Have you ever been so engrossed in a book that if the ending isn't strong and doesn't resolve all the plot threads, you're disappointed in the whole book? I once read a novel with a deeply engaging main character I really connected with. She struggled and overcame and struggled and overcame. And at the very end of the book, the author killed her. WHAT? It's the only time I've ever thrown a book. And I refused to read anything more by that author.
You know how important it is to hook your reader from the very beginning. It's why you start in the middle of the action, plunging your reader right in so they get caught up in the excitement.
Your ending is as important…if not more.
- Nobody reads a novel to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If the ending’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book. ―Mickey Spillane
The 3 Rules for Endings
You need a strong, satisfying finish that will resonate with your readers long after they've put your book down. Here are 3 rules to follow to ensure your endings hit the right note.
- Show some respect. Your readers invested their time and energy reading your book. Show them some respect and finish off your novel on a strong note. Don't get lazy and create a "and they lived happily ever after" ending. And always make sure your ending is in line with your genre. If you've written an action hero story, he must save the world in the end, and if you've written a romance, the guy and girl need to end up together.
- Tie everything up. All of your plot threads must be wrapped up by the end. It doesn't matter if they're successful or unsuccessful, but they should have some kind of conclusion. Nothing is more irritating than to follow a thread throughout a novel to have it peter out without some sort of resolution. Imagine if you read your favorite murder series and never find out whodunit.
- Endings must be logical. Imagine if a story like The Amityville Horror suddenly ended with the Ghostbusters swooping in and taking care of all the entities. That doesn't really work, right? Avoid the Deus Ex Machina ending that comes unexpectedly out of nowhere. Take the time to craft a well-thought-out ending that makes sense for your story and genre.
Writer's Digest has an excellent article entitled "The Dos and Don'ts of Novel Endings" that's a must-read.
Examples of Great Endings
- Unpredictable. This is powerful. If your reader is avidly involved in your story, you certainly don't want the ending to be predictable. What a let-down.
- Plot twist. Who doesn't love a good plot twist? It doesn't have to a big, in-your-face twist; something subtle can work just as well. What's important is that the reader didn't see it coming, but it makes complete sense with the rest of your story.
- Overcoming their darkest moment. Readers love to see main characters who have their darkest moment, only to overcome it and succeed at the end. The reader is left with a vast sense of accomplishment.
- An epiphany. An "ahah" moment can be unpredictable or even a plot twist, but it doesn't have to be. The key is to have your character realize something impactful that has a huge effect on the resolution of your story.
- Leave them wanting more. While you certainly don't want to leave any plot threads hanging, it's fun to leave an open ending to get your readers conjecturing and offering their thoughts. It's the "did they or didn't they" ending that keeps readers talking.
Some of the Best Endings
"After all, tomorrow is another day." Gone With the Wind
"The eyes and faces all turned themselves towards me, and guiding myself by then, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room." The Bell Jar
"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
"Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at sea as Mr. Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger." Life of Pi
"He is coming, and I am here." The Time Traveler's Wife
Endings don't have to be "happily ever after." They do need to satisfy your readers. Spend as much time on your ending as you do on hooking your reader at the beginning, and you'll be fine.
What are some of your favorite endings? What resonates with you the most? Let's get a discussion going in the comments below.