Crafting Endings that Resonate
Leave them satisfied... but wanting more
The list of mistakes I made in publishing my books could fill an entire newsletter.
One that took me the longest to realize I even made was the ending of Black Magic’s Prey. It’s book 1 of a trilogy and naturally should have led readers into book 2. You like a book, you want more… right?
Apparently not always. You see, I hate cliffhangers. I think they’re annoying, especially when the next book in the series won’t be out for another couple years. Black Magic’s Prey ended on a happy note, maybe even a happily-ever-after. As originally written, there was no reason for the reader to continue in the series, even if they enjoyed the book.
Make them enjoy the book AND want more
A good ending should not only wrap up the plot and resolve the conflicts, but also evoke emotions, convey a message, and inspire further reflection. It should also make them want to continue to experience the world you’ve created for your characters.
How to do this? Like every other bit of writing advice, it’s real simple to say, yet challenging to execute, even with experience under your belt.
Fulfill the promise of your premise
Your novel should have a clear premise that sets up the main problem, goal, or question that drives the story. Your ending should answer this question or show how the problem is solved or the goal is achieved. For example, if your premise is “A young wizard must defeat an evil lord who killed his parents”, your ending should show how the wizard confronts and defeats the villain, and what consequences this has for him and the world.
This is writing 101, but we can all name a book we’ve read where the ending fell flat, when we were promised something in the book or series premise and it didn’t deliver *cough!* Demon Cycle *cough!*
Sometimes our writing takes us in expected directions, but your premise makes a promise to the reader. If you break that promise because your mood changed, you might see a drop in readership.
Show character growth
Flat character arcs do exist, but they are a minority (as they should be). Your protagonist generally should not be the same person at the end of the story as they were at the beginning. They should have learned something, changed their perspective, overcome a flaw, or developed a new skill or trait. Your ending should demonstrate how your protagonist has grown as a result of their journey and the challenges they faced. For example, if your protagonist is a selfish and arrogant person who learns to value friendship and humility, your ending should show how they express gratitude, apologize, or sacrifice something for someone else.
Tie up loose ends
Your ending should not leave any major plot holes, unanswered questions, or unresolved subplots that will confuse or frustrate your readers. Obviously if you’re writing a series, you may introduce something in book 1 that is not solved until book 3. Fair enough.
However, you should make sure that all the important characters, events, and themes are accounted for and explained in a satisfying way. The last thing you want is to leave your reader scratching his head. “Okay, but if he was just going to give the sword back, why did I just read 300 pages of him trying to steal it?” Kiss of death.
End with a bang
This doesn’t need to be a marvel-movie-style fight with world-ending consequences. Like everything else, the ending needs to be in line with your genre. Even quiet books like women’s fiction or family drama can end with a bang. Take for instance The Husband’s Secret (or any other Leeann Moriarty book), which had me on my feet yelling to an empty room: “No you are NOT having dinner with your cheating-ass sister and husband who tried to take your family away. No way!”
Your ending should not be boring, but rather end with a bang that will leave your readers breathless, moved, or amazed. Your ending should also be memorable, memorable, and memorable. The kiss of death is for someone to ask your reader what your book is about, and they can remember how the book started, but not really how it ended.
A strong premise gets them to buy the book. But a strong ending gets them to buy the NEXT book.
So make it count!