Writing the End – Part 1

Greetings Storytellers! Diana here today. Since recently posting about Writing First Chapters, I thought it might be interesting to post about the last ones.  

First chapters get a lot of attention because that’s where we hook our readers and hopefully leave them salivating for chapter two.  What’s the point of worrying about a book’s ending if we can’t get them past the first twenty pages?

However, the last delicious memory of our stories, the chocolate we leave on the reader’s pillow is the ending. We want them to savor our stories long after the glorious reading feast!  The way our tales end will have a significant impact on how readers remember them, and whether they’ll return for more or recommend them to others. For that reason, it’s important to toil over our endings just as we do our beginnings.

The number of chapters required for an ending varies. Short stories may end in one scene. Books could require two or three chapters. For the purposes of these posts, let’s assume that the ending includes the story’s climax and final wrap-up.

Fortunately, there’s no one way to close a book, just as there’s no one way to open one. We all know that the enjoyment of books is subjective, and readers have a vast array of preferences. That said, book lovers do have some over-arching expectations.

If the beginning of a novel draws the reader in and sets the stage for the drama about to unfold, the ending must bring the story’s arc to a logical conclusion and leave the reader satisfied with what’s happened to the protagonist. This doesn’t mean that every book needs to end happily ever after, not at all. Rather, it means that the promise made at the beginning of the read is fulfilled at the end.

Deciding on the type of ending you want is part of designing a book, even for pantsers. (Yes, I can hear you all huffing in the background, but bear with me.)  Having a plan (or a wobbly idea) of how your story concludes will aim your book in the right direction and aid you in working out the essential plot points and twists along the way. In other words, your military sci-fi won’t change into a romance halfway through, and your mystery won’t veer off into a family saga.

Last impressions are just as important as first impressions. After a reader finishes a book or a short story, it’s often the ending that resonates most strongly. In some ways, the whole book is about its ending. Every step of your story leads your reader closer to the ending, to the changes in your characters and their circumstances. Endings don’t stand apart from the rest of the book, they’re the culmination of every scene, every chapter, every action, and character choice that came before.

Learning how to end a novel is critical to our long-term success as writers. Great endings require a writer to have a lot of control over the narrative tension, tone, and pacing. They tie myriad plot elements together to create a singular, compelling, high-tension climax. No easy task!

To that end (pun intended), in my next four posts, I’ll be sharing 8 Common Ways to End a Story and 14 Elements of a Satisfying Ending.

***

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Before you start writing, do you have a plan for the end, a nebulous idea of where you want to finish up, or do you let the ending come to you as the story unfolds? Or do you, like some writers, start with the end and work backward?

104 thoughts on “Writing the End – Part 1

  1. This is simply me. I do not care if an enjoyable book has no ending, rather, I will wish it to continue forever. A good ending is desirable but let’s be honest, few are. Stephen King always writes good tales, but the endings are suitably awful. But endings always are. We all die, The end. I wish it were not true, but endings must always be sad, or you are just putting off the inevitable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What an interesting comment, Ray. Yes, in the end we all die. That’s the inevitable outcome of a biological life. But stories are usually glimpses into part of our characters’ lives, and within their lives, there are opportunities for a range of emotions, for failures and triumphs. Stories reflect life, but they aren’t the same. Thanks for adding to the discussion and Happy Writing.

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    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Michael, and for reblogging the post. Reading is the best way to learn what you enjoy and study the craft. You’re off to a wonderful start. Have a lovely week ahead, my friend. 🙂

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  2. I try to plot but it usually takes the wheel on its own. Trying to push out an exact novel felt like a chore. That’s why I’m doing a book blog now because it allows me to write as I go like I did when I was younger. I’ve completed a full novel, in under 3 months, but it took me about 2 years to finish plotting it. I learned on that journey that I tend to write more fluidly when I’m doing it based on intuition rather than planning.

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    • I love how differently authors write. Plotters versus pantsers and everything in between. We each need to find what works individually and honor our creativity. Many authors work like you do and then address the structure in the rewrites. If it works, Enjoy!

