How do you end a novel? It may be the most important part of your book, but it’s definitely the most stressful. Ultimately, like any chapter, the details are up to you, but these tips should help you conclude your book with less frustration and greater finesse.
Put Your Ending in the Slow Cooker
Start thinking about your conclusion from the beginning. Even if you don’t have a concrete plan at the start of your story, hold the ending in the back of your mind as your write. As you launch your introduction and wade through the middle of your novel, your ending will evolve. Think of it as slow-cooker writing. The more time your ending has to stew, the tastier it will be in the end. Don’t rush yourself or cling to an inflexible conclusion from the get-go. Even if the major plot points survive from outline to final draft, this technique gives endings a stronger connection to the rest of your story.
Troll Other Stories for Ideas
Everyone knows this tip, but it remains one of the two most important lessons you will ever learn as a writer (the other is to actually stick your butt in the chair and write). Read more stories. This is where you learn and where your creativity gets a workout. It’s something like going to the gym. It prepares you for your own adventures and gives you the intellectual muscles to wrangle with complex ideas. You may be surprised what many other authors consider a true ending, and you may be surprised by how new conclusions spark ideas for your own tale.
Don’t Do Something Just Because It’s Cool
The flip side of reading for ideas is resisting authorial peer pressure. Do not go for the edgy ending just because it’s popular or because an author you admire uses it. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, author’s use it all too often as a way to add some kind of imagined credibility to their work. If you worry more about what critics or other authors would say about your ending rather than what your audience will feel, then you may be making a mistake.
Ambiguous endings fall into this category often, and although they sometimes work very well, like in “The Lady or the Tiger.” That entire story revolves around the fickleness of the heart and the unpredictability of the future, though, so it works. If your story doesn’t utilize similar concepts as its core themes, then you probably need to commit to a decisive ending. Usually readers prefer those, anyway, especially at the end of a novel. “The Lady or the Tiger” is a short story that requires a short time commitment. If your readers stick with you through a full novel and you ‘cop out’ at the end, denying them closure, you won’t have a happy fanbase, or maybe even a fanbase at all.
Gather Your Loose Threads
Your ending should focus on your primary character, but remember your book features more than that single player. Everything must come together in the end. Don’t leave dangling plot threads, especially if you aren’t writing a series. If you had a gun on the mantle in the first act, someone should have fired it. Promises should be fulfilled along with threats. Secondary characters, even if they aren’t in the final scene, should have offered something that supports the conclusion. All paths lead to this single point, so make sure you’ve paved the way.
Start thinking about your ending from the very beginning of your writing process, and you’ll find it’s much easier to finish. Threads tie more readily to your conclusion if they evolve alongside it. Most importantly, of course, read widely and make your conclusion your own! It’s your story and your words. The ending is all yours, too.