Thursday, March 4, 2010

Writing a Good Ending

So since we’ve covered Writing a Good First Line, Writing a Good Opening Scene, and Writing a Good Middle, it’s only natural that we talk about what makes a good ending.

This is one of those topics that has a variety of answers because a good ending is more of a feel than a formula (in most cases – more on that later), and because what works for some readers won’t work for others. Like some reviewers thought my first book, Me, Just Different had a great, satisfying ending. Others felt like it left on a cliffhanger. But there are some basics we can go over.

One is if you’re writing a romance, they have to end up together. This is why I said an ending is sometimes a formula because romance is: Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Otherwise, it’s simply not a romance. Gone with the Wind—not a romance. Scarlett and Rhett would have to be reconciled for it to be a romance. But while there’s the sense of inevitability in a romance, there also needs to be an unpredictability about how it all unfolds. Which is why great romance writing is truly an art form.

Most readers I talk to prefer happy endings. And yet Jodi Picoult continues to sell books by the millions, so…?

So let’s use the term “satisfying ending.” Look at some your favorite books, read the last chapter or so, and analyze what it is that makes the ending so good. Alternately, you can reread the last chapter of a book you thought sucked and see what didn't work for you. Sometimes I feel like I learn more from reading crappy fiction than I do really stellar stuff.

Actually, I just finished reading a generally sucky book that had a decent ending. Here’s a few things I gleaned from it:

1. The ending highlighted change in the main character. We saw how she was different inside, and that makes me feel like I hadn’t wasted the last 200ish pages reading her journey.

2. Not only did we see how she had changed inside, we saw how the world had changed for her. We saw glimpses of what might be different from now on.

3. While the ending was not picture perfect, the author did a good job of bringing forth the shreds of happiness that we could. Was our main character 100% happy with how things had turned out? No, but she could see the silver linings. I happen to think these are the best kind of endings. Maybe her boyfriend dumped her, but she’s now on speaking terms with her best friend. Maybe she still suffers from giving up her baby for adoption, but she sees how happy the adopted parents are and that makes her feel good.

So those are a couple things that you can check your ending for, or that you can work toward if you’re still a long ways away from typing THE END.


  1. I still remember the first ending I read that wasn't happy but was RIGHT--it was the first of Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion Trilogy. Turned out terribly from a romance perspective, but it was so perfect for the story that I couldn't be angry about it. ;-)