How To Write The Ending Of Your Novel

    Categories: Writing

OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn

There is plenty of writing advice about the first 10 pages, the importance of hooking the reader at the start and making an impact in the first paragraph. But what about making sure that the reader wants to buy your next book?

If your ending sucks, it can leave a bad taste in the reader's mouth and will ensure they don't want to read your next book. So here are some tips on writing endings for your fiction novels:

  • Don't cheat and suddenly have everything work out fine. This is lazy and the reader isn't fooled. For example “And Jesus lived happily ever after”. From ‘How Not To Write A Novel.
  • You can surprise the reader but you must also satisfy them. There should be more than one possible ending to a book, so the reader doesn't just give up as they know what will happen. It's worth foreshadowing this ending with hints in the rest of the book though so that they are surprised but it is not entirely out of the blue. Paraphrased from Holly Lisle. This is also covered by the disappointment of twist endings at Kim's Craft Blog.
  • Don't use sappy extraneous contemplation. This is the big problem with the ending of Dan Brown's ‘The Lost Symbol‘. The last chapter or two is just watching the sun rise and thinking about the experience. Boring and pointless.
  • Some genres have an expected ending that you can't mess with. If your genre is romance, they have to get together at the end. There's no getting around this unless you want to change genres! You also need to keep some characters alive if you have a series of books planned.
  • Don't forget to end the book (or explain it is a trilogy!). I recently read ‘The Passage' by Justin Cronin, a very chunky post-apocalyptic, majorly hyped novel. I enjoyed it but was hugely disappointing in the ending which basically didn't end. There were so many loose ends so I went onto Twitter to see if anyone else felt the same way. A wonderful fellow tweeter pointed out that the book is first in a trilogy! However, this doesn't excuse the feeling of disappointment as the brilliant ‘Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins is also the first in a trilogy and wraps the story up and yet still leads onto the next book. It's definitely a balance.
  • The resolution comes after the climax. The ending does not have to be in that last action/adventure scene. It needs to be after the climax so the story is rounded out. In film, “the audience can catch its breath, gather its thoughts and leave the cinema with dignity” From ‘Story' by Robert McKee.

    The graph on the right shows the climax and then resolution - from my seminar notes!

Here are some of comments from Twitter – thanks to all who contributed!

  • Make it satisfying. Doesn't have to be good or happy, but readers want to be satisfied. @Kessbird
  • Surprise the reader and definitely tie up the lose ends (I hate sub-plots that are just abandoned!) @graywave, author of ‘TimeSplash'
  • Emotionally move the reader in some way to make her feel that her money was well-spent. @jchutchins , author of 7th Son thriller trilogy
  • Think of the biggest, most mind-blowing final conflict you can. Then make it bigger. 🙂 @AlanBaxter, author of ‘Realmshift'
  • I always start with the idea of where I am going, makes it so much easier to get there! @PhilippaJane , author of ‘Chasing the Bard'
  • End on a note of anticipation. Leave with the reader wanting more. @teemonster , author of Billibub Baddings books
  • “…and then the world exploded” @ShearersBooks
  • Endings in a book must come natural, but “out of the box” at the same time. @myotherhand
  • Write the ending out fully that comes to mind. Then try cutting the last line or paragraph. It's often an improvement. @vickigundrum
  • Ending depends on the beginning. in my two novels i have chosen unhappy ending and the third one a happy ending. @sudampanigrahi
  • End with a question to encourage comments. 🙂 @code_and_prose
  • Always go back to your opening point. @smuttysteff
  • Figure it out before you write the beginning! @ChrisMorphew

Image: Flickr CC Christolakis

What are your tips for writing endings?

Joanna Penn :

View Comments (21)

  • I did a breakdown on the movie Aliens recently, and I realised the thing that makes the ending (Ripley vs. the Queen) so awesome isn't that it's Sigourney Weaver in a powered suit taking on a huge monster - it's the first time in the movie we really see Ripley take the fight to the creature that she's spent most of the movie (and all the previous one) running from.

    And right before that, Ripley confronts the person she *thought* was her enemy - the android Bishop - and tells him that she's got over her fear of him. It's like the Queen shows up specifically to test whether she's really mastered her fear.

    So I guess a really good ending is one where the villain / antagonist forces the hero / protagonist to demonstrate how much he/she has grown / changed throughout the course of the narrative.

  • question.. have you ever started writing with your ending ? What if you want a basic outline, but you aren't building up a lot of momentum as you write? I'd like to hear a post on something like that, this is what i'd like to do. So far though I've only written short stories. I Feel like momentum and feeling the climax yourself is really important in short stories. Like they get me from A to B. But my long stories tend to drag on and on and i never find an ending! Advice?

    Thank you for making this entry in your blog it is helpful:)

    • Hi Raine, I often have the beginning and the ending before anything else and then I fill in the middle. This gives me both ends of the story. But we all write differently, there are no rules!

  • Great tips! Endings are definitely the toughest part of writing (at least for me), which is probably why i write series thrillers!

  • In the first book of my series, I kill off a main character. The second book is about going to save him from the Underworld. Where do I mention the fact that he could still be alive? The first chapter of book two, or an epilogue?

  • Thanks, Joanna. I'm coming to the close of Camp NaNoWriMo 2013 and my story. I picked up some helpful tips here as I tackle The Ending.

  • Great article and list of links... very helpful, thankyou... I am about two thirds through and really trying to push to the end, but also conscious that I need to take my time and make it work!

  • Thanks! I never experienced a writer's block before. I have finished my novel up to the last chapter. I have it in my head but I just cannot begin to write. After reading your blog, I feel much more confident.

    Successful novel writing is like being elected to the US Presidency. If everyone likes it, you are a success. If no one reads it, your success is limited, unfortunately.

    However, this is no reason to stop writing. Write, write, and when you think of the success factor---good or bad---write more!

    Michael Provitera - first novel "Happy Go Lucky" for children 8 to 12 years old.

  • Thanks, this helped a lot! I am wrapping up my first novel ever, the first book in a trilogy, and I am super excited. Anyways, I was wondering... what if you have a last chapter and THEN an epilogue? Should both have cliffhangers? Thanks.

    • It sucks that they never go back to you. I'm sure it would of helped alot. I know if I were you it would of helped....

  • I don't even understand how The Passage got published with that many words. Half of it could've been edited out and it would've been much better. When I comapre that to The Road it's like the difference between Old Country Buffet and a Filet Mignon at French Laundry. While the portion size at the first might be huge, the quality is incomparable. And the ending in The Passage was disappointing to say the least. The message in the postapocalyptic vision by Cormac McCarthy was quite beautiful and simple: Why the world needs a savior. THE END. Justin Cronin made me read over 600 pages and left me with nothing to take away. Boo.

  • " Always go back to your opening point. @smuttysteff "

    That really is my favorite. And it is how I planned to end my first novel--unsure of its 'trilogy' thing--to end the story as how I started it, but not really in a same way.

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