Writing the End – Part V

Greetings Storytellers.  I’m back with my final thoughts on how to end our books. So far, in this series, we’ve covered:

  • Part I – Why Endings are Important
  • Part II and Part III – 8 Common Ways to End a Story, and
  • Part IV – 7 Elements for a Satisfying Ending

In this post, Part V, we’re going to browse through the final 7 elements that contribute to a satisfying ending for our readers.

In the last post we touched on:

  • Know how your book will end
  • Write a logical ending
  • Write a satisfying ending
  • End with a sense of finality
  • Know when to end
  • Last impressions matter
  • Keep things fresh

This time we’ll cover:

  • Avoid Deus ex Machina endings
  • The plot twist
  • Highlight your protagonist
  • Narrow your protagonist’s path
  • The brink of failure
  • Transformation
  • Add a little hope

Tips for Writing an Awesome Ending (8-14)

8. Avoid Deus ex Machina endings

This is one of the least satisfying ways to finish up a book, so it’s one to avoid. It’s a plot device where the character’s problem is solved at the end by the appearance of an unplanned-for character, object, action, ability, or event.

 If Carla is just about to get a life sentence for a crime she didn’t do, and at the last moment, a random mailman walks in and confesses, you have a deus ex machina ending. Same thing if you have a character who suddenly finds she can turn invisible in the climactic battle when she’s never had this ability before.

Those might be extreme examples, but they do happen, especially when writers have painted themselves into a corner and need a quick fix. Usually, these types of endings are considered gimmicky devices that rob power from the characters and make a plot seem weak.  A better ending is one where the protagonist’s choices and actions bring about the resolution.

9. The plot twist

Even if a writer isn’t employing a Surprise Ending, plot twists (whether explosive or subtle) can make an ending shine. When writing a plot twist, a writer leads the reader to believe one thing and then flips that expectation on its head. When setting up a good twist at the end, writers need to make sure that while certain details lead the reader in one direction, others are set in place so that the revelation of the truth makes sense.

10. Highlight your protagonist

At the story’s end, the protagonist’s arc is about to resolve one way or another. The reader needs to see him rise to the occasion and succeed (or fail). This action must happen on stage, not off in the wings. Along the same lines, a satisfactory ending shouldn’t be narrated by someone else or remembered after the fact.

Your main character belongs on center stage at the end of their story. As the writer, you’ve given your protagonist a problem to solve, thrown up obstacles left and right, plunged him into terrible situations, and forced him to evolve (or not). After all the turmoil and drama, no other character can bring about a satisfactory ending in the protagonist’s place.

11. Narrow your protagonist’s path

Your protagonist’s journey is one of trying and failing. Obstacles of all sorts get in her way, some internal, others external. The antagonist (or whatever represents the character’s main foil) plays an important part and should win the majority of the conflicts—until the final one.

As the story nears its end, the protagonist’s options start narrowing, and a sense of inevitability begins to take over. The character starts to see that the path to her goal heads in one direction—frequently one she’s been trying to avoid. Close off the character’s choices or your reader might wonder why she didn’t… flee, shoot, lie, surrender, or make a different choice.

12. The brink of failure

A writer creates suspense by keeping the reader wondering whether or not a protagonist is going to achieve her goal. You can intensify that suspense by incorporating a moment near the end when the main character stands on the brink of failure and all seems lost. Then throw in a plot twist to make matters even worse. The worse the story gets, and the fewer pages left, the more suspense you’ll generate. The darker and more hopeless the moment, the bigger the payoff when your character prevails.

13. Transformation

Some main characters don’t change, even when given the opportunity, even when everything they hold dear hangs in the balance. They simply can’t do it, and they return to their old ways.

For most stories, however, the ending brings a powerful close to the character’s arc. They’ve learned valuable lessons and find themselves, in some way, changed. A satisfactory ending honors their transformation. Some transformations will have big enough repercussions to serve as the story’s climax, but even small moments of understanding or insight are worthy of note.

In action-driven novels, characters may not have undergone an internal change, but they have completed their goal. They’ve won the race or vanquished the enemy. Despite all their failures and mistakes, give them a moment of acknowledgment and satisfaction in their accomplishments.

