Endings can be a controversial subject. At more than one movie, I’ve stared at the rolling credits and asked, “are you kidding me?” Sometimes I start to worry three-quarters of the way through a book, wondering how the author will pull off a satisfying ending. One person’s brilliant ending can be another’s intense frustration.
Different readers and different genres prefer different sorts of endings. No matter what you’re writing, the end is your opportunity to shine. It’s the culmination of all your hard work. And it’s really hard to get it right.
For an ending that leaves readers satisfied yet wanting more, remember these tips.
Deliver what you owe to the reader.
When a reader reaches the end of your book, they’ve invested several hours of their life in the story. By no means do you owe them a neat and happy ending, but you do owe them one that makes sense.
As you work your way through your novel’s final act, stay true to what has come before. That means no big changes in tone, voice, or structure. Avoid any significant tangents. Resolve the central conflict that binds your story together. Give readers an ending that provides some resolution and fits in with the rest of your book.
Focus on plot.
You’ve spent the first part of your book building your world and letting your readers get to know your characters. Now you get to cash in on all that hard work.
As a heavy Kindle reader, I’ve noticed the final 20% of a good book seems to fly by. The first 20% takes me the longest to read. That’s because the final act is full of action. We don’t need much exposition, description, or opining from the writer. Think of it like a wedding: once you reach the main event, the heavy lifting should be over. You’ve worked hard for this moment, and it’s time to let readers watch it unfold.
Make sure your protagonist has experienced growth or change.
Endings don’t have to be all rainbows and unicorns. Some of the best stories end on an ambiguous note with a protagonist who is still deeply flawed. However, readers should be able to see growth from your main character, even if most of that growth happens after the last page.
Think of it this way: if they spend several hours experiencing a story, most readers want to feel like they’ve traveled somewhere with the main character. If your protagonist doesn’t grow or change as a result of what happens in the story, then what’s the point? That’s not to say you need a radical transformation. This change can be subtle and still be very satisfying to the reader.
Trust your readers’ imaginations.
The best endings let readers imagine the characters continuing their stories after the last page. Important storylines need resolution, but avoid doing this so cleanly that your ending feels patronizing to the reader. A too-tidy ending will feel unsatisfying because it doesn’t leave readers with anything to think about.
Look back to the beginning.
Without making it too obvious, try to insert some kind of connection to your story’s opening. Readers love when a seemingly insignificant detail becomes important toward the end of a book. Look back to your first chapter and ask yourself how it relates to the final chapter. Can you mirror the setting or context? Place a small hint? Whatever you do, keep a light touch with this technique. Anything too heavy-handed will detract from your story.
Don’t require a sequel.
Writing and publishing are fickle arts. A hundred obstacles could get in the way of you and a promised sequel. With that in mind, focus on writing the best standalone book you can. Avoid introducing new characters and subplots late in the book. Make sure you have a clear beginning, middle, and end, even if you’re planning this book as part of a series.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t whet readers’ appetites for your next installment. Just make sure they won’t feel cheated at the end of this book. Your goal is to satisfy and intrigue readers with your ending, not manipulate them into buying another book.
Ask for feedback.
Endings require a delicate balance of resolution and ambiguity, closure and intrigue. As always, you should discuss your novel draft with a trusted beta reader, critique partner, or critique group. You never know how your closing chapters will feel to someone brand new to your story.