Wrapping up a seventy thousand word journey in a way where everything feels completed and leaves the reader feeling satisfied is a definite balancing act.
Too much wrap up? Barf. Who wants that nice bow double knotted? Get it done and get out!
But not enough warp up and the reader is going what? Wait? It’s over? What happened? What happens next? Did I miss something?
So, yes, writing a killer ending involves wrapping up the plot points, the story questions, the character’s growth, and achievement of their ultimate goal. But it also means continuing the entertainment value and pulling at those heart strings so the reader goes away with a smile and an ‘Ahhhh. That was good.’
Tips on How to Write an Ending
1. The last battle of the story needs to be the biggest one. The one where the main character gets to demonstrate that they’ve changed. That they have mastered the lessons dished out earlier in the book. That they can stand on their own two feet. This is the climax. In the movie, this is where you are gripping your seat. You don’t know if they are going to win. You are hoping, hoping, hoping. There’s less than fifteen minutes left. They’ve got to win!
Note: By ‘battle’ that means whatever they have been fighting against in the movie. Recognition from their boss. Slaying the dragon. Fighting for their lover’s affection, etc. It’s that turning point in the story where things flip in their favour so things can be wrapped up. This is the beginning of your end and should comprise about the last tenth (or less!) of your story. (Not more than 25% or it really isn’t the ending any longer.)
2. All minor story threads need to be tied up before the ultimate ending — shortly beforehand is good (the last 10-25% may work for you). For example, the ailing grandmother passes on or makes a recovery.
Do note that a good ending leaves at least one unresolved plot item for the final pages. This should be the major story question that has been left unanswered. This is the one where we’ve been wondering if the main character will get their ultimate ‘treasure.’ The one where they went through such pains and such growth to try and reach. Such as: will the two lovers be reunited? Will Indiana Jones get the treasure back?
If everything else hasn’t been checked off as completed by the final scene, it can take away from the ending and give readers too abrupt of a finishing off. This can make them feel manipulated. An example of this would be a story where the teenager finds he is suddenly not grounded, can go to the dance after all, gets a brand new car, the girl of his dreams wanders by and says yes to going to the dance and his teacher pops by to say he got an A on the paper that was keeping him from playing on the football team. That’s a lot for one scene, isn’t it?
3. The opposite of this is that the ending should feel like an ending. You, the author, should feel a smile tugging at your lips. You should feel thrills in your chest and be saying things like: YEAH!
If you don’t feel as though the ending is right, chances are it isn’t. It should feel like things are resolved.
Note: If you are writing a series and the books hinge on each other, a little cliffhanger (an unresolved ending) is okay. Enough to make them keep reading the series, but not enough to piss them off. Throw them a sizeable bone. Tie up a majority of the story threads. (I’ve read series endings where it is abrupt as if the author stopped mid-sentence. This doesn’t give the reader satisfaction in completely the story. They can’t put the character to rest. This is good…but also bad. You must treat cliffhangers very carefully because you don’t want to piss off the reader…just keep them hooked!)
4. The true ending may need another thousand words to follow it in order to show the main character in their new life. Maybe. If you feel as though the ending cuts short, you might need a bit of a bow at the end. This also varies by genre. Romance readers want a bit of a bow. They need to feel secure in the main character’s new life. That things really did change for the main character and that they did get what they wanted.
5. A good ending will circle back. If you can throw in little things like sayings, jokes that refer back to other parts of the book in your last five hundred words or so readers will have a stronger feeling of having come full circle and therefore, a feeling of completion. This is especially true if you can link back to the beginning in some way.
6. The main character should be transformed and show it in your ending–it’s a completion of their journey. They can’t get to the end without changing so be sure to show that change!
7. If you can, leave the reader with something to contemplate. Again, this varies by genre. Some genres this is a must–like literary fiction–but not so much in escape reading.
So? What do you think? Read any good endings lately? Have some good ending tips? Share them in the comment section and help another writer.