Writing the End – Part II

Greetings Storytellers!  Last month I introduced the topic of endings and how important they are to creating a satisfying and lasting impression of our books: Writing the End, Part One. Now, it’s time to browse through some common types of endings.

Not all types of endings are mutually exclusive, and the goal isn’t to pick one kind of ending and force your story to conform. Instead, it’s to focus on what you want to emphasize as the most important element of your book, what final experience you want to give your readers as they close the last page. It’s how you fulfill the promise you made at the story’s beginning.

There are 8 common ways to end a story.

  • Resolved Ending
  • Unresolved Ending
  • Ambiguous Ending
  • Surprise Ending
  • Tie-back Ending
  • Altered World Ending
  • Altered Character Ending
  • The Epilog

Today I’m going to chat about the first four.

1.    Resolved Ending

A Resolved Ending is the most common way to finish up a book and the perfect choice if you want everything wrapped up and tied with a bow, happily or miserably ever after. Authors frequently employ this type of ending when writing standalone novels or the final book in a series, and it easily crosses genres.

Romances rely heavily on Resolved Endings, and readers expect those Happily Ever After wrap-ups after all the emotional turmoil. Mysteries are much the same where, despite all the confusion and red herrings, the details are cleared up by the last page.

The popularity of these genres may be, in part, due to their resolved endings, which most readers find highly satisfying. These endings conclude plotlines and tie up character threads. There’s no conjecture needed and few questions left unanswered. The reader knows what happened, and has a good idea of what’s ahead for the characters.

Keeping track of plotlines and questions raised by the narrative is a good idea. Eventually, you’ll need to address how Aunt Matilda ended up in the basement and whether Rupert found his missing iguana even if those aren’t major parts of the storyline.

That said, even with Resolved Endings, there’s a limit as to how much detail you need to wrap up. Rather than adding whole chapters to make sure you’ve answered every question the story raised, you can allow readers to reach some conclusions on their own. It’s also acceptable to resolve some of the subplots right before the climax. Perhaps Rupert finds his iguana the day before the heist goes haywire!

2.    Unresolved Ending

An Unresolved Ending is the opposite of a resolved ending. The overarching plot remains unfinished, and the writer leaves the final outcomes of some of the characters’ arcs unknown, especially that of the main protagonist.

This type of ending is well suited to a series or serial. It leaves questions unanswered, tasks undone, and conflicts lurking in the mist. If done well, it should raise a desperate desire in the reader to know what happens next. A new hook at the book’s conclusion is vital and a unique aspect of this type of ending. It deserves as much careful crafting as the hook in the first chapter.

Cliffhangers at the end of books are an option with serials, and readers often have mixed feelings about them. Some readers love the excitement and anticipation, while others hate being left hanging, which they’ll let you know in their reviews!

Serials (one long story told over a number of books) may leave numerous unresolved plotlines and character goals as they work up to an epic Resolved Ending. These are common in trilogies, especially in fantasy and science fiction, but they’re by no means limited to those genres. And they often don’t stand alone. The first two books of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings are good examples of serials with unresolved endings.

Series (versus serials) often require endings with more closure and, in many instances, they can stand alone. Readers of series generally understand that parts of a story will remain unresolved when they reach the last page. That said, it’s important for writers to keep in mind that not every element in the story should be left swinging in the wind. In general, a good rule of thumb for writing Unresolved Endings is to tie up subplots while leaving the main plot open as a hook into the next book. The assassin is dead, and the hostage has been rescued, but the terrorist mastermind still has the nuclear codes. Think about what threads you want to tie up, what doors you want to leave open, and what questions you want to pose to draw the reader onward.

3.    Ambiguous Ending

Ambiguous endings can be thought-provoking and linger in a reader’s mind for days, or they can frustrate a reader who expects a tidy resolution. They’re effective if you want your readers to reflect on the meaning of your book, ponder what actually happened, or muse over what might happen next.

With ambiguous endings, there’s no next book. The conclusion is unclear or unknown. The author withholds information or allows several logical explanations to exist at once, leaving the reader with questions and an opportunity to speculate without having a right or wrong answer.

