Endings

Ciao, SEers. We’re wrapping up the series on beginnings, middles, and endings with (shockingly 😉 ) endings. If you missed our earlier discussions, you can find them by clicking the links in the beginning of this paragraph.

endings

Novel endings are like novel beginnings in that you have a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time. You need to tie up all your plot threads in a satisfying and believable way, all while staying true to your theme and possibly setting up the next installment of the series. It’s also important to make certain your climax is in proportion to your escalating middle and your denouement is rewarding without being overly long.

The Climax

Readers should be able to anticipate the showdown between the hero and villain, but you want to craft a climax that offers a surprise of some sort—an interesting reveal, an unanticipated twist. Tension is more critical here than in any part of your story. Consider writing your sentences in shorter length, peppering in a lot of fragments. Eliminate most or all of the description, as your characters will be too hyped up to take note of their surroundings.

Believability

Readers have invested a lot of time in your story. They’re expecting a payoff that your characters deserve. One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is the deus ex machina, or God in the machine, ending. Consider a quest where the heroes have to overcome insurmountable odds to reach their goal. Then, when all hope is lost, they don’t rally and find it inside themselves to win. Instead, a wizard appears and casts a spell to fix the problem and defeat the villain. Talk about leaving the reader unfulfilled! If it was that easy, the wizard should have done it to begin with and saved us all the time. If our heroes have undergone this journey, let them persevere and be the ones to beat the villain. Even if you don’t have a deus ex machina ending, make sure the heroes’ actions are in character and within the realm of possibility.

Theme

Whether you realize it or not, your novel has a theme. Love conquers all, good triumphs over bad, time heals all wounds, etc. When you craft your ending and have your surprising and deserved climax, it won’t work if the resolution is in contrast to the theme. For example, consider The Wizard of Oz. The theme is “there’s no place like home” and the story ends with Dorothy doing two important things:

  1. being in charge of her own destiny (she’s the actor rather than the wizard)
  2. returning home

If Dorothy had discovered she had the power all along but decided to stay in Oz, readers would not have been satisfied—even though she’s in a vibrant place with all her friends. Why? Because there’s no place like home. Her decision to remain in Oz would contradict the theme. Make sure to choose a resolution that works both for the character’s arc and the theme.

Sequel Setup

If you are writing a series, you need to consider any groundwork you need to lay to introduce the next installment. That doesn’t mean you have to write cliffhangers. In fact, I discourage that. While they do compel readers to seek out the next installment, they can also foster ill will. If you choose to write a cliffhanger, I’d suggest bringing your story to its logical conclusion (a full climax and denouement) then introducing a new problem. Never leave the story without a conclusion.

Consider the Harry Potter series. (Minor spoilers follow.)

  • Each book was a standalone novel (beginning, middle, and complete ending). But readers knew there was more. He had seven years of school (kind of), so if you read the third book (his third year), you’d know there was more to come. More importantly, he hadn’t yet permanently vanquished his nemesis. He beats the antagonist in each novel, but the ultimate victory hadn’t yet been achieved.
  • The stakes are increasing, book by book. At the end of the first novel, the majority of the wizarding world doesn’t even know he was in a battle, let alone who with. By the end of book four, the wizarding world knows something bad is happening, but many of them won’t admit what. By the end of five, they know. By the end of six, Harry has lost his biggest ally and, while he temporarily staved off the villain, it looks like all hope is lost. It’s only at the end of the seventh novel that all questions are answered not just for the book, but for the series.

Last Lines

One of the most effective ways to end a novel is to circle around to the beginning. Start in the same place. Use the same (or similar) line. Your character should have had a profound arc and changed in a significant way by the time the book ends. By comparing how the character is in the beginning with how he or she is in the end, you’ll have a poignant and memorable ending to the story.

A conclusion has a lot to accomplish, but if you did the work in the beginning and middle, it will practically write itself. If you make certain to answer all the questions in a satisfying and thematically-true manner, you will have crafted an ending to be proud of.

On the other hand, endings are hard. Fans of Supernatural will recognize Chuck’s prophetic words:

Endings are hard. Any chapped-a$$ monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end, but you never can. The fans are always gonna b1!@^. There’s always gonna be holes. And since it’s the ending, it’s all supposed to add up to something. I’m telling you, they’re a raging pain in the a$$…
No doubt — endings are hard. But then again, nothing ever really ends, does it?

 

 

So, my advice? Try to eliminate the holes, tie up the loose ends, and give the characters their due. If you do it all right, you will have ended your story, but your characters will live on in the minds and hearts of your readers for years to come.

Do you have a favorite way to end a story? A favorite ending you’ve read that has stuck with you? Let’s talk about it.

Staci Troilo Bio

59 thoughts on “Endings

  1. Pingback: Author Inspiration and Last Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  2. Pingback: Endings – Where Genres Collide

  3. I am not a fan of the HEA. Never have been. I dabble in romance, but prefer a suspense novel. I think one of the most memorable endings that stuck with me was Mrs. Doubtfire. Things didn’t work out perfectly, but everything was resolved. And speaking of cliffhangers, I don’t mind them as long as they get resolved in the next book. Sometimes you need a little bit of mystery in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a softie at heart. I do like HEA endings. But I’m pretty happy with even dark endings, provided everything is resolved. Speaking of Robin Williams movies (loosely), I wouldn’t call Dead Poet’s Society happy, but everything was resolved and ended on a positive note(ish).

