Great Endings to Your Stories


Ciao, SEers! This is my last post of the year, and it’s only fitting it’s on endings. I wrote one back in 2018 that discussed, among other things, climaxes, themes, and last lines in endings. Today, we’re going to go a little deeper and talk about what endings need to do and how to execute them effectively.

  • What should an ending do?
    You probably just rolled your eyes and thought, “End the story.” Yes, it should. But how? An ending should take the story’s emotional meaning to its highest level of tension before finally resolving all the loose ends. If the stakes aren’t raised to their highest heights, you run the risk of a low-impact story. The reader will be left feeling empty at the end. 

  • How can you achieve this monumental feeling?
    You want to aim for a sudden reversal of fortune. In an Aristotelian comedy (95% of stories are Aristotelian comedies, which we discussed in the Nutshell Method posts), your hero needs to believe all is lost right before the climax. Then, suddenly, there is hope. This sudden swell of potential and the reversal of fate is what gives importance to his resolution. 

  • Shorter time between climax and end, the better.
    Denouements that go on and on result in ending fatigue. Say what you want about Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy. After the ring was destroyed, that movie should have wrapped up in a few minutes, max. The scene after scene after scene after scene… well, you get the picture. Ending fatigue. It’s hard to give Jackson props for an epic trilogy when people forget how good it was because they were falling asleep waiting for the credits to roll while we watched kings ascending and weddings in the shire and hobbits sailing away and… I don’t even remember what all nonsense happened at the end. I just know it went on for way too long. 

  • End with a note of uncertainty after a clear climax (where all the dire stakes are resolved).
    This one might cause a fight in the comments. If it does, fight nice, kids. Some people like endings that have no ambiguity. Other people love endings that spark discussion. Truth be told, I enjoy the latter once in a while. Consider the ending of Inception. People are still arguing over it. The big mystery boxes are closed. But now there’s a small one cracked open. (Or is there?) It leaves room for a sequel, if the writer is so inclined. Even if the author isn’t, it creates a lot of buzz. And buzz is good.

    Like I said, fight nice.

  • The closer all the plots are resolved to each other, the better.
    This is really more for people who have a huge cast in their stories. If you have one hero and one villain, you probably only have one plot to resolve. I tend to write bigger. I have a series with eight POV characters with a whole population of villains as well as a few antagonists. I had a lot of plots to resolve. It’s a lot more desirable to have them all intersecting and wrapping up around the same time than it is to have one ending at the mid-point, one around the three-quarter mark, one at eighty percent, and the rest trickling in near the end. It feels like there’s no cohesion to the story or the plot threads. Even if the plots don’t intersect (and it’s better if they do, but they don’t necessarily have to), having them all end at the same time makes them feel like they’re all intertwined. 

  • Revisit the opening.
    One of my favorite techniques for ending a story and reinforcing its message is to echo the beginning. Maybe that means repeating words verbatim (or close). Maybe that means using the same image. Maybe the echo is implied but we see a distinct difference. In any event, the callback is a nice way to bring your story full circle as you bring it to a close.

So, I’m ending 2021 with a post on endings. Thanks for sticking with me. If you’ve got any thoughts on ways to wrap things up as we wrap up this year, I’d love to hear them. And, comment or not, let me leave you with my final thought… a wish for you and your loved ones to have a happy and healthy new year. 🎉 🍾 🥂 🎆

Staci Troilo bio box

65 thoughts on “Great Endings to Your Stories

  1. Pingback: Cress Watercress — Review & Giveaway – Rosi Hollinbeck

  2. Great post, Staci 🙂 I tend to like romance resolved at the end but I’m more open to ambiguous endings in other genres, like sci-fi or horror. It really depends on the story what is needed, I think.i do prefer the main problem to be resolved even the rest is left open.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Story needs definitely have to dictate the ending. Genre is a close second, if not intertwined with the first. And you’re definitely in the majority—everyone seems to prefer a resolution. Serials seem to be the exception to that rule, but they’re kind of like soap operas, aren’t they? They both thrive on cliffhangers to make you come back. Thanks for weighing in, Denise.


