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Story endings

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The classic way to end a story is to make the announcement: THE END

Immediately before THE END though, after so many thousands of words, your reader needs to be satisfied – or maybe left wanting, if you have a sequel up your sleeve …

So, how to do this? What is your aim in that final chapter, the final paragraph, the final sentence?

  • The readers needs resolution? Give it to them through action. Pump up the tension for a page turner finish.
  • Have your main character play a leading role in the final scenes. He/she is the hero of your story, after all.
  • By some amazing skulduggery, and/or brilliant detective work, and/or sheer creativity in the face of stiff opposition, check that your main character earned the right to be called a hero/heroine.
  • Check that your main character has completed and overcome the challenges you set.  After so many battles and achievements en route, maybe you decided your human-after-all hero needs one or two failures too, but – for an uplifting experience for the reader – the final scene should see him/her overcoming the major (inner?) demon.
  • When your main character looks back (and the reader will do this too), making allowances for any mistakes along the way, he/she should feel proud of their journey. They did the right thing?
  • Aim for a WOW when some tiny detail revealed way back turns out to have major importance.
  • Go full circle. Aim for the finale to mirror something that happened before, to create a sense of completion.

What must you NOT do?

  • No last-minute explanations. Anything which is essential to the ‘solution’ of a crime must have already appeared (well hidden, maybe) earlier in your story. This includes characters; they must not be pulled like rabbits out of a hat.
  • No last minute rescues; the final scenes are too late for such drama.
  • No tricks or gimmicky endings. Having won the trust of your reader, don’t cheat them in the final pages.
  • No lengthy explanations in the run up to the finale. Everything should already be in place so you simply need to light the blue fuse paper and stand clear.
  • No loose ends. If you planted questions in the mind of the reader, these must have been answered before the book is closed. If you have a sequel in mind, maybe the main character decides some questions are best left to be addressed another day.
  • No change of tack – stick to your ‘voice’ throughout.

How will the reader feel as they close your book?

There is no universal requirement! Any of these reactions could hit the spot.

  • Smiling, laughing, feeling happy? Well done for creating the ‘aah’ factor.
  • Crying, upset? That’s okay too. That’s how life is sometime (a lot of the time?)
  • Better informed? Excellent!
  • Likely to behave differently in the future? Double edged sword …

Here are two of my favourite endings (SPOILER ALERT!).

  • ‘Us’ by David Nichols:
    The end of the penultimate chapter reads: I did something that I’d been privately contemplating for some time. I sat at my computer, opened a new window and I typed the following words …
    The final chapter reads: freja kristensen dentist copenhagen
    Having been to hell and back on a grand tour with a wife who has announced she has decided she might leave him after this expensive trip, and with a wayward son and other weird folk, Douglas makes a life-changing decision – to accept the collapse of his marriage, and to seek a new relationship with Freya, a lady with whom he had a close encounter somewhere is the middle of the book. Yes!
  • ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson
    The final few lines of the final short chapter are an exchange between Mrs Haddock, a midwife, and the landlord of the Blue Lion.
    ‘You should see the snow,’ the landlord said, leaning across the great polished depth of the brass bar counter. ‘We could be stuck here for days.’
    ‘You may as well have another tot of rum. You won’t be going anywhere in a hurry tonight.’
    The date in the title for this final chapter – 11 February 1910 – is the same as that of the first chapters of the two Snow sections at the very start of the book. In the first, a child dies at birth for lack of medical assistance; in the second, a child is saved by Dr Fellowes, without the help of the delayed Mrs Haddock. These two parallel tales introduce the concept of ‘life after life’ and the final chapter ties up the loose end of the whereabouts of Mrs Haddock.

TIP #1: If you feel you still need the words THE END after your ending, to tell the reader it really is over, then you’ll need to rethink your ending. Delete the words ‘THE END’.

TIP #2: Having (re)written your ending and feeling pretty okay about it, try deleting words / sentences / paragraphs from the tail end. Cut it shorter. It might be an improvement.

TIP #3: Having polished one ending, write another half dozen … try each of them out on your beta readers.