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
• 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.
• 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!