10 Tips for Finding the Best Way for Your Story to End

Dear writers,

It’s one of the hardest questions we have to ask ourselves in life: Where will it all end?

As writers, we have a lot more control over things, and that includes where and how to stop. Unfortunately, endings are still hard—sometimes the hardest part of a story. Here are some tips that may help you if you’re struggling with an ending you don’t like, or just not sure where your story is going:

  1. Plan the ending first. Get it working right away so you have direction.
  2. If you’re getting close to an end you don’t have and you’re at a loss, go back to the beginning—review your story, gather ideas, get a sense of where it’s leading, and then follow it.
  3. It’s more important that your ending be fitting than happy. (And remember that goes for unhappy endings too.) It can still twist, but the unexpected can’t be the impossible. The best twist is the one you feel you should have seen coming.
  4. The purpose of an ending is to simplify—it’s the moment when you bring light to the darkness, when all becomes clear. You can still have cliffhangers and leave your readers with questions and something to think about, but if you leave an overcomplicated, unexplained tangle of confusion, it’s no good
  5. That said, don’t be afraid of making it big and bold. If it gets out of hand, keep writing anyway—you can always go back and pull it back as necessary.
  6. Ask yourself: Should this have ended already? Am I ending too early? When should it end?
  7. You’re allowed to have more than one ending.
  8. The resolution should involve the characters. If the ending owes too much to an outside force, it’s likely to leave readers disappointed. If we’ve been walking in a character’s (or characters’) shoes, feeling what they feel and dreaming their dreams, we don’t want to see someone else end their story for them.
  9. It was never all a dream. Don’t toy with your reader’s emotions like that. No matter how brilliant you might think the twist is, 99% of the time it’s not.
  10. A lot of build-up needs a lot of resolution. You need to know when to stop, but you also need to know how to suit an ending to the story it’s concluding. A long or complicated story with a lot at stake needs a lot of ending.

 

Are these strict rules? Of course not. A great writer can break any rule. You can get away with anything as long as you do it imaginatively, and as long as you’re sure you can pull it off. But these tips will help you to avoid, prevent, or justify the sins of a bad ending.

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What are you ending right now?

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Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “10 Tips for Finding the Best Way for Your Story to End

  1. I find that I tend to think of beginnings and endings first, then fill in everything in between.

    When I write, I will write the beginning, the ending, and then all the events in between. I think your point about “The purpose of an ending is to simplify” is very insightful. I’ve never thought of it that way before, but it is absolutely true. Endings are resolutions to complex problems.

  2. Actually, me too. The ending is usually the first part of a story I come up with. But I know that a lot of writers have trouble with that, and since they come so naturally to me, I thought I’d share some tips.

    Beginnings are usually where I have the most trouble – sometimes the ending supplies a natural beginning, but then sometimes in the sequence of events leading up to an ending, it’s hard to pick one place to begin. Still, I prefer to write a story from start to finish, and I’ve never really done it any other way. Sometimes the end changes a little bit on the way there.

    “The purpose of an ending is to simplify” is actually a tip I got from Chesterton, “How to Write a Detective Story.” He pointed out the fact that in detective fiction in particular, it’s all about the simplifying in the end – and I realized that the same is true for writing in general.

    Thanks for commenting!
    – Caleb

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