Attention-grabbing openings to novels are much-discussed. Some of that intense focus has to do with the craft of fiction writing and some has to do with the business; a career author wants to immediately capture the attention of an agent, an editor and—then, of course, most importantly—legions of readers.
While a writer wants a gripping opening to launch their story or perhaps their career, a career author needs an awesome ending to build a loyal readership—winning fans to read and buy their next book.
Many writers find it difficult to type two momentous words: The End.
The end of the beginning
In general, a book’s ending should resolve issues raised at its beginning: questions answered, conflicts over. Tying up loose ends in the plot should be done with alacrity. Lingering overlong after the climax may try a reader’s patience.
More crucially, after that final page a reader should feel tremendous satisfaction, safely home after an event-filled, fictional journey.
Changing settings or jumping far ahead in time in those last pages risk a structural imbalance. Some career authors dislike epilogues as much as prologues, and for the same reasons. Epilogues (or pages that feel like an epilogue) can be detrimental to a lean, mean plot.
Less is more. Overwriting is a common problem. No matter how gorgeous your prose, after the conflict resolution your reader is ready to be done. Don’t overstay your welcome when ending a novel.
Wow readers with a compelling, emotionally gratifying climax, then wrap it up.
When querying writers with whom I’ve worked about unresolved plot issues, I’ve heard in response, “I thought it would be intriguing to leave that ambiguous,” or perhaps they wanted to “leave it open to interpretation.” Such a strategy might work or it may well annoy someone seeking resolution. Be leery of plotline endings that risk reader disappointment.
Leave ‘em wanting more, but more of what? I read many manuscripts closing with a question or a cliffhanger: the author wants to set up the reader for their next book. Whether a career author is writing a trilogy or a series or some other literary configuration, when a reader purchases a book, they expect satisfaction at its end. While it’s perfectly acceptable to tantalize the reader as Book One’s plot leads to Book Two, readers should still feel gratification at the end of Book One.
Readers who need to make another purchase to be satisfied with a story may feel ripped off.
Why didn’t I see that coming?
I’m not saying a good twisty ending isn’t welcome. However, it shouldn’t be an abrupt digression unrelated to the plot as a whole. Rather than coming from left field, a satisfying twist at a book’s close should be cleverly, logically set up earlier in the novel, unbeknownst to the reader. And like a drop from a rollercoaster, the rush of discovery delights that reader.
Building a readership
An effective finish makes for a memorable reading experience. When blissfully satisfied by your story’s incredible ending, a reader is more likely to tell all their friends how wonderful your book is. A slam-bang finish is a terrific way to get tongues wagging.
What makes a book’s ending satisfying to you? Can you recall an especially affecting one? Share with us on Facebook.