Much ink has been spilled about how to nail the opening of a novel. Gotta hook ‘em right away! Start in the middle of the action! And so on. But what about the ending? Fact is, you’ve got to nail that too. Here are our top tips for writing a great ending.
It Needs to Make Sense
The key to a great ending is to build up to it. Don’t introduce anything completely new in the resolution. Everything should have already been hinted at, alluded to, or in the works. If you spring something out of the blue on your reader, it won’t be taken as exciting. It’ll be annoying. You can have a twist or end in an unexpected way, of course, but you can’t go off the rails. For instance, a contemporary romance probably shouldn’t end with an alien invasion.
On the other hand, Gillian Flynn finished her juggernaut novel Gone Girl (spoiler alert) with a shocking, but ultimately believable, ending. Once the resolution becomes clear and the surprise wears off, you can still see it. You thought the wife was a victim, but when all is revealed, you buy that she’s actually a psycho. Flynn tricked you. She didn’t confuse you. There’s a difference.
So many people recommended the book or movie version of Gone Girl to a friend because of the wild way it concluded. That’s the power of a great ending. It can cause word of mouth excitement and turn a cool story into a best seller. A great hook in the beginning can’t do that. The promise has to pay off.
Start at the Beginning
To end a novel in a way that makes sense and is satisfying, you need to plan ahead. As I said earlier, all threads should have been pulled along the way. The easiest way to make that happen is to outline or create a blueprint of the story, but if you don’t work that way, then make sure to go back and retroactively build up to an intriguing climax.
Whatever ending you choose must be earned. It has to build. Your characters should have an increasingly hard time reaching their goals as the novel progresses. It also makes sense to save the largest confrontations for the final chapters. The only way for this to happen is to lay the foundation for it in the beginning and middle of the story.
Don’t Forget Character Arc
Obviously, the loose ends of a plot have to be tied up by the end of a book. But don’t forget about your characters! Characters usually grow or change over the course of a story, and if they don’t, that’s a unique trait. Often the hero emerges as a new and better, or at least different, version of himself by the time all is said and done. If you reach the end of your story and there hasn’t been a fundamental shift in who your protagonist is, reflect on that. If not, why not? Could your story be stronger if the shift was clearer?
Satisfy Your Readers
If you satisfy your reader, he or she will crave your next book. For some stories (or genres), that means giving your characters a happily ever after. For others, the novel might end on a sad but optimistic note. Some conclusions could be tragic. No matter how your book ends, it should feel like your characters were put through the wringer and that they came out on the other side. The ending should feel “right” and earned.
Much like savoring the last bite of a delicious dinner or regretting coming to the final spoonful of ice cream, you want your readers to have enjoyed the experience and look forward to more.