I know that it’s the new year and that the large majority of people in the world are focused on new beginnings. Last year when I wrote a blog around this time I was being an advocate of the time honored tradition of New Year’s resolutions. This year I can’t help but to focus more on endings. If you have been steadily writing since the beginning of the year then chances are you’re coming close to the finished product of your novel. With that in mind let’s talk about endings.
I know that most of you are aware just how important closure is when you’re writing a story. but for those of you not in the know, conclusions are what bring you answers to all of the questions asked in your novels. They are what leave the reader at peace when finishing up a book. Endings can also be what frustrate the reader to no end, because the end they had in mind goes in the complete opposite direction of what you wrote. The conclusion of the story means that you have written the character’s forward moving timeline to fruition. That’s not to say that you couldn’t write a prequel, but in my opinion no one should really write prequels. My thoughts are once you’re done with one story, kill it (not literally) and move on to the next one.
The most basic option you have for a conclusion is to follow the characters to the end of the line where every problem/question has been resolved/answered. The novels with endings like this aren’t usually very challenging and are mostly feel-good reads. The authors give the reader what they want with everyone one going home happy. It’s pretty cut and dry and the novels don’t really make any waves in the literary community.
The second kind of conclusion I would like to talk about, which happens to be one of my favorites, is one that leaves no real solace for the reader. The conclusion that haunts my dreams and my writing is an open ended conclusion. When I talk about an open ended conclusion, I’m talking about an end of a story where the writer leaves you without a neat and tidy ending, but instead, leaves you with questions that you have to think about. You can run through the prose time and again and still find no other answers than the ones you choose to find on your own, after contemplation and inner reflection. It’s tricky because I know that it isn’t a really popular way to write or sell books, but it’s fun and deep. I love to read very old fictional literature. That’s where I found the love and appreciation for this type of ending.
Another very popular way to end a story is similar to the open ended conclusion, but very different in execution. It’s called the (pause for dramatic effect and symbolic answer) cliffhanger. Lots of writers leave stories on cliffhangers and jump into the continued story in another book. It’s mostly a way to sell multiple books and make the most out of a franchise. That’s not to say that some people haven’t written a cliffhanger and done it for the sake of the craft, it’s just less frequent nowadays. When you write a cliffhanger you essentially want to leave the reader enough room to finish the story in their own head. You would leave out a key element in the main plot but answer most of the questions in the story to completion by the end. When you write a cliffhanger, you are asking the reader to look at the character you have created and then asking them to finish the story in their heads based on what you’ve shown them. It can be frustrating for both writer and reader, but may be worth a try.
Whatever ending you choose, be it the few listed above, or one of the countless others, make certain that you know where to end. Writing endings can be hard, but finding the place to cut off the story is probably the hardest part about writing. As a writer, I know that I can write forever, but then I’d never have a finished story.