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  3. Wonderful blog post Wallace. As a blogger who hasn’t written a novel before but I can say the ending differs and it depends on the authors imagination and how the writer wants the story to end, whether happily or sadly. The ending needs a solid finish to conclude the story accurately and give the book a good applause for its content and uniqueness

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    • Thanks for the visit, Mthobisi. You’re right that there are many different types of endings, and each story will need to reflect the story and author’s intent. And ending that brings applause is the best. 🙂

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  4. Hi Diana, endings are important and I have read many books by famous authors when the ending has been a let down. I usually have my ending before I start, but that occasionally it does evolve as it did with my short story The Bite. I changed the ending because I changed the middle as a new and better idea came to me half way through. I think we have to be open to inspiration as we write and be prepared to follow change.

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    • I’m so glad that you recognize that tendency, Viv. It’s when we don’t see our challenges that it becomes a problem. I hope that the “tips” part of this series is helpful. I use it like a checklist, and it might help to make sure the wrap up covers all the bases and find that sweet spot in terms of length. 🙂 Thanks for dropping by and adding to the conversation. ❤

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  5. Excellent post, Diana. That last chapter, the final words, the “goodbye” to the story is difficult. The writer wants to leave the reader satisfied and settled. It doesn’t always happen that way. I usually have an ending in mind. But choosing the right words and actions really takes a lot of planning. But that’s writing! It is meant to be an adventure!

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  6. I love these process posts, and this one definitely resonated. As a pantster hybrid, I work hard not to know the ending ahead of time because I’m afraid I’ll turn it into a nice, logical how-to instead of fiction!
    That said, by the time I’ve got past the maddening middle, the threads /are/ starting to come together in organic ways. But I don’t always consent to those ways. For example, I did NOT want Innerscape to be a happily ever after. It’s a scifi for heaven’s sake! Yet I could feel the pull of making my two main characters stop suffering and reach some kind of resolution.
    That pull became stronger and strong during the last third of the third book until I could resist no longer. I settled for a ‘happily-for-now’ ending which is how I believe real people live their lives. But of course, that’s very much my subjective world view. 😀

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    • That is SO interesting, Andrea, that you avoid knowing the ending. I can see how it might start forming as you get into the book and how intriguing that you resist it! A couple other commenters mentioned not planning an ending, but your the first to push it away. Lol. Thanks for adding to the discussion. I’ll be interested to see what type of ending you gravitate toward when I share them. Happy Writing, my friend. Hugs.

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      • It is weird, I know. It’s just that my brain finds tech writing so much easier than fiction. To write fiction, I have to try very hard not to let the left hand know what the right had is doing! lol
        Btw I almost missed this post as I didn’t realise you were guest blogging. Will keep a sharper eye out in future.

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      • That’s interesting! I used to tech write too, but left that behind pretty easily. Good for you for recognizing that it’s something you can slide into. Innerscape had a deep emotional undercurrent that I loved. So whatever you’re doing is working.

        I’ve been one of the team over here at Story Empire for almost a year now. So more monthly posts to come. It’s been fun to talk writing stuff on a regular basis. 🙂

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  7. I’m excited to read the rest of your posts about story endings. It’s natural to emphasize a beginning, but what’s worse than a dissatisfying or unrealistic conclusion? It’s a big comedown if I’ve enjoyed a book all the way through, only to read a disappointing ending. I’m betting most people prefer a happy ending, but I like either if they’re done well.

    I’m wondering what your thoughts are (I bet this is coming) about endings that answer the main questions but leave readers some room for speculation. It’s a tricky proposition, but some authors pull this off skillfully while still leaving us satisfied.

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Pete. So many of us agree that a great ending is essential. It’s the last thing our readers remember and may propel them into the next book… or not. In the next post, I talk about different sorts of endings, including the Unresolved Ending (which usually, but not always, leads to another book) and the Ambiguous Ending (which intentionally leaves things open for interpretation by the reader). I think both of these have their places in story structure but they require the right kind of story and some skill to pull off. Great question and I look forward to hearing what you think of them. Happy Writing, my friend.

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  8. “In some ways, the whole book is about its ending.” WOW. What a quote, and I totally agree with you! I’ve even found that sometimes, my entire opinion of a book changes if the ending is unsatisfactory. The ending of a story is just as important – or dare I say, possibly more important? – than the beginning. Thanks so much for this awesome post! Would you mind if I reblogged it to share this awesome info with my writing buddies? I’ll provide a link and proper attribution, of course! 😊

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  9. Excellent timing for this post, Diana! I’m writing the ending of my current novel-in-progress this week. Knowing how much is riding on endings, I am in the wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments stage of the writing process.

