With the end of the year just around the corner, I wanted to spend this post focusing on story endings. Like everything with writing, there are numerous ways to end a story, but most of these endings can be categorized into five different types of endings.
We all love cliffhangers, don’t we? These are story endings that leave a lot of unanswered questions, often in the form of a last-minute plot twist that does not get resolved.
For instance, you spend hours reading a good book, and you turn to the last page to find out that the main character has been murdered.
Actually, that would be terrible, but that doesn’t mean cliffhangers don’t work.
A lot of shorter works can benefit from cliffhangers because they can keep readers thinking about the story even though they spent a short amount of time reading it. Additionally, cliffhangers are often great for setting up a sequel.
That is, for seasoned authors. Debut authors are unlikely to be able to publish a story that ends with a cliffhanger because publishers don’t have proof they will be able to write a second book.
All in all, cliffhangers are great if you’re careful about when you use them.
Ambiguous endings are… you guessed it… ambiguous. Aspects of your ending are up for interpretation. Maybe it isn’t clear why something happened or what exactly happened, but the readers know that it happened.
Compared to cliffhangers, ambiguous endings are slightly more subdued. There is a sense of resolution and readers are typically left with deep questions about the decisions or actions of characters (as opposed to a burning desire to know what happens next).
This is great for literary works or short stories that are meant to incite introspective thoughts.
This is the type of ending we learn about in elementary school: with all questions answered and loose ends tied. Even though it is the most basic, it is often the right one.
A long standalone novel that ends with a cliffhanger or ambiguous ending will hurt readers. It will make them feel like they wasted their time because reading a story with no conclusion is annoying.
Also, sometimes you just have a clear idea of how you want your story to end, so it is important that you explicitly make it happen.
However, sometimes it is too easy for readers to see the end of a resolved story early on.
In that case, you might want to try a twist ending, in which a major plot twist occurs toward the end of the story. Unlike a cliffhanger, a twist ending resolves the final plot twist or revelation, resulting in all loose ends being tied at the end of the book.
This can create more excitement than a normal resolved ending while still providing the sense of closure that most stories need.
However, depending on the pacing of your story, you might find that a twist ending feels rushed or forced.
This is often frowned upon in the publishing industry, but sometimes your characters have stories that happen after the end of your story but readers still need to hear.
Epilogues only work for longer works, and even then, you need to decide whether it is necessary to explain your characters’ futures. Can you leave it to your readers’ imaginations?
Sometimes, epilogues are used as a set-up for a future book or spin-off, but you also need to be careful with this. As with cliffhangers, debut books with epilogues that are clearly meant to set up a future book can scare publishers away.
It’s important to consider all types of endings for your story before deciding which one works best. Even if you think you know exactly how you want your story to end, trying a couple different options may give you a better idea.
How do you like to end your stories? Let me know in the comments!