14. Add a little hope

Not all stories end happily ever after, and sometimes hope is hard to find. But your protagonist has just survived an ordeal. Let them take a breath and find something redeeming or beautiful or hopeful about what they’ve accomplished or changed about their situation. A great ending gives the reader a feeling of satisfaction and hope.


That wraps up my posts about endings. It’s a lot, I know, but whether you’re a plotter or pantser, incorporating some or all of these ideas will make your endings stronger. Plan them from the beginning or think about them as you write. Some writers have a great ending in mind and then pantser their way toward it. Some writers find they need to experiment with different kinds of endings before landing on the one that works best for their story.  How you get there is up to you.

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.

Happy Writing!

104 thoughts on “Writing the End – Part V

  1. VERY late to comment, Diana, but not because of lack of interest in this series, and this post, in particular. I’m running way behind, but I really enjoyed reading this today, and am saving it, along with the entire series, for easy referral. Thanks for a great (and very helpful) series! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This has been a wonderful series Diana. Thank you for all your great insights. There’s nothing worse than investing our valuable time into a book only to have a letdown ending. Sadly, I’d read a few last year like that, despite hundreds of great reviews. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for swinging by, Viv. I’m glad you enjoyed it. If there’s one take away from all this information, it’s to take our time and write the best possible ending we can – the book as well as the reader’s interest in reading further is dependent on it. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Writing the End – Part V – menthor of mind

  4. The ending is so important. If you leave the reader wanting (not in a good way), the rest of the story loses it’s lustre. So hard to find the good bids after a non-stellar ending! This has been a fascinating series. Thank you, Diana.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Predictability is the worst, especially if we sense we can see the entire plot after one chapter. Not far behind in cringe-worthy material for me is the plot twist that makes no sense. These are some of the most satisfying endings when done well, but they leave a horrible taste in a reader’s mouth when they’re implausible. Great series—I plan to refer to this again. Thank you, Diana.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for dropping by, Pete. Endings are so important and a sloppy one can ruin an otherwise exciting book. Or the other way around – save it and make a reader want more. I’m glad you enjoyed the series. And I hope you’re making great progress! Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s so true, Beem. If there’s one message that’s come out of this series, it’s not to take our endings for granted. They’re worth all the effort to think them through and get them right. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Plot twists and suprises are my favorite endings mixed with some hope. I am disappointed when a reunion or action I’ve been waiting for happens off stage. Great post and examples, Diana 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Readers love plot twists, Denise. Some writers are so good at those. I find them intimidating but really should learn how to incorporate them. Yeah, an ending off stage can be disappointing. I read a book years ago where the main character was in the hospital while the rest of the characters finished the story for him. It was such a strange ending. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and series. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I really liked this series, Diana. I’m a big fan of twist endings and my germ of a short story idea often start with that. I had never heard of the term “Deus ex Machina” endings but I’ve read plenty of them over the years. They have the same unsatisfying finish as the TV (usually crime) dramas that end with the characters explaining how they reached their conclusion. Lazy writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love twists, Janis, but my brain isn’t creative enough to come up with them. If I do, it’s a fluke. Lol. That’s awesome that your stories often start there. Yeah, deus ex machina endings make me scratch my head, and I too really dislike television shows (or books) where they end with a character explaining the plot. Honestly, it’s the worst type of “telling” and can kill an otherwise exciting story. It’s definitely something to watch out for with mysteries and crime stories. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Writing!


  8. I enjoyed this series, Diana. I agree with the majority on Deus ex Machina endings, and I love a good plot twist. I am also okay with an open ending setting up the next book as long as I don’t need to wait for the next book in the series. I rad one series where the books were almost one year apart. Once I started reading the series, I had to know how it progressed because of the cliffhanger. Now, if the next book is not close to coming out, I don’t bother.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for stopping by, Michele. I don’t know anyone who loves a deus ex machina ending, so definitely something to avoid. Lol. I’m with you on wanting to jump into the next book if there’s an unresolved ending, and like you, I’ll often wait until a series is done. My brain can’t remember the details if there’s too much time between them! I’m glad you enjoyed the series. Have a wonderful afternoon and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great series of posts, Diana. I firmly believe that if a writer does not know how their story ends, then they don’t know what they’re trying to say. And if you don’t know what the story is trying to say, then you don’t know what it’s about. This was something we discussed in my recent review of Heat 2: that a narrative, per Tom Stoppard, must play itself out to aesthetic, moral, and logical conclusion.

