Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
(This post is part of the Writing A Novel From Beginning to End series. You can find other posts from this series on the Looking For Something Specific? tab.)
After our brief deviation last week, let's get back to talking about endings.
Your character has gone through their final test and now ... what? Do you need to have every plot thread tied up neatly with a pretty bow? What if you still have a sequel to write? Should your ending be sad or happy? Do you need an epilogue?
As always, your story's tone and genre will come into play. If you're writing a romance novel, for example, your story is going to end very soon after the couple finally gets together. It's just part of the genre. Same with a mystery—when the mystery is solved, the story is practically over.
Regarding if your story should end happy, sad, or somewhere in-between, that really depends on the kind of story you've told. The Fault In Our Stars will have a different tone to its ending than a book like The Princess Diaries. So will The Book Thief and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things. Those stories are so different in tone that the reader needs different things to feel satisfied when they close the book.
Here are four other tips for creating a satisfying ending:
1. Fulfill your promises.
When we talked about writing chapter one, I said the opening of your book is a promise to your reader. Meaning if your story is the sad, serious type, don't open with a bunch of laughs. Otherwise your reader is like, "Hey, I thought this book was going to be funny, but it's not!"
Throughout your story, you've made promises to your reader whether you intended to or not. (If you're like me, you probably don't even recognize some of them, or you've completely forgotten and you'll find them in edits.) You need to pay them off before you close out the book.
Let's use Frozen as an example. We've known since Anna and Kristoff met Olaf that Olaf has always loved the idea of summer. He has no clue that he'll melt. "I'm going to tell him," Kristoff says to Anna. Anna says, "Don't you dare." And as Anna, Olaf, and Sven walk away, Kristoff says to himself, "Somebody's gotta tell him."
That's a promise being made to the viewer. It's saying, "Olaf is going to wind up somewhere warm, and he won't know that it's dangerous to him."
If Elsa didn't make Olaf his own personal flurries at the end, we would have this moment of, "Wait, what about Olaf?" It's not like it's some big plot thread in the movie, but because attention is drawn to it with "In Summer" and Kristoff's comment, we need to see it resolved to feel satisfied.
Does that make sense?
As I said, there are times that I make promises in my first drafts that I don't discover until I'm in edits. Often it's a character who I give a ton of page time for multiple chapters, but then they never get mentioned again.
2. Consider picking a scene that will showcase the lasting change.
Going back to Frozen, the final scene we see is Elsa and Anna having fun together once more. In Pride and Prejudice, we see that Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are happily married. These final scenes leaves us feeling like the journey we just went on with the characters was worth it, and that even though we're saying goodbye to them, we're leaving them right where they should be.
What if you're writing a sequel and this isn't really the end? Go to your bookshelf and pull off books that are part of a series you love. You will find that the author wraps up the main conflict of the book, but also nudges open a door that hints at bigger issues lurking in book two. If you read several last chapters of books in a series, you'll get the feel for the right balance.
3. Consider what feeling your reader should be left with.
When your reader closes the book, how do you want them to feel? Should they be sad and crying? Laughing and light-hearted? Sighing over the beauty of true love? Pressing a hand to their racing heart and thinking, "Phew, now I can finally get some sleep now that the serial killer is behind bars!"
If Frozen had ended with Anna punching Hans, it would have been fine ... but not best. As great of a moment as it is, Anna getting a piece of revenge isn't the final feeling that the viewer wants.
4. Work hard on your last line.
The last line of your story is—stating the obvious here—the last thing the reader will read. It's the last chance to direct their thoughts where you want them. So when you've figured out what feeling you want your reader to be left with, your job is to tweak the last line until you're achieving what you want.
Sometimes that last line is going to come out just right the first time. Other times, it'll be something you have to work for. But it's always, always, always worth it to make sure you get it just right.
What about an epilogue? I've talked about that in a previous post titled, "Does My Novel Need An Epilogue?"
Any other questions about endings that I can answer? Without spoilers, what are some books or movies that you feel have ended just right?