  • Was it murder or suicide?
  • Did the government kill the rebel or let him go?
  • Is the narrator reliable, confused, or completely mad?

Not all genres work well with these endings, but many do, especially complex stories about “things we can’t or don’t know.” Books with unreliable narrators fall into this category if the reader is left questioning the character’s interpretation of events and what really happened.

These stories still need a climax, and planning this type of ending from the start is essential in preparing the reader for the lack of a full resolution. In these stories, allowing different interpretations should be more satisfying to the reader than having a definitive explanation.

4.    Surprise Ending

If you lead your readers to believe a book will end one way, and then you add a big old plot twist or completely unexpected turn of events, you’ve written a surprise ending. Sometimes, the whole story is flipped onto its head with a previously-believed fact turning out to be false.

  • The murder victim isn’t really dead
  • The jewels they’ve been fighting over are all forgeries.
  • The organ donor was her estranged father.
  • Innocent old Aunt Bettina is the werewolf!

Surprise Endings are good for toying with a reader’s emotions. Depending on the type of story, surprises can quickly lift a reader’s spirits or send them crashing to the floor. Either way, they create a dramatic shift in a reader’s experience.

Mysteries often include a twist, and fans of the genre love them, but few readers enjoy twists that show up out of nowhere. Details have to lead the reader in one direction, while at the same time, the writer must lay the groundwork so that the conclusion, while unexpected, still makes logical sense and brings the story to a satisfying end.

If a Surprise Ending is well-executed, the author won’t need a character to wrap up the book by explaining the clues, twists, and plot to the other characters. Instead, the action, character, and twist will speak for themselves.

**

That wraps up the Part II of our exploration of endings with four common ways to end a book. Next time (in January), we’ll tackle the other four types of endings before we head into the elements that make up a satisfying ending.

Which of these endings do you prefer to write or read? If you think back to some of our favorite books, did they fit any of these common types?

Happy Writing!

93 thoughts on “Writing the End – Part II

  1. Pingback: Writing the End – Part III | Story Empire

  2. Pingback: Writer’s Tips – January Edition – #Writing Solo Life, Fonts, Writing the End, Author Bio, #Blogging Tips – DGKayewriter.com

    • I think you’re like most readers, Michael, in that you enjoy happy endings with the story well-wrapped up. Most books end that way because they’re so popular. Wishing you a wonderful holiday, my friend, and beautiful new year. Hugs.

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    • The thing about ambiguous endings, Debby, is that we aren’t really sure of how the book ended. Did the person survive the trek out of the winter mountains or die in the cave and only dream of making it out? I can totally understand how readers might find these endings frustrating! Lol. Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. I’m starting your book tonight. Woo hoo!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m saving this whole series, Diana! Great things to ponder here, and I’m still hoping to get back to writing soon. (Fifteen chapters invested in my 4th Riverbend book, and 3 in my Rabbit spinoff novella … I really don’t want to just toss them out, and retire. Not yet!) Really looking forward to Part 3!!

