Both the beginning and the ending of a great fiction impacts a reader’s level of satisfaction.
If the start of your story is weak you run the risk of your reader putting down your book before it gets going. But a lot of readers are willing to persist even if a story’s opening isn’t really to their taste. A strong middle section and climax can overcome any initial disappointment. The final experience of all stories leaves a lasting impression. It leaves them thinking and maybe talking about it long after they have finished reading.
A story’s conclusion can be either happy or sad; it can leave the reader uplifted or pensive or heartbroken. But it has to feel ‘right’.
There are no black and white rules on how to write the perfect ending. There are guidelines to help you write endings that will make readers want to come back for more.
6 Ideas to Consider on How to End a Story:
1. Conclude your story in a neat and tidy way
- romances where the characters get together
- no threats to their happiness or unity on the horizon
- adventure stories where good triumphs over evil
- villains have met definitive defeat.
This type of story ending can be seen as a bit unimaginative but it is the safest option. Going this route avoids the possibility of annoyed reviewers leaving negative comments.
2. End with a cliff-hanger
Cliffhanger endings leave some elements of a story unresolved. Deciding to end your story on a cliffhanger is important if you want to leave readers eagerly anticipating the next installment in a fiction series.
It’s important to note that a cliffhanger ending should be a conscious choice. The majority of plot points should be resolved and the ending should not feel like a disappointment. Strike a balance between leaving your reader feeling they’ve reached something of a climax while still leaving some story aspects intentionally open.
If you have a rough or even concrete idea of what your story sequel will look like then make sure your cliffhanger ending will segue naturally into the next installment. Or, if you’re unsure of whether a follow-up book is the right route, you can leave the possibility open without committing to it.
A cliffhanger ending runs a higher risk of leaving readers disappointed than tying everything up neatly. However, when written well, they are some of the most exciting endings possible.
3. Provide a twist
A twist ending is a great choice if you can pull it off effectively. This type of story ending can have the highest level of impact but is also very difficult to get right. Twist endings typically run into two problems.
- readers may be able to spot your twist coming a mile away. There’s nothing more annoying than a big ‘reveal’ at the end of the story that you predicted back in the first act.
- a twist ending that is too unbelievable. If something happens out of nowhere and there was no hints in hindsight readers may fail short change. An effective twist ending needs to work on both an emotional and a logical level.
To write an effective twist ending, give a few clues that foreshadow the twist without being obvious. Ideally, your reader won’t figure out their significance at first, but when looking back will notice there were subtle clues in place. You can also play around with red herrings that hint at an altogether different ending, but be careful about using too many and confusing your reader.
Twist endings are incredibly hard to get right, but if you can manage to write a good one, you’re sure to leave readers thinking about your story long after it ends.
4. Play around with obscurity and unreliability
Some readers detest not knowing exactly how a story ends. Others love the chance to come to their own conclusion.
The suitability of an ambiguous ending is also partially down to your choice of genre. Romance readers typically want a clear ending. Readers of a gritty psychological thriller might enjoy having their minds messed with by an ending that doesn’t spell everything out.
Unreliable narrators are a great fit for ending a story on an obscure note.
Obscure endings can be truly divisive. Just ask any Sopranos fan. This type of ending is a good choice if you’re confident in both your ability to write it and the likelihood that your readers won’t hate you for it.
5. End on an epilogue
Epilogues can be an effective way of adding a sense of realism or depth to your story. By suggesting that events carried on far after the main action ends, it gives your reader the feeling that the story took place in a believable world rather than one that existed purely to serve the plot.
Sometimes epilogue endings can feel a little unwieldy and almost tacked on as the author couldn’t think of another way to conclude.
If you want to use an epilogue as a device to end your story, take the time to read a wide range of stories that ended in this way. Read those that are well-reviewed and those that are hated . This breadth of reference will allow you to identify the type of endings that work well so you can try and apply their principles to your own story.
6. Choose a cyclical ending
If your story begins and ends similarly, giving readers the feeling that events have come full circle, you’ve created a cyclical ending.
A cyclical ending isn’t the same thing as simply ending things as they started. Even though the story might begin and end in the same place, the readers should have been on a journey alongside the characters who have developed or learned something along the way.
One example of a cyclical ending that many people will be familiar with from school is Of Mice and Men. The story starts and ends in the same location which is said to be symbolic of the inescapable fate of its main characters constrained by the lot life dealt them.
Experiment to get the most emotional impact out of your ending. Try ending your story a little sooner; try ending it later. Try phrasing it differently. Push the words around until you get the spark that makes the magic happen.
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“Linda has published sixteen books. She blogs about the publishing world, posts useful tips on the challenges a writer faces, including marketing and promoting your work, how to build your online platform, how to get reviews and how to self-publish. She has mentored many authors and edited their work.”
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