    The trouble is, we’ve become so accustomed over the past 15 years to open-ended worldbuilding — the plot-centric storyworlds of the MCU, Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Last of Us, etc. — that knowing how to conclude a narrative is actually becoming something of a lost art. I hear pitches for novels all the time in which the author stipulates that this is merely the first of a series — “Book One in the Realm of Shadows Chronicles,” or what have you.

    These days, writers don’t come up with stories; instead, they come up with concepts… and then start writing. And that’s how they end up with these seven-entries-and-counting series of books that just go on and on to no apparent point. Like I said: If you don’t know how your story ends, you don’t know what it’s about — so why are you writing it?


    • Wow, Sean. A powerful statement: “…if a writer does not know how their story ends, then they don’t know what they’re trying to say. And if you don’t know what the story is trying to say, then you don’t know what it’s about.” I love that and it speaks strongly to a work’s promise/ theme, which writers should set up very early in the story. I’m not a fan of stories in film or paper that don’t have a point and I usually lose interest. Fortunately, there are still thousands of well-written books to chose from. Thanks for the fascinating comment! I’ll remember this one. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the lovely comment, Judi. That last paragraph is a good take-away, and a reminder of how important ending are. Whether a reader picks up another one of our books is often influenced by our endings. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This has been a great series, Diana. I’m a panster, but I know how I want each book to end. Getting there is another matter. 🙂 I do not like Deus ex Machina endings. Fortunately, I don’t come across too many of these, but like in the examples you can, they are too good to be true or totally unrealistic. I think some writers try to go for the shock ending and fail miserably.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for dropping by, Joan. After reading your books, I think your method of pantsering toward a known ending works well. And I agree about how a poorly devised shock ending can end up being a Deus ex machina disappointment. A good ending really does require a lot of work. 🙂 Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great suggestions, Diana. I struggle with endings. My last few books have ended with unsolved mysteries (on purpose), hinting at future books. I didn’t mean to, just came out that way.

    How about a post on famous endings. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s end to the Sherlock Holmes series would have to rank #1–especially since it didn’t work!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not well enough read to write that post, Jacqui. I’ve never read Sherlock at all! But it would be fun to analyze one or two and see how the authors worked them. And unresolved endings work just fine in series. When you wrap a series up, more of these will apply. Thanks for the visit and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. A great ending to a very useful series! I think I’m on the right track with my current work-in-progress. (Knock wood!) I don’t write with the ending in mind because I don’t know exactly what it will be until the characters reveal it to me. However, that means storyboarding after first draft is finished in order to ensure that everything that comes before it makes sense–then revise accordingly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh interesting, Liz. I don’t think I could write that way, but somehow it works marvelously for you. Applying the structure after the first draft isn’t that uncommon, I think, but it sure takes discipline. I’m glad you enjoyed the series and that it came in handy. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • If I knew the exact ending when I started, I wouldn’t write the story. Where’s the fun in that? I’m just glad that the writing process movement in the ’70s and ’80s brought to the fore that everyone’s writing process is a bit different, and forcing writers into a predetermined mode results in lifeless writing and a very frustrated writer.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. I completely agree, Liz. I love writing tips, but my hackles go up everything someone tells me I must do something their way. We each need to find what works for us individually, and then figure out how to craft a great story within those parameters. It’s work, but it’s also what makes this vocation so exciting. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  13. HI Diana, I had no idea what you meant by Deus ex Machina endings until I read the description. The first thing that came into my mind was JK Rowling’s destroying all the time turners at the end of book 5 of the Harry Potter series. She certainly wrote herself into a corner with those and had to amend her error. The moral of the story is, outline your books before you start writing. As for transformation, strangely, I was saying to Rebecca Budd just yesterday that I didn’t like the ending to Gone with the Wind because Scarlett’s transformation at the end was to unlikely and I preferred her as she was. Rhett was horrible at the end and wasn’t worth grovelling to. It ruined a perfectly good book – smile!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting about Harry Potter, Robbie. I haven’t read the books, so I’ll take your word for it. And yes, those out-of-the-blue Deus ex Machina endings are quite contrived and unsatisfying. They’re head scratchers for sure. And I agree with you about Gone with the Wind. I didn’t like it at all, and often got such strange looks when I’d mention that. We’re on the same page, my friend. Thanks for the visit and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment, Jill. I’m glad you enjoyed the series. I learned quite a bit as I pulled it together. It’s amazing how much goes into writing books, isn’t it? Yeesh! Have a lovely day and Happy Writing. ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This has been a wonderful series, Diana. I’ve enjoyed all examples throughout, including today’s.
    I recall reading a book that was a combination twist ending and Deus ex Machina. I’m sure the author expected the reader to be blown away by her twist, but the surprise came out of nowhere with absolutely zero set up. It felt more like Deus ex Machina. Sad too, because the book was intriguing right up until the end. Had the author just taken the tie to foreshadow, it would have made all the difference!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Sometimes deus ex machina endings just need some foreshadowing, or the person (or item) needs an earlier introduction to the story. Surprise endings are tricky because they need to surprise, but they also have to be set up so they don’t feel out-of-the-blue. It’s a delicate balance. We’ve all read books with disappointing endings. It’s worth it to devote some time to making them as good as we can. 🙂 Happy Writing!