    Thanks for the tips and Merry Christmas, my friend! 😊🎄😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much, Marcia. I don’t think you have any challenges with your endings, but I’m glad you enjoyed the posts so far. I suppose there’s always something to ponder. 🙂 I’m so glad to hear that you’re writing! No retiring until Rabbit is all grown up with magical kids of his own. Hehe. Happy Holidays, my friend.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Another wonderful post, Diana. I do enjoy a resolved ending at times. But there is a lot to be said for the unresolved. It leaves the reader with options, I believe. Did she make it to Paris or did she stay behind and help the poor old blind man next door get his driver’s license? My favorite has to be the surprise ending. Toss that twist in there and leave the reader in shock. Lots to think about. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Diana.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by, Beem. Unresolved endings eventually turn into resolved endings (in a later book), but those ambiguous endings stay ambiguous, and if done well, they’re great reads. And I love twists too. I don’t write them, but I get such a kick out of reading them. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. As a traditionalist, I like things wrapped up neatly in a bow, although I have read books that have pulled it off in all the other ways you brought up. I don’t mind a surprise ending if it makes some semblance of sense, especially if hidden clues were planted earlier in the story. I agree that ambiguous endings are probably the most frustrating, as I don’t like investing all that time, enjoying every moment of a novel, only to be left out on a limb at the end. It’s funny how some ambiguous endings are still satisfying when others make me want to pull my hair out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Most readers enjoy a resolved ending, Pete. For writers, they’re the safest bet, but skilled writers can pull off the others and create quite different reading experiences. Your last comment gives testament to that fact. I enjoy a thought-provoking ambiguous endings, but they’re hard to find, and as a writer, a resolved ending is a safe bet. Thanks for swinging by, and have a wonderful holiday, my friend. My best to you and yours. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Another great post, Diana. I usually go for resolved endings for that sense of satisfaction when good prevails and the world is righted again, but I have enjoyed several books with surprise endings, too. One of the possible endings for my first book was the antagonist getting away with murder and reading the eulogy to the victim in the church service- the family were horrified and I went with plan B! Series and serials are fine as long as I know that’s what I’m reading before I start and there is some resolution at the end of each book. A novel that leaves everything up in the air can cause the red mist to descend…
    Have a lovely Christmas, Diana – and thanks for all that you’ve done for me, and others, during the year. ♥♥

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Having read the comments (so far,) I seem to be the odd one out here. I really do not mind what the ending is. If I am enjoying the story, I wish it would last forever. No ending is going to be good, or bad for that matter, as I just wish the tale, I am invested in, never to finish.
    That said after reading Robert Jordans “Wheel of Time” series, all fourteen (as well as a couple of standalone novels set in the same world) thousand-page novels I was heartily glad that they finished.
    I wonder if any of you have read the novels of Ian Banks (if not you should). An author that liked (sadly departed this world) playing with his readers, torturing them, cajoling them. Inventing new languages and mystifying. He once wrote a wonderful novel called “Matter” which is delightful, but no one ever knew why It was called “Matter” Many years after the novel won every award going, he was asked why it was called “Matter” his answer was “life is always present, an ending does not matter…..

    Liked by 3 people

    • What a fun comment! I’ll bet that if you’re enjoying a story, you’re probably reading an author who knows what he or she is doing and has written a satisfying ending as well. I also read the whole Wheel of Time series and was thrilled when I reached the end. Thanks for the tip about Ian Banks. And what a fun story about his book Matter. Lol. It sounds like the guy had a sense of humor in addition to being a great writer. Thanks for stopping by, Ray, and have a wonderful holiday season. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, Ian Banks had a wonderful sense of Irony and humor and was so successful and lauded that he was able to tell his publisher what to print rather than the other way around (as is almost always the case) In his novel “Excession” he takes time out in the middle of an earth-shattering conflict that is going to affect the fate of his main characters as well as the whole of humanity to describe five dimensional thought through theoretical mathematics and artificial intelligence all for the sake of a punchline. I have known no other author who would take such chances but more, there are few other authors that would or could take such chances and pull them off every time.

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  8. Thanks for continuing this series, Diana. I’ve read all of these types, and I’ve been happy with all of them. Usually, if I get to the end, I’m under the control of the author. As long as they don’t really screw it up, I’m good.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Some of these are tricky to write, Dan, that ambiguous ending in particular, so its great to hear that you’re hitting some good ones. You’re “under the control of the author.” What a great statement. Have a wonderful holiday and beautiful new year, my friend. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. If a writer’s skilled enough to make the ending fit the story, I’m game for all of the above. Mostly, I like resolved endings, though, because most of the time, the others are so hard to pull off, the endings are botched. And that’s awful. If a writer can surprise at the end, and it works, that’s a plus!
    My least favorite ending of all is a downer ending where I’ve been rooting for the hero through one or more books, and everything goes down in flames at the end and the bad guy(s) wins.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I think a lot of readers would agree with you, Judi. Resolved endings are the easiest to write and very satisfying. Authors need to know what they’re doing to pull off the others, which is one reason why planning the end from the beginning is important. And crash and burn endings… I’ll bet the number of readers who enjoy those is small. Thanks for taking the time to read! Happy Writing and Happy Holidays!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I love to be surprised, and that’s hard to do. I am also a big fan of happily ever after, but sometimes the ending just needs to fit the story however it comes out. Great post with helpful information to ponder, Diana 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Molly. It’s helpful to me to see all the different options shared side by side. And these are only the most popular. Then, to a degree, they can be combined. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Holidays, my friend. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  11. While I don’t have a favourite type of ending, I’m not a fan of ambiguous endings if they are so vague they leave you with a ‘what the heck was that?’ feeling. I love cliffhangers if the main plot points are tied up … for instance, if a new element is introduced right at the end.