      Maybe I’m not as into HEA as I thought. lol

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  4. Yes to the Supernatural shout-out! I like the stand-alone with an over-arc like Harry Potter. Even some other series are good for that, because there is a setup that indicates the story will continue because a character is still changing, their life is still going on. The Eve Dallas series by JD Robb is like that, and I’m sure many others. As for cliffhanger endings, I remember one in particular that Janet Evanovich did with one of the Stephanie Plum books (well, more than one). Frustrating, but since I got into the series after a number of them were written, I didn’t have to wait to read the next one. Still, it was pretty risky. I like to end the story, but the characters’ lives still go on. I hope the reader is invested enough in the characters to follow them through their next adventure. It doesn’t hurt to hint at a deepening personal relationship either 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, Supernatural. I’d say it’s a guilty pleasure, but I have no guilt about it. I LOVE that show. Really, what’s not to like? It has it all.

      Okay. This isn’t a post about the show. Back to the topic at hand… I’m with you. My favorite books are standalone (and complete) with a series-long arc. That way, if you don’t like the story, you can stop but not feel like you’ve left it unfinished. But if you do love it, you can stay in that world a long time. I’m definitely not a cliffhanger fan. One of my steady editing clients loves them. We’ve had discussions about them. She claims they convert readers to fans. I feel manipulated by them. But she has the numbers to back her up, so who am I to argue?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m the cliff-hanger kind of gal! I love a great cliff-hanger in my books and in my shows/movies. It allows me to delve into my imagination of all the possibilities that can happen before the next installment comes out. It’s infuriating and exciting at the same time. I guess that’s why my series ends with cliff hangers. I enjoy wrapped-up endings in series as well. I read plenty of those and enjoys those, too, but it’s the cliff-hangers that make my heart race and make me eager for the next one. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m in the frustrated camp when it comes to cliffhangers. But I know you’re right. They do keep readers anxious for more. (Clearly they worked for you; I couldn’t wait to devour each next book in your series.) Then again, I readily admit that I have little patience. If I want an answer, I want it NOW. Maybe I should wait for a series to be over before I start reading it. Or I suppose I could just act like an adult and learn to be patient. lol

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lol! I’m so happy that my cliffhangers didn’t deter you. I will admit that I sometimes wait for the series to be complete before picking up a book. I still give myself time in between books, but having to wait an entire year can sometimes be torturous. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Waiting can be torturous. But good writing is worth it. As you know, I loved your series. For those readers just finding it now, they won’t have to wait… and they’re sure to devour it quickly.

        Like

  6. I’m surfing back through to check the discussions. I noticed I never answered the question. I try to write what I call a “Happy for now,” kind of ending. Life goes on, and if the characters survive, they will face new hardships. I keep that in mind when wrapping my stories up. I’m not a big believer in “Happy ever after.” Ever after is a long time. Even romance fades over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Although I’m a fan of an HEA, depending on what I’m reading I don’t necessarily require it. Seems like a lot of suspense, psychological thrillers and mysteries don’t pan out that way. When I’m writing an ending, I usually slip into panic mode about 3/4 through the WIP. It’s standard for me, as I finagle how to tie up all my loose ends, but I eventually figure it out. If I didn’t panic, I’d think something was wrong. Oy!

    This was a great series, Staci. As for my favorite ending, I’m drawing a blank right now, but I know I’ve read a lot that have left me feeling satisfied–the sign of a good story and a good writer.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I am a sucker for happy endings. I am most satisfied when the protagonist has managed to overcome insurmountable obstacles and come out on top. He or she may be a bit worn or ragged, but they are triumphant and stronger from the trials they’ve come through. This is a great post, Staci. I agree that endings are super important. It is frustrating to me when I invest my time and energy reading a book only to be let down by the ending.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I dream of crafting an ending like an old episode of Maverick, or the movie The Sting. The whole book was a con, and all the clues were there, but only the ending reveals the truth. I’ve dwelled on it for years, but can’t seem to think that deviously.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Great post on endings, Staci. The books with endings that stuck with me the most are the HP series and the Hunger Games. And, as you say, they wouldn’t have been what they were without the brilliant build ups earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Harry Potter books will always be among my favorites of exceptionally-planned (and artfully delivered) series. There will always be little issues (especially in a body of work that large), but I get frustrated with the people who look for little things and harp on them. That work was brilliant and Rowling should be (and clearly has been by most people) lauded for what she accomplished. I’m glad you mentioned the series. The Hunger Games series was good, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Very good examples for endings Staci–especially Chuck:) I’m usually very happy with my endings, its getting there that is the hard part. I’m not a fan of cliffhangers, and agree the Harry Potter series did it right. I tend to lean to a happy ending…well, at least for most of the characters.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Even in the darkest book of the HP series (Half-Blood Prince), there was hope at the end, which is uplifting. And a great payoff for readers (particularly young readers). My writing has been getting darker and darker, but I haven’t yet ended a novel without a happy ending. (I admit, though, my short stories are, well… another story.)

      I adore Chuck. I adore that series. And those writers definitely know how to complete both a single story and a series-long arc. I’m not a fan of the season-ending cliffhangers, but that’s television for you.

      Thanks, Denise.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Supernatural writers are the best as is Chuck. Like you not a fan of the TV cliff hangers, or even this end of year cliff hanger, but glad of happier endings in books. I seem to be getting darker in my writing too maybe a sign of the times? There is something about short stories where you can get away with more. Thanks Staci:)

        Liked by 1 person

      • You know, you might be right about it being a sign of the times. Or of us maturing. I think you’re right about short stories, though. While there are so many similarities between the long and short forms of fiction, there are differences. And I think you can get away with more in the short form. Maybe it’s because readers have less time to get invested, so they don’t mind as much if characters meet their demise.

        Gosh, I love Chuck. I wish he’d come back. Seems like the gang could really use him this year!

        Liked by 1 person

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