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  15. I hate a deus ex machina ending. I don’t find them often in published work, but I’ve seen more than expected while editing. I love a good plot twist. And I agree—the more hopeless it looks, the more satisfying the ending. Great tips.

    Fabulous series, Diana.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t like deus ex machina endings either, Staci. I see them now and then, usually in the form of someone or something entering the story in the last 4 or so chapters and solving the problem. Often, just an earlier introduction or a bit of strategic forecasting would solve the problem. Thanks for taking the time to read the post. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jan. I’m glad you enjoyed this. I think the more we read this kind of stuff, the more it becomes embedded in our brains. That’s true for me anyway. I never stop learning and enjoy that aspect of this craft. Happy Writing, my friend. ❤


  16. Excellent, Diana. Thank you for underscoring the importance of the ending. Your last paragraph needs framing. I’ve learned a lot through your series and especially this post. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for swinging by and commenting, Gwen. I learn something new every time I write one of these posts, or at least, they reinforce my understanding. If anything, this series taught me to spend time getting the ending right! I’m glad you enjoyed the series. Hugs and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Terrific! The explanations and neat examples are compelling and I can see these pitfalls and successes in the books I read. That last paragraph explaining that “In some ways, the whole book is about its ending” I’ve taken to heart. Many thanks, Diana! ♥♥

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the series, Trish, and if there’s one takeaway from this whole thing, it’s that line. It’s the ending that leaves the reader satisfied or disappointed, and it’s the ending that determines whether they’ll pick up another book. 🙂 They’re worth at least as much time and effort as our beginnings. Thanks for dropping by and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Thanks, Diana! As you’ve shown in this excellent series, the story’s close more often than not influences a reader’s level of satisfaction.

    In my quest to discover what separates bestselling authors from other writers, I read hundreds of Amazon reviews each year. Whether by intent or happenstance, the outset of a novel implies a promise to readers. Authors who fulfill audiences’ expectations win the coveted bestseller prize. Those who don’t close all the dramatic questions and foreshadows raised during the story get dinged with poor reviews.

    For example, readers share disappoints with comments like “the ending felt rushed,” and “this story had more plot holes than Swiss cheese.”

    I love how the late Stephen Covey put it in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: begin with the end in mind.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the great comment, Grant. I’ll rarely pick up a book if a review says, “The book started great, but the end was a disappointment.” On the other hand, I might snag a book with this review: “It started slow but the ending blew me away.” Endings are so important because they’re what propels the reader into the next book. I’m glad you enjoyed the series. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 2 people

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

  20. A most comprehensive look at endings, Diana. It’s worth thinking out the ending and using it as a destination while writing, rather than wandering around looking for it. Sometimes that leads to a rushed ending, which is usually disappointing.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thanks for stopping by, Audry, and I agree. After all the work we put into a book, it would be a shame to drop the ball at the end. As a plotter, I always know where I’m going when I start a story, but I still have to slow down and put thought and effort into the ending. There’s so much to think about! Happy Writing.


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