First impressions matter, but when it comes to novels, final ones are just as important. Although the opening and middle parts of a book must be compelling, the ending is where your reader will decide if their time spent with your book is a one off or if they’re going to become a fan. You’ve come this far: make sure you close strong. Here are the most common types of endings. Which one is right for your book?
But First: Considerations
When deciding on the ending, you must consider the expectations of your reader. Certain genres make a promise that you’ll be expected to fulfill. For instance, romance fans do not consider a book to be a romance unless it has a happy ending. Mysteries are expected to be solved, and whether you have an adult or a child reader will need to be considered. Beyond these factors, what do you want to accomplish as a writer? What theme or plot structure have you created? Do you want to meet or subvert expectations? The answers to these questions will guide what types of endings you choose for your book.
This is the ending where the writer wraps up all the loose ends with a beautiful, satisfying bow. This is where every mystery is solved, every dangling thread is snipped, and we know who dun it. A resolved ending is appropriate to romance, mystery, the finale of a series, or any other story where the reader will be happiest to know how it all worked out.
Unresolved endings wrap up the central conflict of the book in hand, but they open a new mystery or leave an overarching one dangling for the next book. Think of the non-finales in a series. Harry Potter is a great example. Each book had its own ending, but the through line conflict between Harry and Voldemort was still hanging out there, waiting to be dealt with, until the seventh book.
This is an ending where the writer doesn’t make it clear what exactly happens. Were the words of the unreliable narrator true? Or not? Was the bad guy really so bad? Will the lovers end up okay? This is a good choice for the writer who wants her reader to reflect on the meaning of her book. The ambiguous ending lingers with readers long after they finished it. It’s the type of ending that someone might join a book club to discuss with others. However, keep in mind that you don’t want to use this option if you’re just not sure how to end the story. There still needs to be a sense of finality, though the author’s theme will remain.
This is the most thrilling type of ending, but it’s also the easiest to mess up. The ending can’t come out of left field, all be a dream, or anything else that annoys the reader. You’ll need to lay the groundwork throughout the story, so that by the time you reveal the unexpected twist, the reader will be able to look back and see that it makes sense. This is the realm of mystery, but it can also happen with other genres. Where the Crawdads Sing (Owens, 2018) has a great ending that fits this category.
Full Circle Ending
This is the arc of the classic hero’s tale, where the hero ends up where he left from, only he’s changed. A good example of this is The Wizard of Oz. We open with Dorothy on the farm, and we end with Dorothy on the farm, but Dorothy is different for having had her adventures in Oz. She’s no longer restless and has become grateful for what she had.
Whether you thrill your readers with an unexpected ending, satisfy them by resolving all the issues, or do something in between, nailing the ending is what will turn a casual reader into a devotee.