    Great post on the various kinds of endings and a useful reference! Thanks for sharing, Diana 💕🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • I think ambiguous endings must be daunting to write, Harmony. There’s a fine line between “wow, that was cool” and “what the heck?” Lol. And I agree with you about cliffhangers. There’s a big difference between books that seem to end mid-stride and books that tack on a little tease right at the end after most elements are resolved. Then there’s everything in between! Thanks for stopping by, my friend. Congrats on your wonderful tour. Now rest and enjoy the holidays. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. What a great look at endings, Diana!

    I’m not a fan of cliffhangers, but if I’m a fan of the author, I’ll go along for the ride. One of my auto-buy authors occasionally does cliffhangers, but I’ve followed them (a writing duo) for years, so they get a free pass from me. I know they’re going to deliver a fantastic followup, and I’m left with anticipation. That’s a rarity, because I’m normally annoyed by cliffhanger endings.

    The same with unresolved and ambiguous endings. What? I spend all that time in a book and the author can’t take the time to wrap things up?

    That said, the first book I read by another auto-buy author had an unresolved ending, but the story and writing so blew me away, I was hooked.
    And then there was the book with the ambiguous ending that became my second top read of the year for 2021.

    So while I prefer a resolved ending (and love a surprise ending), I can be swayed by good writing and story telling. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

    • Ha ha ha. I love all the “buts,” Mae. It all comes down to the quality of the writing and the author’s ability to craft a story in such a way that the ending fits (as Staci commented). I think resolved endings are the easiest to write, and perhaps my advice to a new writer would be to try that first. But the others can certainly work and be highly entertaining. Mystery writers are great at surprise endings and twists, as you know. Thanks for the visit and for adding to the fun. Happy Holidays!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the visit, Bette. Most of us don’t need every tiny detail wrapped up, but in general, readers seem to prefer their major questions answered by the end and the promise made at the beginning kept. I used to love epilogs that looked into the future and concluded everyone’s lives, but not as much now. I like imagining and the uncertainty of life. It feels real to me. Thanks so much for sharing and I’m delighted that you enjoyed the post. Happy Maine Holidays, my friend. Stay warm!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. What great explanations. Unexpectedly, the ending to my first trilogy left it open to another book. I didn’t plan that, it just happened. You and I talked about it once on a post. This post explains a lot, Diana. I felt rather odd with my ending, but now see it is what you call an ‘ambiguous ending’. I like that clarity.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Unresolved endings and ambiguous endings are closely related, Jacquie. But ambiguous endings Never get resolved. They’re meant to remain open and lead the reader to wonder about the story and what really happened. Trilogies (or other series/serials) leave things unresolved until the final book, where the resolved ending takes place. My takeaway on unresolved endings is to finish up some of the subplots, so there’s a sense of resolution even though the main story continues (something I need to work on, in fact). I tend to notice when a book seems to end “mid-sentence” without any closure at all. As I recall, your serials are unresolved until the final book… as they should be. 🙂 Thanks for the visit and for adding to the discussion. I love talking shop! Happy Holidays, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m generally not a fan of cliffhangers but if done well, I’ll continue a series. Surprise endings are nice unless the writer goes way off base and tries for shock value.

