Sticking the Landing: Dos and Don'ts of Great Endings

As an editor, I spend a lot of time thinking about book beginnings. What makes a beginning great? What makes me keep reading? What gets me hooked? I know that writers devote lot of time thinking about this, too. Beginnings are crucial! If you don’t have a strong first page and a strong first chapter, your reader won’t ever get to your amazing second chapter, your remarkable third chapter, and so on (if you’re looking for great book opening advice, don’t miss this post.

Yes—book beginnings are important. But so are book endings, and they get a LOT less attention. So let’s talk about some dos and don’ts that’ll help you write an ending that’s just as kick-butt as your beginning

DO:

• Leave some mystery: It’s the end of the book, so it’s natural (and good!) to want to resolve all the various plot threads you’ve integrated throughout the book. While it’s great to write an ending that ties up these loose threads, don’t be afraid to leave some room for the reader to imagine what happens next. Say your main character has spent the whole novel feuding with her little sister. Maybe the book doesn’t end with a complete and total resolution of their feud, but instead, with one big step towards fixing their relationship. Often, showing that the characters have grown and changed without neatly solving all of their problems will result in a more interesting and more realistic ending.

• Write an ending that fits with the rest of your book: Your ending needs to feel like a natural extension of the book that comes before it. For example, say you’ve written a book about a young woman who wants to make it as an actress. We see her auditioning, learning her lines, and moving to LA to achieve her dream. If this book ends with an evil clown possessing the actress and ruining her life, your reader is likely going to be disappointed. Endings aren’t the time to introduce a new element (especially one from a different genre!) into your story, but the time to wrap up storylines and craft an ending that fits with the book you’ve written. Focus on resolving the plot points you’ve already so carefully developed.

DON'T:

• End on a cliffhanger: It is so, so tempting to end your book with a “And then they embarked on their next great adventure!” type of sentence. And we get why. You love these characters. You’re not ready to say goodbye to these characters! You want to write a second or even third book about these characters. That’s great, but even if you plan to expand Book 1 into a series, you need to deliver a full and complete book every time. Think about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Each book ends with another school year completed, which ties a nice bow on each book and leaves the reader satisfied that this story has ended even if they’re excited to read more about Harry. Your characters may live on, but they need to come to a satisfying resting point in this book first.

• Rush the landing: Fans of gymnastics (like me!) know that sticking the landing is one of the most important parts of a successful gymnastic routine. Sure, you may be able to pull off an Amanar vault with 2 ½ twists, but if you end up on your tush, don’t expect a 10 from the judges. The landing is just as important as the twists. The ending of your book is the same. Readers have spent hours (or days, or weeks!) in the world you’ve created, and they want an ending that doesn’t feel rushed. Give your characters some time to come down from whatever climactic event just occurred so that your reader doesn’t have virtual whiplash from too much action being packed into the last pages.

What’s the hardest part of writing an ending, and what type of ending do you like when you finish reading a book? Tell us in the comments below! 

About the author - Kat Brzozowski

After seven years of editing both books for teens and adults at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, I’ve taken the ...

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3 comments on "Sticking the Landing: Dos and Don'ts of Great Endings"

Nadia I. Nitol on Sept. 27, 2017, 1:16 a.m. said:

Nadia I. Nitol


While I agree with the 'Don't end on a cliffhanger' part, I believe it is only true for new authors or authors who don't have a done book deal yet. And also, Harry Potter is not a good example for this particular point imo. Even though almost all the books ended at the end of a school year, I don't believe that JK never had unfinished business in each of her books.

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Lillie Vale on Sept. 26, 2017, 9:28 a.m. said:

Lillie Vale


I agree 100% with the "leave some mystery" pointer. While it's great to have everything wrapped up with a nice big bow, most of my favorite endings are a little open-ended. Even if they're not hinting toward a sequel, I love if the book ends with a question of what happens next, because this keeps me thinking about the story, living in the world a little longer, and ultimately leaves me with the feeling that the story still continues off the page. Corny as it sounds, nothing satisfies me more than a book being immortalized like this.

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Olivia Hinebaugh on Sept. 26, 2017, 9:18 a.m. said:

Olivia Hinebaugh


I can think of a few books where I closed the book, and just hugged it to my chest, wanting to stay in that moment just a little longer. It's one of my favorite parts of reading a good book. Thanks for this, Kat. I can't wait to apply it to my own writing!

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