  3. Interesting post, Staci, and I won’t fight with you. 😀 I do wonder how endings are impacted by genre. HEA endings are expected in some genre’s and would be a let down in others. I personally don’t care for them, though I do like resolution, even if life isn’t guaranteed to be perfect. And great point about dragging them out – don’t! Have a wonderful holiday. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree; you have to have an HEA or at least a HFN ending in romances. In horror, even if the last person standing gets away, you frequently have that jump scare at the end when you learn the evil force isn’t really gone. Genre most definitely plays a part. Excellent point!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve loved both your take on book structure and Craig’s! You’re mainly singing from the same hymn sheet but have individual preferences that added to both series for me. Depending on the genre, I usually expect an ending where things are fairly neatly tied (bit not drawn-out over full chapters!). Sometimes the ambiguous twist at the very end works well. I do really dislike reading something that turns out (unnanouced) to be part of a series and which leaves every book on a cliffhanger without any resolution. I do like an ending that comes full circle back to echo something in the beginning. Many thanks and I hope you have a lovely Christmas. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think my preferences pretty closely align with yours. And I agree about Craig’s post. It was sheer dumb luck that our series wrapped up at the same time and kind of covered similar things. They played off each other well, I believe. Thanks, Alex.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There are several ending types that I value. The HEA is one, but not everyone should have an HEA. There are times that the hero/heroine don’t get that, and that is okay with me. Life is like that. Not everyone gets the HEA. They may get resolution, but not what they wanted, but what they can deal with.

    Most times, I like to have things all wrapped up, but there are times that a cliffhanger works for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like endings that tie up most loose ends. I don’t mind a little bit of speculation, but I get frustrated when I’ve enjoyed a book and get an ending that leaves me feeling dissatisfied and doesn’t answer the central problem.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m curious whether you’ve seen Inception, and if so, if the ending was too ambiguous or satisfied enough of the plot threads. I also get frustrated if not enough questions are answered, but I thought Inception did a great job of wrapping up the story, then throwing in a twist to make me think. (And of course I have my opinion on what the ending meant.) As much as I hate too many questions being left unanswered, I admit I enjoy being left with a question to ponder.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for those kind words, Michael. I’m always happy to find a new reader, but I really want to encourage you to write. It can be difficult, but it’s also so rewarding. And we’re all here to cheer you on as you begin your author’s journey.


  7. Each of your posts in this series has been excellent, Staci. I learn so much through your guidance. Oh to have been one of your students! Thank you for the lessons…and Happy Holidays!! 💗

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Excellent series of posts, Staci. I love the bookend technique (your final tip). Not all plots warrant bookending, but when they do, it’s a satisfying way to end the story. Have you read The Last Fifty Pages by James Scott Bell? Superb craft book. Highly recommend.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Hi Staci, a great post to end this series and your posts for the year. I think my endings are “End with a note of uncertainty after a clear climax (where all the dire stakes are resolved)”. I just do this and there is always a little loose string which is quite odd really, as I have no intention of writing sequels for my books. I just think it’s better if the reader can think a little ahead on their own without everything being closed out completely.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I normally agonize over endings when writing them, making sure I’ve wrapped them up in a satisfying manner. As a reader, I prefer a concise ending, but occasionally, I’m open to one that is ambiguous. My favorite read of the year (thus far) had an open ending. At first that left me irritated, but the more I dwelt on it, the more I embraced it. For the most part, I’m not a fan of serial fiction (books ending with cliffhangers to set up the next), but I’ve enjoyed a few of those as well.

    I do think the the way an author chooses to end a novel (whether ambiguous or not) is as important as the way they open it. Especially considering, the ending is the last thing the reader will take away from the book!

    Excellent post, Staci!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love what you have to say about endings being as important as beginnings. I confess to obsessing about both as I write. If a beginning doesn’t hook a reader, the reader won’t turn the page. And if an ending is unsatisfying, that’s the strongest feeling (because it’s the most recent and final feeling) the reader will have when voicing an opinion about the work. Nailing both is crucial.

      Thanks for weighing in!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I think I was most intrigued by the terminology you used, Staci. Like ending fatigue. It makes SO much sense! As a lover of books, I feel like I’ve seen a lot of versions of endings. Ending fatigue is not my favorite. I think I’m more impatient when it comes to reading. Thank you so much for sharing such a great post to finish out our year! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t know if I coined that phrase or heard it somewhere else, to be honest. Regardless, it’s a pet peeve of mine, too. I definitely think you need to wrap up all the major threads. (Rowling did that VERY well, yet people still had questions about certain things after the series ended. No one with a world that big could possibly cover everything.) But I’d rather be left wanting more than be forced to wade through pages of boring denouement. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Mar. 💕

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Great post. I have a series that I am writing. I have 3 books published and another almost finished (1st draft, that is). Each book can be read as a standalone, and has its own ending, but the whole series will need a major ending.
    I will need to make sure, as you suggested, that all the major threads are left to resolve until the end of the series, which means that I might have to change the fate of one of the minor characters.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s my favorite kind of series. (I’ve written two like it so far.) It reminds me of television shows that have a “big bad” of the week and one of the season. Each episode solves the weekly crime, but the overarching problem for the season isn’t resolved until the end. I love that kind of book (or show) best because I get to spend so much time with beloved characters and worlds, but each discrete chunk leaves me satisfied until the next one.

