Much ink has been spilled over how to start a novel. We’ve all heard about the importance of a compelling hook in the first five pages. Here’s more on writing the beginning: Writing the First Chapter. But how to end a story is just as important. In fact, if you want to have a career as a writer, that is, you want people to buy your next book and the next, you need to end your novel well. If you give your reader a satisfying finale, you will be remembered as a good storyteller. If you know to end a novel, you are much more likely to sell your book.
The End Has to Make Sense
This first point probably seems obvious, but we’ve all watched season finales, read books, or seen movies where the ending was atrocious. Sometimes you can tell the writers got themselves so far into left field that they didn’t know where to go. Other times the loose ends are left dangling to the point that the entire plot feels like it was pointless. My least favorite mistake is when they force a character to completely change their personality to force an ending. See? Lots of times endings don’t make sense.
Therefore, your ending should. It should stem from the needs and wants of your character, from their trials and growth, and it should make sense…yet be surprising. (I never said this was easy.) Even genres like romance, where a happy ending is a guarantee, need suspense about how exactly everything is going to work out. Just make sure it comes organically from the plot and characters you wrote about in the previous three hundred pages.
Don’t Be Cheap
Adjacent to “it has to make sense,” don’t rely on cheap tricks for your ending. It should go without saying that the whole thing wasn’t a dream. If you wrote about it for 90,000 words, it happened. Find another ending. Don’t rely on coincidence, luck, or anything random either. The lovers shouldn’t just happen to reunite at the airport. They should be there for a reason. The detective can get lucky about clues, but she has to put two and two together herself. Make your characters earn whatever ending they get.
Make the End Thematic
Sometimes your theme is hard to grasp when you start a book, but by the end, you probably realize that you do have a theme. When your protagonist emerges from his trials, something will have changed in him. He will likely see the world in a new way. This is part of your theme, and if you can end with plot, characterization, etc, coming full circle, you are winning.
Wrap Up Loose Ends
If you started a plot thread, you have to sew it up by the time you write The End. That might sound obvious, but it’s very easy to get yourself tangled up in short term plot solutions that become issues at the end. Think about soap operas. Everyone’s grandma is really a mob boss, and there are so many secret babies, nobody is really pregnant. That works for soaps because the story never ends. It’s on-going. However, a book does end, and it needs to be wrapped up. Nothing annoys readers more than when an author just lets entire plot points drop.
Nailing your ending leaves readers with a sweet taste in their mouth. It makes them want to read whatever you write next. If you don’t know where you’re going when you start your book, you can always go back and drop clues and hints once you know how it finishes. It’s okay to reverse engineer your story, to some degree. Although how you start your story hooks readers, it’s how you end that determines if you have a book or just an idea. If you’re looking to get published, you need a satisfying ending.