Wednesday, September 7, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 27: Where to End the Book

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Welcome to week twenty-seven of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, where we are writing books together. I wrote the first draft of a book called THIRST and finished a few weeks ago. Click here to visit the chapter archives, if you want to read it.

I can't believe we're at the end of this series! But first... an announcement:

A New Release and Sale

My son Luke and I released Mardok and the Seven Exiles this past weekend. This is the second book in the RoboTales science fiction fairytale series of chapter books for kids. To celebrate we put both books on sale for .99 for a limited time. We're still working on getting the paperback version of Mardok published, so only the ebook is available for now. You can learn more here.


Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's my premise:

A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.

Week three was Storyworld.
Week four: maps and floorplans.
Week five: protagonists and main characters.
Week six: side characters.
Week seven: prewriting.
Week eight: plot structures. 
Week nine: Theme.
Week ten: creating a plot outline or list of key scenes.
Week eleven: point of view.
Week twelve: narrative modes.

Week thirteen: how to write a scene.

Week fourteen: Where to start.

Week fifteen: Prologues.
Week sixteen: Dividing Your Book Into Chapters and Scenes 
Week seventeen: Write Fast and Free
Week eighteen: Dialogue and Thought
Week nineteen: Character and Author Voice
Week twenty: Action
Week twenty-one: Description
Week twenty-two: Exposition
Week twenty-three: Pacing
Week twenty-four: Beginnings and Endings of Scenes and Chapters
Week twenty-five: The Macro Edit
Week twenty-six: The Micro Edit

Contest Announced!

In case you missed it, last Wednesday I announced the details for the opening of the #WeWriteBooks contest, which launches one week from today. Click here to read the contest announcement post.

Today's Topic: Where to End the Book 

I can't believe we've finally reached the end. 

This was a really long series! I hope you've enjoyed working through my writing process and that you also got a lot of work done on your books. The contest opens next week. Are you ready?

If you’ve finished a novel, even in rough draft form, congratulations! Of all the people out there writing novels, the percentage of those who actually finish is not all that large. Pat yourself on the back. You did it!

But if you’re not quite there yet, that’s okay. The ending is one of the most important parts of a story, and you want to get it just right. This is what you’ve been working towards. Your story has been building up to this very climax, after which you’ll tie things up in your resolution.

We’ve all read books that ended poorly, books that cheated us of a good ending, books we wanted to throw. And we’ve read boring endings too. It’s important to work really hard to write an ending that truly satisfies your readers. This requires you to make several decisions. Are you going to write a happy ending? Are you going to tie up your loose ends? Are you setting up a sequel? Do you seek to leave your reader pondering a theme or a question? Start by answering these questions, then seek ways to accomplish your goals.

Since most of you are writing genre fiction that fits a three-act structure with a somewhat happy ending, there are a few musts you’re going to need to do to satisfy your readers and not anger or annoy them.


1. The hero must act to save the day. It can’t be too easy. His friends can assist him, but it doesn’t work to have side characters save the day. The hero must step up and act. He must confront a worthy adversary and resolve the main story problem and conflict himself.

2. The hero must grow in some way. He cannot stay the same. He could learn an important lesson or overcome a fear. He could sacrifice something important or make a hard choice. No matter what, he needs to care about what’s happening, be invested in what’s happening, and change in a way that will make a big impact with readers.

3. You must work with what you’ve got. This isn’t the time to introduce new characters or plot threads. Anything you reveal in the end should have been set up, planted, or foreshadowed earlier in the story.

4. (For books in a series.) If you are writing a series, you still need to write an ending for this book. Every book needs some sort of resolution. Look for a story arc for this book that can be wrapped up nicely while still leaving a subplot or two unresolved that will hook your readers for a sequel. Don’t leave your readers frustrated or annoyed by what they think is a terrible ending. Make it clear that there are more books to come.


-Don’t break promises you made earlier in the story.

-Don’t leave the reader wondering why you planted something only to leave them hanging. If you foreshadowed something, follow through with a reveal.

