Writing a satisfying conclusion is a real "gut" thing, I think. Many factors play into what makes an ending satisfying. The theme, the tone, the character's needs. Also, if it's a series or stand-alone. A conclusion for book two of a trilogy has different needs than book three.
Last year, I finished reading the final book in a series of 6 or 7. The series was about a group of friends, teenage girls. But the final scene of the series was between a character and her new boyfriend. It was a fine scene and all, but the series was rooted in the friendships of the girls. I think it would have been a much stronger ending had we finished with all of them together.
Like Gilmore Girls. The series needed to end with just Lorelai and Rory. It wouldn't have been at all satisfying if the final scene had been, say, Rory and Dean.
So as you're winding down to your last scene, it's good to ask who should be there? Who have you asked the reader to invest in? Because if you've done your job, that is who your reader is going to care about seeing in the final scene.
The next thing you should ask is how can I show my main character's growth and the change in their circumstances? That is, after all, why we've gone on this journey. If your main character needed to learn that love is worth investment and risk, then your final scene should do something that shows them invested and risking for love's sake. (The conclusion of This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen is a great example of this.) Or if your main character went on their journey to learn how to live in the moment, show them throwing caution to the wind and living in the moment.
But sometimes endings feel a little too tidy, don't they? The way to avoid this is to make it clear that things aren't perfect, just better. At the end of Me, Just Different, Skylar is walking down the hall and gets teased by her friends. She ignores them and keeps walking. Things aren't perfect, but she's learned how to better handle her situation.
At the end of Gilmore Girls, Rory is getting ready to leave, which is sad, but we see that no matter what happens, this mom and daughter will always have each other. And a great cup of coffee.
And after you've nailed down the perfect conclusion, work hard for the right final thought, and the right final sentence. Again, what makes something right has to do with the tone of the book. If your book is humorous, then something funny is appropriate. If your book is poignant, however, then you might not want to go out on a knock-knock joke. Pull a few books off your shelf - books you've read, ideally - and read the last paragraph and the last line. Do they work for the story? Why or why not?
When I was in 8th grade, I went to see the movie Ever After in theaters. It's a retelling of Cinderella. Wonderful movie. Anyway. I've always loved the last line, where the narrator says (something like) "And while Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after, the important thing was they lived." Much of the movie had focused on living life with passion and seizing the moment, so it was a wonderful twist on the classic line.
I turned to my "favorites" shelf just now and pulled a few last lines for your reading pleasure:
"It's not a French kiss, or a slow dance, or even an admission he's the author of that anonymous letter. But it's a start."
Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
"In my dream, in my arms, my baby opened his eyes and smiled."
Little Earthquakes, Jennifer Weiner
"He had never expected to recognize such a thing if ever he found it."
A Stray Drop of Blood, Roseanna M. White
"I would always know what time it was in California."
White Oleander, Janet Fitch
"She couldn't wait to see what would happen next."
Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar
"So I lay back, closing my eyes, and let them fill my mind, new and familiar all at once, rising and falling with my very breath, steady, as they sang me to sleep."
This Lullaby, Sarah Dessen
"And I've never been one to turn a gift away."
So Over My Head, Jenny B. Jones
Anyone else want to play? Feel free to share some of the last lines from your favorite books.
Quick contest update. We had 44 entries to the 150 word free write - woo, woo! By tomorrow, I'll have the list of the top 15 entries from last round's writing prompt. Yes, usually it's the "Top 20," but because we allowed 150 words this round, we did just 15 so we could keep the word count pretty similar for our judges.
Have a great Wednesday, everyone!