out to the last?

Everything been explained? It all happen logically?

Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING?

Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?

For today, let’s look at the very end, the very last line, or what Dent calls “the snapper, the punch line to end it” from some actual pulp stories:


Pickman’s Model” by H.P. Lovecraft, Weird Tales (October 1927)

Well—that paper wasn’t a photograph of any background, after all. What it showed was simply the monstrous being he was painting on that awful canvas. It was the model he was using—and its background was merely the wall of the cellar studio in minute detail. But by God, Eliot, it was a photograph from life!

“Unexpected Bridegroom” by Adelaide Humphries, Sweetheart Stories (August 1942)

Carson’s arms tightened about her. “If you’re notorious, then that’s the only kind of girl this mayor wants,” he said, and the ardor and tenderness of his kiss gave her the deep thrill of the happiness she had never expected to know again.

Islands in the Air” by Lowell Howard Morrow, Air Wonder Stories (July 1929, edited by SF legend Hugo Gernsback, for whom the Hugo Award was named)

Somewhere off in the far reaches of space it still pursues its solitary way.


“Dr. Grimshaw’s Sanitarium” by Fletcher Pratt, Amazing Stories (May 1934)

Winter is coming; we dare not hunt for fear of the animal, and our food is running short.

“Death’s Old Sweet Song” by George William Rae, Dime Mystery Magazine (September 1946)

“It was on the gun, Manton, when you wiped the prints off. Just that little blue thread caught on the sight. Just a little blue thread to tie you up for Hell…”

“The Marshal of Goldfork” by Walter A. Tompkins, Exciting Western (September 1947)

“It ain’t every gun-boss who gets planted in a two-hundred-dollar coffin, eh Malone?”

“Red Rogue Killer” by Day Keene, Jungle Stories (Spring 1946)

Behind him Nylabo grinned, white-toothed. He understood. And Bwana Juju would understand. All that really remained to be said was for the maiden’s father to make known how many cows he would take for his golden haired daughter.


“Consignment” by Alan E. Nourse, Science Fiction Adventures (December 1953)

The last thing he saw below, rushing up, was the glowing, blistering, white-hot maw of the blast furnace.

“Jerry the Hawk” by Arthur J. Burke, Air Stories (August 1927)

I was the only one who carried out orders—and I darned near forgot to pull the ripcord!

See you in 2017!



—Philip Athans



About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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