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    • Lol. I’ll give you a spoiler about the endings that readers most enjoy. They answer the questions raised by the story, address the theme posed in the beginning, tie up most (if not all) of the loose ends, and end with a vision of what’s ahead. There are lots of other tips, but these seem to be the biggies for the popular Resolved Endings. I know you’ll figure it out, Liz, and remain mentally and physically intact in the process. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and Happy Writing!

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  10. I don’t always know the journey but have an idea of where it ends. You are so right about endings, a bad one can kill a good story and has for me if nothing has been resolved or its done away from the reader. Great post, Diana. I look forward to more

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    • Thanks for the visit, Denise. I love that flexibility in the journey. It’s where the characters exercise their independence and creativity runs rampant. But having an idea of how the story will end keeps everyone headed in the right direction. As you mentioned, a poorly devised ending can ruin an otherwise excellent book. Thanks for adding to the conversation, my friend. Happy Thanksgiving. 🙂

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    • I’m with you, Judi Lynn, and find that knowing where I’m headed is helpful, and it seems to reduce the amount of rewriting in later drafts. But there’s a lot of variation in how much detail each writer envisions when thinking about the end. I find that fascinating. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your process. Happy Writing!

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  11. Pingback: How to Finish the Dratted Story – Uncle Hat's Writing Resources

  12. I need to tag New York Times best-selling author and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, @JohnSandford for this. He is one of the worst for ending books. His new series, Lettie Davenport–the ending to Book 1 was so bad I almost didn’t read the next.

    But I did. The guy writes 99% of the book like a master.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I’m an outliner, so I always know where my story will end before I start it. I tried pantsing once; it was a disaster. I definitely need a roadmap, even if I take detours on the way.

    Great post, Diana. Looking forward to the rest of your series.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m the same way, Staci, and I love your metaphor. I was thinking about house-building as I wrote the post. A lot of the details come later and there may be changes along the way, but you’ll save yourself a huge headache if you know up front that there’s going to be second floor. 🙂 Thanks for reading and Happy Writing!

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      • A VERY LONG time ago, I wrote a post comparing writing to architecture. I think the roadmap is a better vehicle (no pun intended) for describing my process. But the construction metaphor is apt, too. Stories are built. And blueprints do save a lot of strife. The decor can change, but the bones of the house need to be set early and remain immutable or your structure could suffer. (I think I’d do better with the architecture metaphor if I’d written the post now rather than in the beginning of my fiction career.) Excellent points, Diana.

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    • You laugh, Yvette, but it’s not that uncommon for the ending to come first when writers get an inspiration for a story. They’re so important that it almost makes perfect sense to start there. Thanks so much for adding to the conversation and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

    • “Sort of worked out” is good enough, Kymber, to set you on the right path. It may morph as the story develops, but knowing generally where you want to end up should streamline your storytelling. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, my friend. Happy Writing!

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  14. I am a pantser, but I always know how I want a story to end. Not the actual scenes, but the outcome. I can’t imagine starting a novel or even a short story without knowing something about where I want it to go. Great post, Diana.

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    • I think most pantsers have some idea of the end, Joan. Like you, I can’t imagine leaving the end entirely up to chance. Having a vision of the end helps us lay the groundwork as we write. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, my friend. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Writing!

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    • I love how different we all are in approaching this craft, Beth. Most people who’ve commented have indicated that they have at least a vague idea of how their stories will end (the protagonist will uncover the murderer), but pure pantsering works for some writers. I imagine that it impacts later drafts as the story is adjusted to support its final conclusion. Thanks for the visit and Happy Writing!

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  15. This is such a timely post, Diana, as I plunge into the wrap-up phase of my current wip. As a reader, I demand a satisfying ending from the author. And no, it doesn’t have to be a happy-ever-after ending, just a logical and satisfying conclusion. I devoured a book from a new author only to reach the end and find a huge cliffhanger with no resolution. I went no further with the series. Maybe some readers love that, but I don’t. So, as an author, I strive to bring everything to some sort of conclusion. I look forward to your next posts on this subject. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your stories do have wonderfully “Resolved Endings” even when they’re part of a series, Jan. Those are the most popular endings for readers. Series don’t need every plot thread tied up, but they do need a satisfying sense of conclusion. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Many thanks for stopping by and have fun finishing up your WIP!

