Novels take readers on an adventure. They give them a world to escape to, characters they can believe are real, and thrills they can’t experience at home. But, no matter where novels take readers, the audience must be satisfied at the end.
This doesn’t mean everything has to work out perfectly. A few days ago, I finished a novel where the ending felt like a huge copout. I was so disappointed because everyone who died ended up coming back and everything ended up being happy and perfect. There was too much sunshine and too many butterflies. It felt lazy, and I was far from fooled. The ending didn’t make sense and everything that happened over the course of the novel didn’t matter anymore.
Sometimes it’s not quite how your novel ends, but where it ends. If you novel is a stand alone, tie up all the loose ends, including the subplots. If it’s a trilogy, make sure that’s clear. In THE HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins did a wonderful job of ending the novel, while still leading into the next book.
Emotionally move the reader. People don’t like to feel they’ve wasted money, and if your novel’s conclusion doesn’t have a natural feel to it, people aren’t likely to read your next book. You want readers to experience the same emotions as your protagonist. You want them to believe that the ending was possible. In another novel I recently finished, I didn’t believe the romance at all between the two main characters. It felt forced and very awkward, as if, since the novel was young adult, there had to be a romance. It cheapened the entire experience, and made me scoff at the ending. I’m not reading the rest of that trilogy.
In terms of things NOT to do…
- Don’t have an unknown character randomly show up to save everyone.
- Don’t ignore an ending that’s been implied at through the entire novel.
- Don’t introduce a conflict at the very end just to up the stakes.
- If you end with a cliffhanger, have a sequel or the next book in the series ready. It doesn’t have to be completely written, but you should at least have a short synopsis.
A quick checklist on how to write a novel ending:
- The ending satisfies the reader.
- All major and minor plots are resolved.
- The ending is logical and there was a natural progression leading up to the climax and resolution.
- There’s a believable emotional impact. The ending should deliver the same level of emotions as the beginning and middle of your novel.
- Your protagonist solves her own problems.
- If your novel is the first book in a series, tie up some ends and make sure readers know that another book is on the way.
- The ending is long and complex enough for the length of the novel. If you’ve got an 80,000 word book, your ending shouldn’t only consist of the last few paragraphs.
What ideas do you have on how to write the ending of a novel?