    I agree with Staci, the ending should be true to the book. Great post, Diana!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for stopping by, Joan, and for adding to the discussion. Yeah, that statement from Staci was a great one. So true and a good reason to know where you’re going from the start. And you’re right about surprise endings. They have to be well-planned or readers will be left scratching their heads rather than amazed. Happy Holidays and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! I get your meaning, Craig. Pulling this together definitely got me thinking about endings, especially related to serials, which I’ve written. My first one probably ended too sharply without enough subplots wrapped up. I like to read books with ambiguous endings, and there’s nothing like a great twist. 🙂 Thanks for the visit and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 3 people

  15. You did a great job of explaining the different types of endings and why they might or might not work. I have never written a cliffhanger ending. I’m not sure it’s in my DNA to leave the reader hanging. As a writer, I need the resolutions the endings bring. As a reader, I often will not go forward with a series when the author has left me hanging. But there are all different types of readers, and as you say, a strong hook is needed to keep the reader invested in the story. Thank you for sharing your expertise in this area, Diana. A fabulous and informative post!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Cliffhangers are so tricky, Jan, and a lot of readers don’t like them. I think it’s great to have a tantalizing hook left open when writing a serial, but it also seems wise to wrap up everything that can be wrapped up (subplots), so readers feel satisfied and can take a deep breath. “Not in your DNA” Lol. That’s just fine since readers love resolved endings, especially when there’s a romantic element. You’re right where you need to be. Happy Holidays and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I can’t say I have a favorite ending to read because I think the ending has to be true to the book. (It wouldn’t be fair to say I prefer resolved endings if the plot requires a surprise.) That said, I’ve experimented with writing different types of endings, and the unresolved gave me the most satisfaction as an author because I enjoyed thinking I’d created something that made readers think. (I should note that this particular story was also an experiment with second-person narration, so the whole work was a challenge I was happy to complete, which could be why I enjoyed the results so much. I’m clearly biased in this case.) I tend to write resolved endings, though I like to throw in a surprise with it (in suspense) if I can.

    Great post, Diana. Looking forward to more in this series.

    Liked by 6 people

    • That’s a great point that the ending has to fit the story… which is one of the reasons that having an ending in mind is important (for most authors). The whole story has to integrate with it and lead up to it. A book with an ambiguous ending may disappoint a reader if the structure of the story points toward a resolved ending and then just ends without getting there. And that’s cool that you’ve experimented with different endings, Staci. It’s challenging but rewarding. 🙂 Happy Writing!

      Liked by 2 people

  17. My publisher requires a resolved, predictable and happy ending to meet the reader’s expectations. As a reader, I enjoy those surprise endings. I’m looking forward to dabbling in self-publishing in order to have a little freedom. Great post, Diana!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jill. Readers love resolved endings, and they’re almost a given with romances. It makes sense that your publisher is insistant. 🙂 But it would be fun to experiment, wouldn’t it? Put a twist on that resolved ending? Or leave a little ambiguity there? I’m excited to hear that you’re going to dabble in self-publishing. How exciting. Do you have a story in mind, or is this down the road?

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you, Diana, for this clear and helpful explanation of endings. I think my books fall in-between resolved and ambiguous endings, as they tend to defer to the reader’s imagination. Hmm, I need to think about this more. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the visit, Gwen, and for sharing your thoughts. I have the third book of your series on my kindle for the holidays. Now I’m curious to find out if it’s a resolved ending, an ambiguous ending, or a resolved ending with a few open questions for the reader to ponder. Either way, I’m looking forward to it. Happy Writing, my friend, and Happy Holidays.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: Writing the End – Part II | Legends of Windemere

  20. As a reader, I rather like the Ambiguous ending, as long as it isn’t so ambiguous as to be Annoying. They are perfect for books with unreliable narrators. I think most of my books have partly resolved endings, but since they are linked to one another, there are some unresolved elements.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I could ditto your comment, Audrey. I really like endings that make me think, and unreliable narrators are fascinating to figure out. And I agree totally with your descriptions of your books. They can stand alone, but there are elements left open that link them into a larger story. Thanks for swinging by and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 2 people

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