There is plenty of advice about how novels should open and lure readers, but what about endings? How important are they?
The simple answer is that they’re extremely important. The ending is the biggest advertisement for the reader to buy your next book. A satisfactory ending to a great story will very likely mean the reader will want to read more of your work. If the ending isn’t well executed or it’s contrived, the reader won’t be so forgiving and may not think your next book is worth reading.
Endings are as important as your opening. They need a lot of thought and consideration, which is why writers often struggle with endings. They want everything within the story to conclude, but at the same time they don’t want it to be schmaltzy or make it feel like a fairytale ‘happy ever after’ and most of all, they don’t want the ending to appear forced. This is why endings are the most rewritten part of any novel. Writers sometimes write dozens of endings before the settle on the right one.
The biggest reason writers have a problem with the ending, however, is because they haven’t planned their novel. How can you plan your ending if you don’t know where your story is heading? You have to have at least some idea of how it will conclude, even if you don’t have all the fine details worked out. This is why it’s so important to outline chapters and put a brief plan together so that as the climax approaches, you know exactly how you want to end the story.
Everything that happens in the story – subplots and actions etc. – relates to the conclusion, and this is where writers get stuck. If you’re a panster, and you don’t do much planning, or none at all, then you may find yourself in this situation. Even if you’ve got your ending in mind, you have to link it with the whole story, which may prove troublesome if you’ve generally made the story up as you’ve gone along.
So how do you get the ending ‘just right’?
The success any novel relies on a great opener, solid storytelling in the middle and a satisfactory ending. So, to get the ending right, the events that lead up to the end-game – the denouement – must conclude in an acceptable and reasonable way. Everything that takes place within the story must logically link to the ending. The actions of the main characters will form the basis of the ending (actions have consequences. remember), but must be believable.
In other words, all the questions must be answered, all plot threads should have been dealt with and the climax should be a logical conclusion to the plot. But writers often forget to tie up loose ends. You don’t want your reader wondering what happened to Joe Bloggs, last seen wandering off into the night on page 45, never to be heard from again. Every thread needs to be neatly tied up before the end, otherwise you could create confusion. If you don’t spot these things, your reader certainly will.
The idea behind any ending is that the reader won’t know how it ends until they read it. And when they do read it, they’ll be amazed.
Next week we’ll look at the different types of endings that work well for writers and what pitfalls to avoid in order to make the ending successful.
Next week: Getting to Grips with the Ending – Part 2