No matter how amazing the beginning of your novel is, if you don’t nail the ending, your readers will feel a little less than satisfied. Last week, I focused on ways to get your novel off to a great start. You can read that post here: 5 Tips to Write a Better Beginning. But a good opening can only do so much to make a novel memorable.So let’s dive into some ways to make a fantastic ending that leaves readers wanting to come back and revisit the world you’ve created over and over again.
1. Wrap Up Plot Points by the Ending
As obvious as this seems, how many times have you walked away from an unsatisfying book or movie going, “Yeah, but they didn’t even explain…” or, “What happened to that whole storyline?” So often as writers, we can get carried away in making an explosive ending or getting to the happily-ever-after (or whatever genre-defining ending you’re going for), that we forget to close-up shop properly. Instead, we leave plot points hanging, sub-plots dangling, and lots of questions. Don’t do this!
Does this mean we have to answer every single question and leave everything in a nice, neat bow? Of course not. Some would argue that doing that can also be a turn-off to readers. But we should be able to provide enough information that the reader can either come to a conclusion on their own or feel as though the answer to that question isn’t completely necessary or relevant anymore. This can get tricky if you want to leave some open threads for a sequel or series, but there’s actually a really useful tidbit to keep in mind with that:
2. Treat Every Book in a Series as a Stand-Alone Novel
Here’s the thing: even though characters and settings and plot points can be carried from one series novel to another, the best series books are often known for their stand-alone plots. Think of Harry Potter, for example. While there’s an over-arching plot that begins in the first book and reaches its conclusion in the seventh, if you’re familiar with the books, you can probably also summarize the main plot of each novel. Each novel presents a unique problem, a unique plot, that Harry and his crew must face. At the end of each novel, that problem has been solved. New problems may arise, but we don’t have to wait until book three, for example, to find out who stole the Sorcerer’s Stone and why. That’s solved in book 1, as it should be. But more importantly:
3. Allow Your Readers to See the Character Arc
Regardless of genre, stand-alone or series, your characters are on a journey. When readers get to the end of your novel, they should be able to see how the challenges and obstacles they have faced have changed your characters. This is basic character growth. Your characters should not be the same people they were when they started your novel. They might be more bitter, more angry, they may be wiser. Certain genres may even require certain types of endings (like romance, which require a happily-ever-after showing your characters happier and in love).
If your character remains static, chances are that your readers will feel unsatisfied at your novel’s conclusion. Character growth is key to making your plot significant.
4. Get In and Get Out
One of the worst things that you can do to an ending is make the build-up to the climax drag. One of the worst things that you can do to an ending is make the part after the climax drag.
When it comes to endings, the more invested your readers are toward the climax, the faster they want to see it happen. Don’t rush your ending, but don’t add fluff here, either. And when you’ve finally reached the climax, think very carefully about what you need to present to the reader. You may need to answer a few questions. You might need to allow us a few pages, maybe even a chapter, to see the character digesting their experience. Try to fight the temptation to put anything more than necessary in these chapters.
5. Trust Your Reader’s Imagination
The very worst jokes are those that need to be explained, right? Same goes for novel endings. If you have to explain it, you didn’t earn it in the first place. If you put little clues in your novel at something that could be important at the end, don’t feel the need to write lines or scenes that scream, “Get it?”
Trust your readers to get it. More often than not, they do. And if you’ve done a good job crafting your novel properly, there are few things that can bring as much satisfaction to a reader than reaching an ending and realizing that those hunches and clues they picked up on really did mean something.