Ending Your Story on a High Note

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Starting a book isn’t so bad – you’ve got an amazing idea that you’ve daydreamed about for weeks and months. Now you’re just getting the ball rolling. The middle can be a bit of a sticky spot, because you might lose steam out of nowhere and be tempted to abandon ship. But even that can be easily remedied, as seen from this recent article: What to Do When That Slump Hits. The real test of your skill and mastery as a writer seems to crop up most starkly at the ending, where the main parts of your plot must conclude in some satisfying way.

Anyone who hasn’t attempted to write a book before might wonder why it’s hard to finish what you’ve started. After all, you presumably thought up this story for a reason, and you likely had at least a vague sense of where you wanted it to go. So why is this such a struggle even though you’ve already broken through the middle slump?

Below, I’m going to outline my best ideas as to how you might be able to weave the loose ends of your plot into an artful basket, neatly holding all your creative ideas in one Pinterest-worthy place.

1. Leave clues as you go.

This is more a commentary on plot-twists than anything else, but the idea is to make your reader kind of guess how things are going to end up. Leave enough variables so that they’re never truly certain until the very end. Trust me, feeling completely surprised and shocked without any logical reason sucks no matter how you slice it. Give them something to hang onto, so that even if everything comes crashing down at the end, they’ll at least have had a warning along the way.

2. Determine the purpose of your ending.

Are you leading up to a sequel, or tying up the narrative completely? If it’s the former, you’ll likely want to settle the main plot while keeping a secondary problem on the back burner until the end. If you’re tying it all up completely, that’s definitely a much heavier task. Your readers have opened your book and bothered to read the whole thing – don’t make them regret the time they’ve invested in you.

3. Your ending should satisfy your reader’s deepest desires.

Get in your reader’s head, and ask yourself what you’d want to see happen if you were on the receiving end of this narrative. Maybe the star-crossed lovers finally seal the deal. Maybe the family of your protagonist finally reunites. Or maybe your character realizes the answer to their own struggle was within them all along. Of course, these are largely clichés and I know that. But they’ve been popularized for a reason. Too much cheese-factor is never a good thing, unless you’re deliberately in full-on satire territory, but maybe you can re-write these tales as old as time into something totally new.

4. Don’t neglect any of your characters at the finish line.

Even if you’re setting up for a sequel, don’t let any of your characters just drop off the face of the earth. Your main character especially, should obviously have center-stage. This seems obvious, but some writers, myself included, have a tendency to get all wrapped up in the deeply emotional ideas that populate the book and end on a flat, psychological, almost medicinal note. Fiction doesn’t do too well with this kind of ending, and readers almost always are left hungry and frustrated. Address everything sufficiently, but give everything its due space too. That brings me nicely to my final point as well, which is to…

5. Moderate your pacing carefully.

Pacing is probably one of the most critical elements of any story. Too fast, and your reader will feel rushed and detached. Too slow, and a similar effect occurs, with the unpleasant addition of your reader being bored silly on top of it all. Pacing is driven usually by plot, but characters can dictate this easily as well. If they’ve been traumatized, how are they coping? Are they talkative, or closed-off? Maybe they’ve succeeded in whatever they hoped to accomplish, and are now sitting on their laurels with an oddly empty feeling in the wake of it all. Get inside their heads, and be who they are, in that moment. That’s when pacing falls to the wayside, and your story begins telling itself.

Without getting horribly philosophical on you here, think of it this way: Endings are kind of also, beginnings. Maybe your story is the beginning of a new worldview or attitude. Maybe it’s the turning point your reader needed. Sure, the story offered them a brief respite from the demands of real life, but it also gave them something new to incorporate into their life in return.

Your ending is their reward. The beginning of the rest of your life, and your reader’s, starts when they turn to that last page. Use it wisely.

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