Have you started your next great story? Do you know how it is going to end yet? Some people start a story with the utmost of ease but have a hard time finishing it. Some are the other way around. For those of you that find that it is difficult to end your writing work, here are a few tips on doing just that. As for myself, I hardly ever start a new project without knowing, at least in general, how it’s going to end. I then keep this in mind as I’m writing and adjust to how the story unfolds and how the characters grow and change. I’m a massive fan of endings with an unexpected twist and try to incorporate this into all of my writing. Easier said than done though right. So, if you’re having some trouble putting together an ending for your short story or novel check out the articles below and hopefully they will point you in the right direction. The vlog below is an excellent watch before you get into the materials so give it a look-see to get the gears turning. I hope you enjoy and put to use what you learn😉
Novel ideas are a dime a dozen. Ask any agent, publisher, editor, or movie producer.
It’s true. Everybody’s got one, maybe more than one. Even you, am I right?
Of my nearly 190 published books, more than two-thirds have been novels that started as ideas, so I know what most everybody in the business knows:
The idea is the easy part.
Want to know what’s second easiest? Starting.
I know. That one surprises you, because maybe you’re stuck. You’ve been sitting on your great idea, idling in neutral for too long.
So what’s keeping you from getting going?
But fear of what?
- The marathon of the middle—which is a topic for another day (it’s that tough, for me too, and that important)
- And coming up with an ending that does justice to that great idea of yours
That’s why publishers rarely hand out contracts and advances to first time novelists before they see entire manuscripts.
You may have the best novel idea since Chicken Soup for the Left Behind Amish Vampire. But until you prove you can finish—and I mean close that curtain with a resounding thud—all you’re getting from publishers is Fifty Shades of Wait and See.
So how do you ensure your story doesn’t fizzle when it should be delivering a thrill?
1. Keep the End in Sight the Whole Way
Don’t play the wishing game, hoping it will simply work itself out when the time comes.
Whether you’re a meticulous outliner or write by the seat of your pants, have an idea where your story is going and think about your ending every day. How you expect the story to end should inform every scene, every chapter. It may change, evolve, grow as you and your characters experience the inevitable arcs, but never leave it to chance.
And if you get near the end and worry something’s missing, that the punch isn’t there or that it doesn’t live up to the power of the other elements of your book, don’t rush it. Give it a few days, a few weeks if necessary.
Read through everything you’ve written. Take a long walk. Think on it. Sleep on it. Jot notes about it. Let your subconscious work on it. Play what-if games. Be outrageous if you must. Force that ending to sing. Make it unforgettable.
- Be generous with your readers. They have invested in you and your work the entire way. Give them a proper payoff. Don’t allow it to look rushed by not allowing it be rushed.
- Make it unpredictable but fair. You want readers to feel they should have seen it coming—because you planted enough hints—but not feel hoodwinked.
- Never settle. If you’re not happy with every word, scuttle it until you are.
- If you have too many ideas for how it should end, don’t despair. Just make yourself find the best one. When in doubt, go not for the cleverest or most cerebral. Readers long to be moved. Go for the heart.
- Rewrite it until it shines. I’ve long been on record that all writing is rewriting, and this is never more true than at the end of your novel. When do you know it’s been rewritten enough? When you’ve gone from making it better to merely making it different.
2. Nothing Can Follow the End
This goes without saying. But I say it anyway, why? Because too many beginners think it appears sophisticated to leave things nebulous, or they want to save something crucial for the Epilogue. Avoid that mistake.
Modern readers raised on television and movies like chronology—beginnings, middles, ends. They expect the end to do its job. Artsy types may think it hip to just stop and enjoy gassing on talk shows about how life isn’t so tidy.
Well, terrific. I’ve seen enough movies like that, and I can tell you that most people don’t like sitting there shaking their heads as the lights come up. They scowl at each other and say, “Really? That’s it? We’re to wonder what happens now?”
All that does for me as a novelist is to remind me that I have one job, and I recommit myself to doing it again every time. Invent a story world for my readers and deliver a satisfying experience for them. They have invested their time and money, believing I will uphold my end of the bargain—and that means a beginning, a middle, and an end. One that satisfies.
That doesn’t mean every ending is happily-ever-after, everything tied in a neat bow. But the reader knows what happened, questions are answered, things are resolved, puzzles are solved. And because I happen to have a worldview of hope, my work will reflect that.
If you write from another worldview, at least be consistent. End your stories with how you see life, but don’t just stop.
That said, some stories end too neatly and then appear contrived. If they end too late, you’ve asked your reader to indulge you for too long. Be judicious. In the same way you decide when to enter and leave a scene, carefully determine when to exit your novel.
