The main character in your novel has fought the many challenges, overcome many obstacles, and now is about to stare down the biggest issue they have faced so far… Then what happens?
The ending of a novel, more than any other part, makes or breaks the story for the reader. As a new novelist, you may be wondering how all the exciting plots and subplots in your novel can possibly intertwine to create a satisfying and excellent conclusion. Here are some tips and pointers for how to make your novel highly satisfying and deeply conclusive.
The Importance of a Good Ending
Satisfy Your Readers
Your readers will have been coming up with questions throughout your novel: what matters most to the main character’s future? Whose relationships will succeed and whose will fail? What was the mysterious something that was plaguing everyone throughout the story? As you build these questions into the bulk of your novel, make sure that each of them is referenced in the novel’s resolution. When I say “referenced,” I don’t mean that someone quickly says, “Oh, and by the way, X and Y were the murderers.” In a satisfying conclusion, the linchpin information is revealed such that the entire whole makes sense, and is offered with enough context and prolonged attention to seem like more than an afterthought.
Cement Your Credibility as an Author
A clever, thoughtful, and complex ending to your novel is what distinguishes stand-out novels from average stories. By workshopping a couple of different conclusions, you are not only taking the time to be a strong writer; you are helping to create the “final impression” that people will have of you and your work. This impression fully affects whether the reader deliberately seeks out your next book or story, and you want as many of those loyal readers as you can get.
Determining the Ending
So you know that endings matter… but how do you choose what the ending note should be? Clearly, this choice begins, in some ways, when you first begin outlining or drafting a novel, but as you progress through the story, you should and can be using more time to work on how that ending will play out.
Know the Ending from the Beginning
Some authors claim that their novels take them wherever the novel wants to go; they have no idea where the story will end up, and the conclusion springs out fully formed at some point in the process. While this may indeed happen to you, planning for it to happen that way can be a bit like expecting a lightning bolt of inspiration to strike; the chance that it will work in your timeframe is simply lower. If you can, begin your story with some feelings about the ending already in mind. After all, having a goal of where you want your character to arrive can be helpful, even if much of the story remains a surprise. Consider:
- How long do you want the story to span? Will it end in two days, 10 years, a flashback to the past?
- What change will the characters have undergone by the end? A political revolution? A bad haircut?
- What lessons or character traits will the characters have gained by the end? What events bring these lessons about?
Knowing at least one or two things about the ending (where you want to go) actually makes the process of brainstorming and writing easier; after all, you now know some of the intermediary steps where your character must visit on his or her way! There can be much left to the imagination (and many changes in revisions!) even if you have a good idea of what the final twist in the story will be.
Make Sure it Involves Your Main Character Actively
While some books get away with climactic events that feature a main character sitting idly by, it is extremely difficult to feel engaged with such a book. Focus your ending on allowing your main character to take center stage, show all they’ve learned, make the decisions that they’ve in some way been “training” to make, and experience the consequences of those choices. The endings that tend to be most satisfying feature a mild or major transformation in the main character, which makes us feel like we are experiencing the most important part of the book.
Workshopping Your Ending
Most of us won’t hit every note perfectly in an ending the first time we do it; this is to be expected, and honestly, celebrated! The great part of writing your ending for your novel is that you can then get readers to check it out and give you feedback. Here are some great, specific questions to tailor to your novel’s topic and ask to your first readers so that you can refine your novel well:
- Did my novel’s ending seem inevitable, ambiguous, frustrating, or unclear?
- What aspect of the ending did you not see coming?
- Did any aspect of the ending seem forced, rather than fluid?
- Does my ending wrap up all the subplots you wanted answers about?
- Is my ending appropriately long (doesn’t drag but also doesn’t end suddenly)?
Useful Tips When Revising And Reworking
- If you receive critique that inspires you to make big changes to your ending, take the time to play with the story a bit. Try coming up with 3 totally outlandish endings and then see what aspects of them might dovetail into an actual, feasible ending. This kind of out-of-the-box thinking can help you solve complex issues in your story.
- Take a break from the ending and spend a few hours re-reading your whole story with a set of sticky notes or sticky tabs. Whenever you hit a piece of information that is relevant to the conclusion, put a sticky note by it. Afterwards, pull together the information from all your sticky tabs and consider which items are truly addressed in the ending and which could be mentioned or emphasized more thoroughly. Often, this strategy can help make your ending more compelling and thorough.
- If an ending isn’t working, try writing a little “farther” into the story, as if it truly hasn’t ended yet. This exercise may go nowhere (in which case you may have already passed the perfect end point) but it also might reveal that there is more for your characters to do before you write “The End.”
A natural and important part of the workshopping process is to keep finding readers and receiving feedback. BookBoro is a great resource for testing out your great new ending for your novel. Get feedback as you post drafts and gain useful insights into the preferences and interests of your audience.