As writers, we all want to craft stories that leave a lasting impression on our readers. However, the ending is often the most challenging part to get right. How do you wrap up all the threads of your plot and character development in a way that feels satisfying and memorable? It’s definitely a question I’ve asked myself a few times and struggled with, even with short stories let alone novels.
Here are my thoughts on writing the perfect ending to a story and some methods I found effective for writing them!
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Endings vary from novel to novel. Anything can affect the ending and the way it is crafted. The plot, the genre, the characters, and the moral of the story all have a say in what happens. The more elements you have, the more difficult it becomes.
It is no wonder that so many writers believe in the method of picturing an ending and working backwards in planning your novel is the solution. The ending is the last few chapters the reader will see, so it needs to have a lasting impression. If you can picture this scene early in the process, if not at the start of the process, it does take a lot of that pressure off writing the last act.
However, the problem with this method is now finding the beginning or hoping that during the writing process, the ending still fits the story you are writing.
We all envision the best endings to our stories. A satisfying conclusion to a long novel is one of the best reading experiences in the world, as it leaves the reader with a solidified attachment to a good story. I am sure we are all familiar with novels that fulfill this desire and others that butchered it.
I’ve written a few novels.
Writing my first novel, the last few chapters were some of the toughest. It was chaos. Ideas were bouncing around my head with every word I wrote. Dialogue had to feel right for the ending I imagined, but at the same time, not so forced and cliche. It was all about balance, but by worrying about balance I only made things more difficult, not more satisfying.
I think the last few chapters I wrote were done over the space of three days. All focus was on those chapters because I knew it was to be the end of the novel. It’s a heavy pressure on one’s shoulders, even with all the planning done. As a writer, you are there for the journey a lot longer than the reader. The story has had a place in your head even before it was written. If it’s your first novel, this feeling can be overwhelming, especially if you have a strong attachment to the story.
Yet, I finished the novel, wrote more stories and ended those as well. The pressure lessens, but the desire to write the perfect ending grows. I think it does have a lot to do with competence. It’s a lot easier to write the more you write. If you are writing a story you want to publish, you start to consider what is the right ending and not the perfect ending, if that makes sense.
You consider the ending that best fits the story and will have an impact on the reader, rather than the perfect ending that will have the most impact on you. It does depend on what you care about more and as I said earlier, many elements in your story can affect that ending.
The method of starting with the ending and working backwards in planning your novel intrigues me, but I can never do it. While I imagine it is an effective way to deal with this issue, I typically start my novels knowing the beginning, a few scenes later on, and barely knowing what happens in the end.
I understood my writing process to be at its best when I focused on the chapter I was writing and the coming chapter. The longer the story, the greater the chance that my plans would no longer fit the story I am writing. There are so many ways a story can change from what you expected and that is a common occurrence with me.
There are moments in the writing process where I see a better path that I did not see before.
I know that this can lead to some story-flow problems when you look at the story as a whole, but I can just as easily dive into the problem spots and course-correct some chapters. The feeling doesn’t change when I reach the end.
For me, writing the best ending involves at least a chapter or two after the final conflict. These chapters give me room to tie off loose ends concerning the smaller characters, saving the main characters for last. I structure it in a way that builds up to the last page, establishing a feeling that the story has truly come to an end. Depending on if I write a sequel or not, there will be lines that signify there is more to tell or there isn’t.
For example, if I plan to write a sequel, I only let the reader in on what happens in the near future. I either do this through the narration or the dialogue, but at no point do I add that finality that says, ‘they all lived happily ever after’. If I include a line like that, though certainly not that, I walk away from the novel with ease. I have cut the connection to the novel, if that makes sense. It’s not that I am no longer attached to the novel, I just feel that there is nothing more to be said.
Another feeling that I like to establish is a sense of calm, or hope. I like to write stories that have a relaxed ending, so I avoid chaotic endings. There won’t be any major conflicts, I don’t leave characters in bad positions. If I have nothing good to say, I don’t say anything at all. Of course, this throws most cliffhangers out of the window with my writing.
Yet, if I am writing a story that I don’t have such a great connection to, I consider the endings that best suit the plot and not one that suits my tastes.
Even though it bothers me when I read it, I will most likely end a thriller or a science-fiction with an open ending. For a thriller, it’s great because it leaves the reader with a sense of dread, which is typically the core theme of the novel. For science fiction, it’s typically an ambiguous ending where you want to know what happens next, but the conclusion is left up to you.
These are just some of the things I keep in mind when writing the endings to my stories, but I would like to hear yours! What do you look for in an ending? What advice would you suggest to other writers to make writing them easier? Let me know in the comments!
I hope you enjoyed this post and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!