Writing the ending of your novel sounds like a simple task, doesn’t it? One glorious finish to countless hours of planning, fighting with characters, planning again, untangling a plot, a stiff neck, and sore fingers.
But it’s often one of the most difficult pieces of any story.
What if you have the perfect idea, but don’t know how to fit it in? Or perhaps you’ve tried three different endings and don’t know which one you like more. Maybe your story just doesn’t want to end.
What do you do?
Write the ending first.
One way to safeguard against the pains of an undetermined ending is to write it first, before even the beginning of your novel.
Where do you want your characters to be by the end – physically, emotionally, socially?
Has the freshly graduated young adult landed the job she’s been dreaming of? Did the photographer manage to repair a broken friendship or was more damage done? Were the neighbors right to be wary of the doddering old man at the corner house?
Now make it happen.
If you’re writing about a businessman experiencing family problems while working on his biggest project, plan right away what the conclusion of his story is. Let’s say he reconnects with his estranged daughter at the cost of his project. But we can’t leave it there.
Take some time to flesh it out. Already we can tell that something has changed about him – changes that will take place between the beginning and middle of your novel. An inner struggle about his values and commitments, arguments with other people, trying to manage everything together, maybe even a change of setting.
Mapping those details out isn’t important right now, but the result of all those struggles is: they each bring the man to where he ends up.
Once you have your ending figured out, go back to the beginning and write. Remember to keep your ending flexible – writing it first gives you a goal to write towards, but it isn’t concrete. Allow yourself to revisit it occasionally and see if any adjustments need to be made based on how your story and characters – and your understanding of them – have evolved.
Make sure the ending fits the rest of the story.
Maybe you have finished, but don’t like the way your ending feels. Or maybe you’ve simply come to a stop, unsure of how to move on. How can you possibly wrap everything up?
Now’s the time to take a step back. Set down your writer’s hat. Take a few days apart from your WIP (don’t worry, it will still be there when you come back!) and go for a walk, visit the mall, exercise, clean your space, do that crazy hobby you’ve been pushing off for so long.
Now, take a notebook and jot down everything you were excited about for this novel at the beginning. Answer these questions:
- What made you fall in love with the idea? What kept you up at night, thinking of new characters and plots?
- What story did you want to tell?
- What did that feel like?
- What message or feeling did you want the reader to walk away with?
Now think about what you’ve written up to this point and answer these questions:
- Does the story match what I originally planned at the beginning?
- If it doesn’t, do I like how it changed, or should it be different?
- What could happen in the story to give it the message/feeling I originally hoped for?
You should have a good idea of where your story stands now, and what you need to do. Remember to follow the parameters set up by what you’ve already written.
Don’t take a wholesome romance plot and turn it into a murder thriller or make a practically mute character a chatterbox for the last 10% of your novel. It will throw off the atmosphere of your novel and confuse your target audience. Unless you intend for that to happen – in which case, go ahead.
If you need more prompts as an exercise, try writing scenarios that wouldn’t work for your ending. Have fun with it. Then, write the opposite.
Make a choice – or take a poll.
Maybe you’ve written five different endings and don’t know which one to go with.
You could follow the same guiding questions from above to decide which ending matches with your story’s theme the most. Or you could try reading your story with each ending attached – just make sure you set some time between each reading to think and let it become fresh again.
This is where feedback comes in handy. If you have a dedicated reader base (friends and family) or a group of beta readers, you can send them the endings and ask them to take a poll. Since beta readers are your test audience, their opinions can help you decide how your target audience will react to the final product.
Expand your options.
What do you do if you keep getting great new ideas and your story isn’t ending?
Maybe you haven’t finished at all. Your story keeps growing, bigger than you’ve ever imagined. Every time you think, “Okay, this is it. We can stop here,” something new and exciting appears to send your characters off before you can catch them.
Stop thinking small.
Don’t limit yourself to a word count or even one book. Have you considered writing a duology? A trilogy?
Take some time to think about this. If your story is becoming too big to handle in one book, you might need to expand. It isn’t a quick decision to jump on – expanding into a series will mean more planning, reorganizing, and much more writing. Make sure you have the time and emotional commitment to dedicate towards it.
If that feels overwhelming, you can also analyze your book for extra content. Is there too much going on? Maybe you can trim it down while retaining the quality of your work. Don’t feel bad – whatever content you take out can be recycled!
Whatever method you use to write your ending, be sure that it’s what you enjoy. In the end, it is that one last, glorious stretch after a thrilling journey for both you and your reader.