Full disclosure, I’m struggling to write the ending of my current work-in-progress, The Fair Queen, a Young Adult Fantasy story. Today’s post is an attempt to work through my issues and come up with a perfect ending that gives readers a sense of satisfaction as well as leaving them wanting just a little bit more. So, join me while I figure out how to end my story, and maybe you’ll pick up a few hints and tips for ending your own stories!
There are five traditional types of ending, according to my research. Shall we take a quick look?
The circular ending
This is where the ending mirrors the beginning – your story has come full circle. The final scene takes place in the same setting, or some of the dialogue reflects that of the initial pages.
The surprise ending
This is the most unexpected ending you can think of (usually best to foreshadow at least slightly so readers are pleasantly surprised rather than throwing the book out of the window).
The unclear ending
This one is a bit vague and ambiguous, letting readers decide on their own resolution rather than making it clear what happens after THE END.
The emotional ending
This one is very dramatic and heart-wrenching, whether that’s a happy or sad ending is up to you.
The ironic ending
This one is the exact opposite to the ending you were expecting – related to the surprise ending, but less of a shock.
So those are your basic options for ending your story. But how do you decide which one fits your story best? Well, it depends on a few things, such as genre, plot, the overall feeling you want to leave your readers with.
Let’s take a look at the things we need to consider in order to write a cohesive and satisfying ending for our readers (and, let’s be honest, ourselves, because we’re our own biggest fans).
Most romance novels end with some kind of happy-ever-after, usually quite soon after the resolution of the final big conflict. We don’t get to see much of the daily ins and outs of marital life because that’s not romantic. Equally, novels with battles tend to end after the war has been won and peace is restored, but before the negotiations have truly begun.
Your genre probably has an accepted standard for endings that will give you an idea of when to stop writing. It’s very easy to just keep telling your character’s story with no real structure after your plot concludes, so this will help you to decide when to call it a day.
Who were they at the beginning? Who are they now? How have they changed, and why?
If you’re writing a rags to riches tale, for example, you could use the circular ending and have your MC start the novel standing in their kitchen. It’s a bit shabby and outdated, maybe a mess, with coupons stuck to the fridge with magnets. By the end, they could be standing in the kitchen of their new dream house, with a glass of champagne and the person they love, celebrating their engagement, or a promotion. You get the idea.
I’m writing a YA fantasy, so my MC’s character arc is more about self-discovery, obviously on face-value she’s now a princess with magical abilities, but underneath that she’s discovered a selfless bravery and desire for justice that she didn’t realise she possessed.
Think about how you can show your character’s development within your final pages.
How would your antagonist like the novel to end? With your MC dead or defeated? World domination?
It’s worth considering how the baddie would want things to go so you can decide whether that might actually be the ending that makes the most sense. Or something in between.
Endings don’t always have to be happy, sometimes the most satisfying ending is the unhappy one, depending on the moral of the story.
Your story’s ending should marry with the overall tone of the book, whether that’s humorous, deep and meaningful, happy or sad. It should tie up as many of the loose threads you’ve left lying around as possible, but definitely not all of them. You want a feeling of completion and understanding, but you want your readers to keep thinking about the book after the last page, and if they know absolutely everything that has happened and will happen they won’t be left wondering.
It goes without saying that your final scene will be the last thing your readers read, so it’s crucial to get the tone right and leave them with the intended message and emotion.
The most satisfying endings tend to be created by the MCs own agency – they make a choice or a decision that leads to this particular conclusion. It should show the ultimate point in the character’s arc, revealing the result of their development, or hinting at it if you are aiming for an unclear ending. You also want to bring in elements from the stories beginning and middle, reminding your readers of key lessons or themes. And finally, your last line is just as important as the first line, as you need to give readers a reason to buy your next book, whether that’s a sequel or a separate story.
Here are some great resources for writers looking to discover their story’s ending:
How do you tackle your story endings? Are you one of those writers who come up with their last line first? Let me know how you decide on an ending in the comments, I need all the help I can get!