So much has already been written on this subject that a quick Google Search will bring up numerous other blogs and articles that you almost have to wonder “Why another one Kristan? Did we really need another article on how to recognize a good ending?”
Well, yes. The reason why it keeps coming up is literally because writers always start at the end. If you’re not satisfied with our endings our reviews suffer, sales plummet… unless this was done on purpose (very difficult to do) and the reviews end up being about how wonderfully complex our story is.
Great for adult literary fiction where the point is to be more experimental but not so great for YA or Middle Grade (or any trade fiction, actually, even adult trade fiction).
So why is it so important?
How to recognize a satisfying ending
This is one of those cases that what we’ve called “the thing” is what “the thing” actually means. It’s an ending, or closing, to a story that makes you feel like all the loose ends have been tied up and leaving you satisfied. It doesn’t cut off in the middle of the story, even if part of a series (the only time when leaving a few loose ends dangling is okay—we need something to lead you into the next book!). A few blogs have mentioned that a satisfying ending will leave you talking about the book (1). I absolutely agree with this.
So let’s look at other factors that lead to a satisfying ending:
- It ties up loose ends.
As I said earlier it can’t have any dangling ends unless it’s part of a series and those ends are intended to not only lead into the next book but will be all tied up later. If the book isn’t part of a series then all plot strands must be resolved, happily or not. The primary plot needs to wrap itself up during the climax and there be enough of a calm after while everyone reacts (the term for this is “denouement” and a writer will literally pull hair out just to get this part of their book right!).
- It matches the tone of the rest of the book.
A good example of this would be if the book has been a slow build, with points of action interspersed throughout (a hallmark of a suspense novel), then a high action point followed by a resolution as the suspense dissipates to be left with all answers revealed… the book has done its job and found its ending. The ending matches the tone. In YA, especially in “coming of age” stories, the protagonist has reached his adult potential and is accepted as a young adult instead of a child. In this case, the tone means theme, and the ending has to match the rest of the book or it will leave you feeling a little bit bewildered, and that’s not what I, the writer, wants. If you’re happy with our ending, we’re happy with it… well… not always but “The author is ready to pull more hair out even though their readers like what they did” is another post for another day.
- It should match the beginning (2)
One of the comments on another blog mentioned that the ending should also “match the beginning”. This is another good point because it brings everything full circle. The close matches the opening… and human nature likes it when things link like this. It makes us feel… satisfied. Like things are completed—that’s another reason why satisfying endings are so important. The book just isn’t complete without a satisfying ending. It doesn’t feel “done” and then you’re ready to help us pull our hair out in your frustration with us.
- It should not leave you feeling lost and bewildered.
If we drop out too quickly will feel like the world has just ended to you. You’ll feel confused, puzzled… and probably really angry. Imagine if you rented a movie (I’m showing my age here!) and the tape (again!) was really worn out at the end of the movie. You watched all the way to the end only to not know what happened. How would you feel? A book without a satisfying ending would probably feel exactly the same way, even if the abruptness was intentional. It’s a great way to end a writing career early as we’ll do something we didn’t want to do—and that’s drive you away from any future books.
- It shows respect for our readers. (2)
Our readers are our bread and butter—you are paying for our books. We don’t want to leave you feeling like we ripped you off because you won’t come back… or, worse, you’ll return our book and leave some really nasty reviews which will drive away new readers.
- A satisfying ending will connect us to you! (1)
If we leave you feeling satisfied then you come back, and you’ll leave with something more than that. You will read the ending and feel like we “got you”, and trust me… that’s our entire aim. The minute you come to us and rave about how you much you loved what we did, how you related to the protagonist… that gives us the biggest “high five” you could possibly give. Seriously—it makes want to go out and write more. While I’ve said that you support us by buying our books there’s more to it than that. We want you to like our books and want to read more of what we’ve written. We honestly do desire that contact. It makes us feel like we’ve done something more than just written a book—we’ve touched your lives.
- A satisfying ending actually ENDS.
Another thing about endings is that that actually come to an end. They don’t drag on forever. This does take a bit of finesse as we have to write things, and revise them, so not only are they not too long (and leaving you looking for an exist), but also not too short (leaving you wondering what the heck just happened). It can be compared to a bowl of ramen and no one likes overcooked ramen. (7)
- The ending should still be about change (11)
While I have spoken about keeping everything in theme, reflecting the beginning and middle… the other thing that marks the ‘ending’ is that it changes everything. What the entire book was about has come to an end so this makes sense. There’s no going back once the story ends… it’s over. There is no continuing the story.
Writing a satisfying ending can be tricky—there’s no denying that—but having one is critical as these eight ways (and reasons the ending is so important) show. If you feel like things haven’t ended you won’t come looking for a sequel because you feel like we haven’t delivered on our promise.
That’s what an ending is—it’s a promise. A satisfying ending is a promise that we delivered.