The article Ending of Stories: How Planning an Ending Will Help You Write Faster appeared first on The Write Practice.
Readers love the ending of stories, but do you feel like you don’t know how to write a really good ending?
It may seem a little odd to talk about story endings when you haven’t even started writing. Deciding on the type of ending you want, however, is an important part of planning a book.
You usually wouldn’t drive somewhere without a destination in mind. Knowing how your story ends will help you work out the important plot points in between, all the plot twists that eventually lead to that climatic moment.
But how exactly can you write a great ending before the story is even written? Let’s take a look at the essentials an ending must accomplish in order to write a satisfying ending to a great story.
Knowing these common types of endings, and how to decide what endings work best for your story, will bring your character arcs and story full circle.
This post shares writing tips to help you accomplish just that.
Criteria for the End of the Story
There are a few things an ending must accomplish. Keep in mind that I speak about endings from the perspective of commercial fiction – fiction that moves the reader along, is entertaining to read, and puts plot and character above philosophy and literary prose.
Endings in literary and interpretive fiction may vary a little more in style. But if you’re looking to write a good story that sells, you will want your ending to meet the following criteria.
Your Book’s Ending Should be Logical
Have you heard the phrase Deus Ex Machina? It’s defined as “an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation.” In fiction terms, this means everything is suddenly and abruptly resolved by a previously unknown force.
A Deus Ex Machina is not a good way to end your book. It’s convenient. And convenient conclusions end in bad reviews written by disappointed readers.
Instead, the ending to your book should come about logically.
While this doesn’t mean it should be 100% predictable, it does mean that you wrap up your story in a way that is surprising but inevitable. In other words, your reader can reason through and understand how the events of the story led to the final conclusion.
Here is an example of a predictable vs. unpredictable vs. Deus Ex Machina ending:
Predictable: A detective is trying to solve a murder. He finds all the clues that point to person A with the help of person B, and it turns out to be person A in the end.
Unpredictable: A detective is trying to solve a murder. He finds all the clues that point to person A with the help of person B. Murderer turns out to be person B, who has been planting the evidence.
Deus Ex Machina: A detective is trying to solve a murder. He finds all the clues that point to person A with the help of person B. The murderer turns out to be person C, someone completely unrelated and who shows up at the last minute—with no warning to reveal themselves.
Notice that the unpredictable ending enables the reader to look back at the story and think “Ah, now that makes sense,” whereas the Deus Ex Machina ending elicits the, “Where did that come from?” response.
When your ending isn’t logical and doesn’t follow the reason, you risk leaving your readers feeling cheated for having read a whole book that has little to do with the final result.
Your Book’s Ending Should be Satisfying
The simplest way to write a satisfying ending is to resolve a secret or question that remained a mystery throughout the plot. This means that whatever questions are raised during the story—the ones that left the reader wondering something important—should be answered.
Better yet, these answers should tie-back to clues or plot elements that were set up earlier in the story.
Take another look at the detective in our mystery novel example.
The main character is trying to solve a murder, so obviously the reader expects the murder to be solved at some point. The “whodunit” needs to be answered at the end. The kinds of answers may vary, but the ending needs to identify the murderer in order to have a resolved ending.
Here are a few ways the ending can go:
Satisfying/Predictable: The detective finds the murderer successfully.
Satisfying/Twist Ending: The detective solves the mystery, but it turns out the murderer has committed an elaborate suicide to frame someone.
Unsatisfying: The detective chases the clues to a dead end and at the end still doesn’t know who killed the victim. This might come in the form of a cliffhanger that doesn’t tie-up important questions in the book, or an ambiguous ending that doesn’t resolve major plot points.
Note: You can include cliffhangers or ambiguous endings in a book, but only if you resolve the major questions driving the hook for the story. If you write these types of endings in a way that requires readers to read the next book, you’ll probably annoy them more than intrigue them. Readers need the answers to the big questions in the book they’re reading.
You need to write stand-alone with series potential, not books dependent on their sequels.
While there is definitely literature out there with “unsatisfying” endings, you’re more likely to alienate readers in commercial fiction if you don’t give them an answer to the big question.
No one wants to read a whole book and be left feeling like nothing was resolved. Even if that last line is unforgettable.
Your Book’s Ending Should Have a Sense of Finality
The end of your book should feel like, well, something ended.
The major crisis is averted. The princess is saved. The quest is over. The battle is won. Something that started at the beginning of the book is now over.
While this might seem pretty obvious for standalone books, you may find yourself asking “What about a series? What if my story goes on?”
The global story for a series doesn’t need to end for a book to have a sense of finality. However, each book does need to reach its own climax: we need to see a protagonist get or not get what they want (their story goal) in the end. Each book needs its own ending.
For example, every book in Harry Potter series ended with a climatic event that occurred at the end of the school year. Each book of the Lord of the Rings contains its own battle for survival, even if Frodo and Sam hadn’t reached Mount Doom yet.
Tying up a book in a series is much like tying up a scene—the story goes on, but whatever happened in this part of the story is over and done with.
Types of Endings
There are numerous books, articles, and schools of thoughts out there on the types of endings. Comedic vs. tragic endings, resolved vs. unresolved endings, ambiguous vs. tight endings, to name a few.
There are no wrong ways to categorize endings, but for the purposes of this article, I prefer to speak from the point of view of planning. To do this, I want you to consider five types of endings for your book before you start writing.
You may end up with an ending that encompasses traits from more than one of these, but they are a good starting point for planning.
1. Complete Resolution
Also known as a happy ending. However, I dislike that name because the Complete Resolution isn’t always “happy.”
In Complete Resolution, all questions are answered, all loose ends are tied up, and all subplots are resolved. This type of ending is commonly used for standalone novels of all ages and genres.
When planning for a Complete Resolution ending, it’s important to keep track of all your subplots and plot elements to ensure that nothing is left hanging at the end. If a question is raised, it must be answered.
Pride and Prejudice has a Complete Resolution. All loose ends are tied up, all couples are together, and all questions answered. The readers are left feeling satisfied that every problem has been resolved.
2. Incomplete Resolution
This is the kind of ending that’s usually more fitting for a series. As stated above, endings for individual books in a series usually leave something open in order to lead into the next step of the bigger story.
When planning for an Incomplete Resolution, it’s important to know what threads you want to tie up and what you want to keep open.
A good rule to keep in mind is to tie up subplots while leaving the main plot open to lead into the next book.