      Good luck with your series. I hope the fate of the minor character doesn’t pose too many problems for you in revisions.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. I think, as with most readers, I want some sort of satisfying ending. After all, I’ve invested hours of my life with the characters and their story and it is a let-down when the ending is a monumental cliffhanger, or drones on and on after the story is done. I particularly do not like cliffhangers that leave the characters in direr straits than when the story started. I read a book like that this year and I actually got mad at the author for doing that to me. 🙂 Thank you for your posts in this series, Staci. Each one has been informative and a great perspective for any author to consider. I’ve enjoyed them all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I consider those books to be more like serials. If the releases come relatively quickly, I’ll deal with it. But when they don’t, I get angry. Norman Mailer wrote a huge novel called Harlot’s Ghost that I invested a lot of time in. It ended with nothing resolved. Not only did the sequel not come quickly, it didn’t come at all. Now that he’s deceased, I’ll never know what he intended for the characters. Even if someone wrote the sequel for him, it wouldn’t be his story. That always stuck with me, and not in a good way.

      Thanks, Jan.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Pingback: Great Endings to Your Stories | Legends of Windemere

  15. Great wrap-up for the year and for story endings. I don’t mind ambiguous endings at times, but some drive me up a wall. I read a particularly bad book this year where I think the author was going for a shocking ending. (The genre should have clued me in.) She also left too many things dangling.

    I got a three-star review for my first Driscoll Lake novel because toward the end I opened the door for book two of that series. We can’t please everyone. Funny thing, another reviewer picked up on that review and refuted her statement.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Great advice, Staci! I love leaving things slightly open at the end. Maybe that’s why I love cliffhangers so much in a series. Lol! I love daydreaming about the story long after I’ve read it. And I agree that tying up the loose ends is important. Otherwise, it feels like the author just forgot about his/her creations. This was a great series. Enjoy the holidays! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • I have a love/hate relationship with cliffhangers. Well, like/hate. Actually, it’s probably begrudging-appreciation/hate. As a reader, when I read a cliffhanger, my blood pressure spikes. Unless or until the next book is ready, then I devour it. As a writer, I see the value in leading readers to the next story. I’m just not a patient person, I guess. (No. I KNOW.)

      One of the stories I give away when people subscribe to my newsletter has an ambiguous ending. When readers talk to me about it, they usually are emphatic about what they think happens, but I’ve heard convincing arguments on both sides. As a writer, that’s so satisfying. Maybe that’s how Christopher Nolan feels…

      Liked by 4 people

  17. Hi Staci
    I’ll be coming back to this blog; most of the points can be applied to my own work.
    I had one book – since edited – where I had complaints about the end. It was a romance where the twist was a man in his thirties and a girl of seventeen finally admitting to love for one another that they’d hidden. I stopped with that admission; she was still underage and this was Christian YA. Oddly, the answer proved to be removing the single kiss and concentrating on the emotions from both POVs. (It is the first in a trilogy that ends with the wedding of their only daughter.)
    My thriller follows your “treatment” of several criminals getting their come-uppance near the end with an exciting chase leading to capture the worst of them. I have two friends who’ve said they’d have liked “a happy ending” for two victims, which I felt would have been a drag. It lost me an Amazon star from both of them, but other reviews seem to prove I – and therefore you – were right. Next, make sure I don’t allow one of crooks in the current WIP to fade out too soon!
    Happy Christmas and prayers for a safe New Year for you, Staci, and all the members at Story Empire who make me feel welcome whenever I post.
    Love from Sarah xx

    Liked by 5 people

    • Ah! It stings to lose a star for something like that. I love that you can still feel vindicated by the other reviews, though. As for the Christian romance, that is a tricky line to walk. But it sounds like you found the perfect solution to the problem.

      And of course you’re always welcome! We value and love these conversations, and the people with whom we have them. 💕

      Liked by 1 person

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