To see the previous posts in this series on what makes a great story, check out these links:
Openings - Part 1
Openings - Part 2
Dialogue and Internal Thought
In this series of blog posts, I’ve tried to touch on some of the things that I enjoy when reading a story and also what I try to think about when writing one. Hopefully, you’ve gotten something out of it. With that in mind, I’m ready to talk about endings.
Endings are a very tricky thing. Since it’s the last thing someone will read in your story/novel/series, it will probably be the thing that sticks out the most to them. Screw up the ending and you could wipe out the hundreds of pages of awesomeness that preceded it. Here are a few things I’ve learned from writing and reading endings:
- Don’t Hold Back – This is especially true in the first book of a series. Writers have a tendency to want to save their coolest ideas until the very last book. Well, if you hold back everything, the ending of your first book is going to be a dud and no one will want to continue reading in order to get to those cooler parts you have planned for later. Besides, I’d be surprised if any writer couldn’t think of more cool things to do as the story progresses.
Now, don’t just throw things into an ending if they’re illogical or haven’t been properly set up. That would be just as bad as not having any bang to your ending at all. Bottom line: Learn to objectively look at your ending. If it doesn’t excite you, it won’t excite the reader.
- Answer the questions asked – If you ask a question or present a conflict to the reader, there needs to be a payoff. If this is the first book in a series, the author doesn’t have to necessarily answer all of questions asked, but there should be some sort of temporary payoff/resolution. Otherwise, the reader may leave the story feeling jaded that you strung them along.
- Introduce more questions – This is something that makes more sense in the earlier books of a series than in the last book. Wrap up some questions, but why not ask a few more to take their place? Keep the reader interested.
- Don’t answer all the questions (yes, I know this is a bit contradictory to the above) – I’d argue that you shouldn’t answer all of the questions presented in the first book of a series. Make the reader want to immediately grab the next book.
However, I also think that it’s a good idea to leave some questions unanswered in the last book of a series. The author should definitely answer all the big questions and wrap up major storylines (i.e. the focus of the story). However, leaving a few minor questions unanswered or a few minor characters dangling is a good thing, in my opinion. It allows the reader to use their own imagination when filling in the blanks. Also, it can lead to great discussion with others who have read the same book.
- Make sure your ending doesn’t take forever – To me a climax shouldn’t last half a book. The payoff should not seem tedious to read.
- The aftermath needs to end quickly - The ending has happened. The major conflict is resolved. A good wrap up chapter or two is always a great idea and usually necessary. However, the worst thing you can do is drag this part out. End it as soon as you can. Otherwise, people will remember that rather than your awesome climax.
So, who do you think pulls off a great ending?