-Don’t add drama for the sake of more drama. Events should feel natural to plot, character, and tone. Don’t ignore who your characters are. Stay true to them, and don’t allow them to act out of character to force your plot to work.

-Don’t rely on a flashback alone to end your story. Keep things active and engaging.

-Don’t use too much exposition at the end. I know. It’s tempting to let your bad guy monologue a little or let your hero give the big reveal like Shawn Spencer does on the show Psych, but too much explanation slows down the action in a book.

-Don’t cheat and suddenly have everything work out magically fine. Avoid the deux es machina where a seemingly unsolvable crisis is mysteriously resolved by the unexpected intervention of a character, a random magical ability, an object, or God himself. This is lazy writing and cheats the reader out of the ending they deserve.

-Don’t mess with genre conventions. Mysteries need to be solved in the end. The bad guy must be caught. Romances must end with a couple getting together. These particular genre conventions are nonnegotiable. Know what you can and can’t get away with in your particular genre.


-Do bring things full circle. Employ circularity (see this post on circularity).  Look for characters, plots, dialogue, or themes that were present at the start of your story and bring them back at the end. This gives a feeling of closure.

-Do tie up you lose threads. Maybe not every single one, but most of them. Trust me. You will get emails for the rest of your life if you leave too many things unresolved.

-Do recap what your character has learned. Don’t say it over and over, but have a moment in narrative or dialogue where your character gets introspective and contemplates how far he has come.

-Do stick to your characters and genre. Let those things ring true. If your book is a comedy, don’t have a dramatic, tear-jerker ending. If you’re writing epic fantasy, you’d better have an epic ending. Be consistent.

-Do surprise your reader. Realistically, deliberately. Intentionally and carefully. Watch for predictability and keep the reader guessing. Try to foreshadow more than one possible ending for your book to keep your readers on their toes.

-Do have a final, epic struggle that blows away your readers. Your ending should be the biggest, most exciting incident in your story. If you have a bigger incident in act two, that’s a problem. There is a reason this is called the climax. It should be the biggest.

-Do leave readers with a sense of wonder. Seek to give a powerful lasting impression. Grip them emotionally so that they’ll carry your story around in their thoughts for days.

-Do give your reader time to breathe after the big climax, but don’t go on too long. Every book is different. Some argue that I went on too long at the end of book three in the Blood of Kings trilogy, but I did it on purpose because Achan and Vrell didn’t get much time together in the last book. Really look at your story and carefully decide how much resolution is needed. Be intentional. Be smart.

-Do make your ending satisfying. It might not have to be perfectly happy, but it must satisfy your readers and give closure.

More ideas for endings

1) Plot Twist- You can surprise your readers with something they didn’t expect. Just do so carefully and realistically.

2) Give them the ending after the ending. Think of the biggest, most mind-blowing final conflict you can, then let your character fail and add yet another, even bigger ending.

3) Write an epilogue in which you show your hero at a later date. Stephanie wrote a great post on epilogues.

One Final Note

Remember the post a few weeks back about great beginningsand endings? The last page, the last paragraph, the last sentence, and the last word in your novel are all endings you want to perfect. Spend some time on them. Maybe cut the last sentence or paragraph. Play around with it until you have a powerful final page to your story. Stephanie wrote a great post on that too.

Assignment time

Think about your ending. Are you going to write a happy one? Are you going to tie up all your loose ends or only some of them? Do you seek to leave your reader pondering a theme or a question? Are you setting up a sequel? If so, how will you find the perfect balance of closure and hook for the next book in the series? Share some of your ending plans below. And if you have any questions, ask away. The contest opens next week. Are you ready?


  1. The ending of my story is one in a series of short stories that have the same characters, so the biggest change that happens by the end is bringing those characters together, and the main character learns to get along with those she couldn't when she first met them. I haven't written the end yet, but I outlined my story and I'm proud of its climax and resolution :)
    Good luck to everyone else coming up with your ending. They can be tricky!


    1. Sounds like an interesting concept, Deborah!

  2. How do you conclude a novel in a way that it can be a standalone, but also leave enough threads to leave an opening for a second book? Like for someone who's never been published I know your first novel should be able to stand alone, but leave options for a sequel. I just don't know how to do that.

