On Endings: You Won’t Have a Second Chance at a Last Impression
By Alexandra O’Connell
The End. The conclusion of the story. The end of the conversation you get to have with your reader (at least for now).
The last words of your book are naturally memorable without even trying. How you leave your reader is what they are most likely to permanently connect with your story.
You don’t get a do-over on the ending. You want to knock the end of your book out of the park.
Your end should form a natural conclusion to the events/people/ideas you’ve already illuminated. Leave your reader with questions because you WANT them to question certain things. Leave your reader thoughtful because you WANT them to be thoughtful. Don’t let them get away from you confused or second-guessing because you haven’t done your job.
Endings: What Not to Do
- introduce new material. I repeat: DO NOT INTRODUCE NEW MATERIAL.
But what if I’m writing a sequel? you ask.
New material (including teasers and clues for sequels) should come in the body of the book and then naturally lead to the end. You need to prepare your readers for any sequel before The End.
- try to summarize everything you’ve written in earlier chapters.
People have different levels of preference about what to summarize or repeat. Rule of thumb: summaries are most successful when they remind readers about earlier content without being repetitive.
- insist that you tie up every storyline with a neat bow.
A natural conclusion can leave things open-ended. If your story lends itself to wrapping certain plot lines or discussions up, great. But don’t force it.
- tell the reader what to do, think, or feel.
Do you want them to think or feel or do certain things? Of course! But if you have to tell them they should be happy, you haven’t done the job right.
- make them wonder if there are pages missing, because sentences stop but the ideas don’t come to a rest.
The book doesn’t just end where you decide to stop writing. No race simply stops at the finish line—we can’t go from high speed to zero in the blink of an eye. Prepare your reader for the approaching end.
Endings: One Side of a Two-Sided Coin
Remember that your book beginning and your book ending “talk” to one another. They are literally your story’s bookends.
If you are writing nonfiction, make sure the ideas you introduce in the beginning come to a natural rest in the ending.
If you are writing fiction, make sure the narrative arc and character(s) you introduce in the beginning are anchored again at the end.
A beginning and ending that don’t share the same backbone are a red flag.
It’s hard to perfect your ending until you have the basic shape of the book. This means endings are a second draft/revision task. Spend some time thinking where you want the story to end up.
About Alexandra O’Connell
Alexandra O’Connell is Your Resident Wordsmith, an award-winning book editor and writing coach. Find her at www.alexoconnell.com.
The views expressed herein are not those of Colorado Independent Publishers Association, its officers or directors. They are solely and completely those of the author. The Colorado Independent Publishers Association will not be held liable for any legal action resulting from information published in this newsletter, and the organization’s insurance will not cover any such action.