Today I want to discuss how to write a good ending to a story. Finishing a book can be tricky. As we’ve recently discovered in my post about plotting a novel, endings are part of a dramatic arc and a character’s emotional journey. Ideally, they return the character to an emotional point similar to where they were at the beginning of the story or to a slightly worse or better one. (The character has, of course, changed over the course, it’s just that they’re in a similar place in their arc.)
If you’ve structured your story well and woven in enough internal (with self) and external (with others/world) conflicts for the character, the ending should be fairly easy to write. That’s why, for some, this post will seem like a cop out. But there are others of you out there who may be struggling with finishing your book and wondering why your particular plot is proving so tricky to wrap up.
Finishing a Book: What’s Involved?
How does the character feel with this ending? Do they return to a new normal? Or are they still way off-balance? A character arc left with too much discord is unsettling.
Pacing and Timing
Does your ending come too quickly after the climax of the story? Does it drag on too long after the climactic action has finished? In most stories, the climax happens about 1/5th or 1/6th of the way from the end and then things wrap up fairly soon. If you saw my diagram in the plot post, you’d notice that the distance between points 3 and 4 is rather small.
Part of this will stem from the “core emotional experience” you want your reader to walk away with. Is your book a place where you’ve created a fair and right and optimistic world? Or do you want to leave off on a pessimistic or unresolved note? Is your ending of the big-fireworks-silhouetted-against-the-sky variety or the quiet-yet-meaningful-moment-type? Both work, so do many things in-between. I would just make sure the ending matches the tone and voice of your story. Endings, for many reasons, put pressure on people and sometimes force them away from what they’ve established throughout a manuscript. If you’re feeling stressed by your ending, make sure what you’re doing feelings characteristic to the piece you’ve already written. It’s usually trying to do something that resolves too cleanly or not at all or otherwise doesn’t fit your characters or story that’s causing problems.
Include Enough Resolution
One problem I frequently see is an ending that gives the reader too little resolution. And I don’t mean a quiet-yet-meaningful-moment-type ending. Those are very effective when done well. I’m talking about manuscripts I’ve finished where I’ve felt the distinct urge to check for more pages hidden somewhere past the last one. The ending feels so rushed and unfinished that I simply can’t believe the author has chosen to finish the book at that point. This is often the case when a writer is leaving their story open for the possibility of writing a series. However, as I discussed in an earlier post about writing a series query letter, it’s always best to resolve the first story and make sure it stands alone, even if you’ve plotted out Book 2 through Book 22.
Finishing a Book Shouldn’t Be Hard
Endings are a delicate balance. Make sure yours comes at an appropriate time, isn’t too rushed or too drawn out, and matches the emotional, thematic, character and story tone that you’ve already established. I hear that many writers struggle with finishing their stories but, as I already said, I think that might be a symptom of something amiss in the greater manuscript. If you’ve got a story with a dramatic and emotional arc and you’ve chosen the right plot and characters, the end of that winning combination should be one of the easiest things to write. If you’re struggling, maybe go back to the middle and see if the problem isn’t hiding there.
Struggling with your novel’s ending? Get one-on-one, in-depth feedback on your manuscript when you hire me as a fiction editor. I’ll look at all of your novel elements and help you weave them into a satisfying conclusion.