Writing the End of a Story
While the beginning of a story sets up the world, people, and themes, the end wraps it all together. It’s either a reward or a punishment for your readers, who stayed with you and your characters throughout a tumultuous story. We’ve all read amazing books with incredible plots that end with the most unreasonable plot twist or simply disappointing conclusions. Oftentimes, it doesn’t matter how great the beginning and middle of a story are. If the ending does not live up to the expectations set for readers, the story will not seem like a worthy read.
Therefore, it is absolutely essential to make sure your ending is satisfying and appropriate. There is no such thing as the “perfect” ending, but there are many steps you can take and things you can consider to get as close as possible.
Types of Endings
There are infinite ways you can end your story, but most of them fall into one of the following categories:
Your protagonist achieves their goal and feels good about it. Everything they had to go through was worth it. They have found a new life (or object or person) and now have everything they want.
Your protagonist does not achieve their goal but realizes they were chasing after the wrong goal to begin with. During the climax, they learn that their life was always good and they have everything they need right where they are. Everything they went through to achieve their goal failed but showed them what they really needed to learn, so it was worth it.
Your character achieves their goal—or do they? Cliffhangers are the bane of all readers, but they are oh so fun to write. The main conflict of your story should be resolved by the end, but there might be some unanswered questions that keep readers up at night. Maybe the solution to the conflict is bound to start another, and we don’t yet know how this will play out.
Your character achieves their goal but pays a high price for this. They realize how much pain they either put themselves, their loved ones, or the world through in achieving this goal. Whether or not they still stand by their decisions and would do the same thing again is up to you.
Your character doesn’t achieve their goal and is disappointed in this outcome. They could be heart-broken, in tears, or dead. Whatever the case, everything your protagonist went through a lot and fought with all their heart only to discover the stars were never in their favor.
Similar to combining happy and tragic, bittersweet endings finish on a high note but are still mixed with nostalgia and sadness, and they’re often deemed as realistic.
Finally, undecided endings include cliffhangers but can also simply leave your characters unsure about their place in the world or whether their achievements were for the better.
Of course, there are endless types of endings and the perfect ending for you could be anywhere on this spectrum.
How to Decide
Picking which ending to use is a matter of analyzing your story. What makes sense based on your characters, world, and story?
Consider this: if your protagonist has been striving for a single goal over the course of the novel, your readers have likely been striving for that goal too. It might be cruel to leave everyone dissatisfied.
On the other hand, if there is no reasonable way for your protagonist to achieve their goal, you don’t want to minimize the trials because your readers will feel as if they went through a roller coaster for nothing.
If you want to write a sequel, you could end on a cliffhanger or with unanswered questions, but you need to make sure your reader is invested enough in the ending to think about a sequel. Raising a new problem just for the cliffhanger usually isn’t the way to go, but you also don’t want to drag out a conflict longer than necessary.
Additionally, you need to consider your target audience. You really don’t want to disappoint elementary and middle schoolers with a tragic ending. Teenagers aren’t going to fall for a cheesy happily ever after.
Yes, it is all very confusing. Picking the right ending might be a matter of experimentation and seeing what looks and sounds best. Maybe you need to get a second opinion from a friend or family member, or perhaps you need to trust your protagonist to lead the way.
And, as always, an avid reader is a better writer. Reading novels and short stories can help you discover new and exciting ways to end stories. Though you should never plagiarize, you can and should take inspiration from what you read. The same thing applies for what you watch. TV shows and movies are a great place to look at different endings to stories.
Your story’s ending is what tells your reader the journey was worth it, but more importantly, it’s what tells you the journey is over. The key thing to do is write what is right for your story. Your judgment is best.
What book had the best ending in your opinion? Let me know in the comments!