    1. I did this with my upcoming release, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, because I knew I didn't immediately want to write a sequel but that I might someday. Here are two thoughts I have on doing this well:

      1. View your ending as a gateway to a new beginning: This is something we do in life, right? The end of high school means the beginning of college. The end of pregnancy means a new life. So in your ending, find some way to draw out what the new beginning is for your character.

      2. But most of the threads should be in your own head: That being said, just a hint will do. If you try to leave too many loose ends or hint at too much, then this will stop feeling like a satisfying ending.

      I hope that's helpful!

    2. Loved that, Steph. That's wonderful advice. *writes it down*

      The only stand-alone book I've written I intended to be a sequel. It's my novel Replication. The publisher only wanted the first book, but I didn't know that when I turned it in, so I planted a few little hints to what would be the sequel. This was mention of some special clones that the bad guy insisted on taking with him when he tried to escape. I also mentioned a second lab. That was really all there was, but it was enough that many people ask me if there are going to be more books. I will say that neither of those things I mentioned had anything to do with my main plot. That might have made them stand out more, because readers tend to read such facts thinking that they will come back later and pay off. So when they didn't, readers assumed they were for a sequel, which they were. But I've also had readers who didn't notice them. So if you do decide to plant things, make sure they are subtle.

    3. Thank you both so much! That really helps.

  3. Thank you for this post! I think it's going to help a lot with editing for me.
    My family might get those books while they're on sale. We pick certain books to read as a family, and the RoboTales seem like the type of book my brothers will like.

    1. I hope it helps, Josie. Good luck with your editing! You can do it! :-)

  4. I was very pleased with how long the end of From Darkness Won went on, just saying. ;)

  5. I end where it feels right. When I start out a story, I don't know where I'm going to end. But the perfect ending will come to me. And when it does, I get attached. I won't change it (much)

    I also like to end tying up loose ends. For example, in the middle of the story une working on, one character tells another she traveled beck in time to tell her something. The book ends with her going back in time, because it's a vital part.

    I also like ambiguous endings. They can be interpreted in different ways

  6. This is helpful for me, since I am currently tying up the climax on a book and getting the denouement and end sorted out in my mind. I am pretty settled on what to do now (after coming up with about a dozen alternate versions over the course of the rough draft stage), but your musts, dos, and don'ts helped me verify that my ending will work. Thanks, Jill!

    1. So glad, Olivia. Congrats on finishing strong!

  7. It's the end already?! I suddenly remembered when saw the first post and thought about how the contest was so far away . . .
    This has been a great series, though. Thanks for all the great advice! I haven't actually finished my book yet so I'll be back here soon . . . ish . . . not really soon. I haven't been writing lately so I need to get back into it again.

    1. So I just watched Jill's formatting video and I have some questions about how the contest entry should be formatted. Do we follow everything in the video (like page numbers, headings, and a title page) or just the stuff from the contest announcement? Also, how come you shouldn't indent with the tab button? If someone (anybody, really) can answer these that would be great. (I think I had more questions but now I forgot them . . .)

    2. I remember now. Do we include the chapter numbers with our word count? I have 3001 words but that's with the chapter numbers labeled.

    3. No, you don't have to format your contest entry to that degree of perfection. That's for submitting to a publisher for publication. We require 12-point Times New Roman or Courier New font, double-spaced with no additional spacing before or after, one-inch margins on all four sides, and page breaks between new chapters. The things I put in the initial contest post.

      You shouldn't indent with TAB because when the book is typeset, the typesetter sets the indentations, and any place you have typed tab will doubly intend and they'll have to delete them all. Professional authors know not to use tab but to set their indentations to .05 then just hit Enter for a new paragraph.

      Chapter titles do count toward your overall word count. If you're at 3001, you should be able to find one word to delete without too much trouble. And there's always the cheat if you've written Chapter One to instead write Chapter 1 or just a centered number 1. Whatever you decide, just be consistent with chapter headings.