In the end, all novels should include the same elements to leave readers satisfied. However, your inevitable ending needs to follow genre guidelines or you risk losing readers. You can’t have a romance story without a happy ending. Just like you can’t have a crime story without solving the crime. This post aims to nail down last chapter essentials that every writer can utilize.
Wrap it up. All of it.
This goes without saying but needs reiteration. You need to tie up all your loose ends for all plots, sub-plots, and character arcs. This includes the character arcs of your protagonist, antagonist, and minor sub-characters. If you write about a character in the middle of your novel and then never mention them again, you leave their fates to the reader’s imagination. That’s sloppy.
Keep a journal handy when you write and make note of new characters as they are created. On a page marked, Characters, write down their name, their point of existence, and where you mention them. When you get to your last chapter, and after you’ve celebrated this victory, go back to that journal page and check on these folks. If you’ve left character arcs drifting in the abyss, consider their importance to the story. Could they be eliminated? Or could you go back and wrap up their arcs?
Ambiguous Endings vs. Clear Happy Endings
Either one is acceptable, however, romance usually favors the latter. A clear happy ending is satisfying and lots of readers seek this out. Don’t be clever and disappoint your readers. As for ambiguity, this can be a lot of fun. When you have an uncertain ending, make sure your reader fully understands the purpose of that gray area. You want readers to be left in a state of wonder, not confusion.
If you’re leaning towards ambiguity, here’s a list of successful novels that demonstrate this type of ending.
End where you began.
Your last chapter is the perfect place to revisit where your story started. Reflect on the truths known at the beginning of your novel and then ask yourself, how has my main character evolved and changed? This is an opportunity to show, not tell, your reader the complete evolution of your main character. If your story has a hero’s journey, they should be headed back home. How does your character view their surroundings now that their journey has ended?
Types of endings.
Your last chapter can come in many different forms. Take the time to do some research to see how others have handled the all-important ending. Here are just a few types of endings with examples for your consideration:
- The Cliffhanger – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- The Ambiguous Ending – The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
- The Happy Ending – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Epilogue – Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- The Unexpected Twist Ending – Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
No matter how you choose to write your last chapter, never leave your readers confused or disappointed. If you are undecided as to how to complete your novel, try out different methods and vet these with your beta-readers. In the end, the conclusion will present itself if you’ve done the work to make a solid beginning and middle.