3. Don’t Forget Your Hero
This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen it violated. Your lead character should be center stage at the end. Everything he learned throughout all the complications that arose from his trying to fix the terrible trouble you plunged him into should by now have made him the person who rises to the occasion.
Maybe to this point he has been flawed, weak, defeated. But his character arc is about to resolve and become complete.
The action must happen on stage, not just be about or remembered or simply narrated. It can’t be resolved by a miracle or because he realizes something. He must act.
That’s what makes a reader respond emotionally, and if it moves you when you write it, it will move your readers exponentially.
See yourself as the captain of a mighty airline. You’ve taken your readers on a long, eventful journey. Now bring it in for a landing.
Making Ends Meet: How to Write a Good Ending to a Story
Written by Alex J Coyne
If there’s anything writers struggle with even more than beginnings, it is endings. Imagine you’ve captured your reader’s attention, kept her following you for the entire journey, and now all of your hard work comes down to one final scene that will make or break her reading experience. Yikes!
Here are some tips on approaching your story’s ending.
What’s in an Ending?
Good endings make sense; evoke emotion like contentment, anger, sadness, or curiosity; shift the reader’s perspective; or open her mind to new ideas. They do not confuse or cast the whole story as a hoax. Good endings bring the hero—and, more importantly, the reader—to some kind of destination (even if it’s a trap).
Good endings highlight for us how the protagonist has changed from the beginning of the book. If the protagonist is the same person as he or she was in the beginning, then the story is lacking a crucial dimension of character development.
Some Ending Types
- The Straight-Up Ending. The journey is over, the hero has completed his quest. He has learned what he needed to learn and is now moving on. This ending can be happy, sad, or something in between. This is also sometimes referred to as the “linear” ending. Many dramas, adventures, and romance stories end with a straight-up ending.
- The Cliffhanger. Cliffhanger endings, as their name suggests, leave the hero dangling in the jaws of some unsolved danger. These are often seen on TV and movies and are used often at the ends of a chapter, though the Goosebumps books, if anyone remembers, are good examples. Open endings, the ones where the hero’s true fate is left to the reader’s imagination, can also be argued to fall under this classification.
- The Shocker. These endings leave the reader thinking, “Oh, Gods, no way!” They are created by introducing a final twist to the plot, one that transforms the reader’s understanding of the events of the story so far. Horror, crime, and thrillers make use of these endings a lot, and if you’re looking for great examples, look no further than the fiction of Roald Dahl.
- The Philosopher. Occasionally, a story ends with an invitation to wonder and keep exploring its themes. The hero’s journey concludes, but not quite: the reader is still left to wonder about the hero’s fate, though not always in a cliffhanger or shocker sense. I call this type of ending the Philosopher.
- The Terrible Ending. Avoid the Terrible Ending. Unless done exceptionally well, these include stories where (1) the protagonist was really crazy all along, or (2) it was really all a dream/hallucination.
Tips for Writing Your Story’s Ending
Wrapping up loose ends. I’ve already said that endings wrap up a hero’s journey, but don’t forget to wrap up any other loose ends lying around. Endings are also the place to make sure that any plot holes left open and characters left unaccounted for are explained – it’s not something you want to discover after publication.
Test readers matter. Where possible, always have a brutally honest beta-reader on your side. They can tell you if your ending brings the story to the right kind of conclusion. There’s nobody better than an honest reader to tell you if your ending is obvious or downright terrible.
Writing the ending first. You’ll get to the end a lot quicker if you know where you’re going. Write, or at least outline, a story’s ending before you start working on the story. Bad endings are often bad endings because they were written on the spot as “filler,” with the writer having no idea what they were building up to.
Writing several endings. Write several options for your story’s end, each with the hero ending up in a different situation. Happy, sad, conclusive or not – eventually you’ll find that the right one falls into place.
Researching different endings. Take a bunch of books and read only the first and last scenes. The worst thing that can happen is a couple o’ spoilers, I promise! Research which endings work and which of them don’t.
The last line matters. The last line holds a lot of the punch, and in a lot of cases it’s what sticks. Take a look at some of these last lines and compare them to your own personal favorites…
Famous Last Lines
Take a look at these last lines. Did they work? Why?
“‘Why don’t you cover her up, Mabel?’ he said. ‘We don’t want our little queen to catch a cold.’”
– “Royal Jelly” (from Kiss, Kiss), Roald Dahl
“Amen. And all that, cal.”
– A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
“Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.”
– Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
– The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
– Animal Farm, George Orwell
“He loved Big Brother.”
– 1984, George Orwell
“The old man was dreaming about the lions.”
– The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
“The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling