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:
- Plan the ending first. Get it working right away so you have direction.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Ask yourself: Should this have ended already? Am I ending too early? When should it end?
- You’re allowed to have more than one ending.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
What are you ending right now?