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  16. Wonderful post, Diana. I’m looking forward to your series. When I write, I might have an idea of what the ending might be, but that idea often morphs as the story unfolds. 😊

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    • I think/hope that’s true for many of us, Gwen, that we have an idea in mind for the ending, but it continues to develop and become even stronger as we write. Stories need that creative flexibility while also benefiting from direction and structure. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, my friend. Happy Writing. ❤

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    • That’s exactly how I approach endings, Jeanne. A general idea of the ending is all we need, and then we let the characters loose. With strong goals, they’ll get there, but how they do it is often up for grabs. I love that. Thanks for stopping by and best of luck with your WIP!

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  17. I used to start stories when I was inspired enough to begin. Those all struggled to keep going. But when I decided to only start when I had an end in mind (and otherwise only make little story notes), I started finishing more projects. This is great advice!

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    • Thanks for the awesome comment and for reinforcing how important the End serves as a guide. I’m an outliner, so I probably add more story notes in the middle, but knowing how a story will end is essential for me too. I’m glad to hear you’re finishing more projects. 🙂 Happy Writing.

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  18. Oh, how I love this line, Diana: “the last delicious memory of our stories, the chocolate we leave on the reader’s pillow is the ending.” So well said. And yet, when I start a story I only have a very vague idea of the ending. Sometimes that may be nothing more than “the mystery is solved by the protagonist.” I am not good at all in figuring out endings ahead of time. The story and characters dictate that for me.
    I know that’s not a good way to write, but somehow, it’s always worked for me!

    Liked by 3 people

  19. To paraphrase James Scott Bell (and many others), the ending sells your next book. Thanks for emphasizing the importance, Diana! I usually start with some end in mind, but then the story takes on a life of its own. Like a pebble dropped in still waters, you never know where the ripples will stop.

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    • I couldn’t agree more, Grant. A great ending is the best marketing pitch we can make. And I like your metaphor of the pebble in still waters. Stories have to feel alive and characters need to be themselves. But having some idea of an end in mind helps us build toward a strong finish. Thanks for the visit and Happy Writing!

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  20. Usually, I have a rough idea of the ending as I write, but this can change as the characters grow and the plot unfolds. One thing I don’t like as a reader is the story closing without answering any questions or tying off threads. I don’t mind cliffhanger endings as long as the main plot points are addressed instead of left completely open ended. Great post, Diana, and I look forward to the rest of this series 💕🙂

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    • A rough idea is all you need, Harmony. And it can certainly change. I think sometimes pinning things down too much can work against us, especially when the characters change their minds! And the “Resolved Ending” you describe is the most popular among readers. I’ll talk about that one next time. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Writing!

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  21. We were taught at school that the beginning and the ending were the two crucial parts to get right whether we were writing fiction or non-fiction. Your post here explains why they’re so important. I’ve read several books that have begun well but lost their way by the end and left me feeling meh! I’ve also read some where there is no ending because it’s revealed (at that point) to be part of an ongoing series. I enjoy a good series. Unraveling the Veil is an excellent one where each book has it’s own, satisfying ending, but we know that there’s more to come. I’m a semi-pantster. I have a framework in my head but it usually morphs as I get to know the characters better. Generally, as I approach the ending that, too, can morph and hopefully has elements and strengths that I hadn’t originally considered. 🙂

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    • Thanks for adding to the conversation, Trish, and for the plug, lol. You’re so right that a strong book can fall flat with a mediocre ending. I think we can tell when an ending feels disconnected from the rest of the tale. Sometimes the story lacks clues or a sense of progression or an important character enters too late. Even for outliners, endings can morph and become stronger. I love that about writing, but knowing where we’re headed (generally) adds subtlety to our stories as they unfold. I’ll talk about “Unresolved Endings” in a later post and how they apply to series and serials. You’re right that some plotlines need to wrap up, even if the overall story continues. 🙂 Happy Writing, my friend.

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  22. Pingback: Writing the End – Part 1 | Legends of Windemere

    • They are hard, Sarah, and therefore deserving of some contemplation ahead of time. We don’t have to nail down every detail, and things will morph along the way, but having an idea of where we’re going, even generally, seems essential. I hope you enjoy the series. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Writing!

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    • I think that’s all we need, Audrey… an ending in mind. It helps us to lay the clues, introduce the right characters at the right time, play around with misdirection, and get our characters there in a way that makes sense. And a “Resolved Ending” with loose ends tied up is the most popular among readers. Thanks for adding to the discussion and Happy Writing!

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