I recently read a book I was willing to say was the best book I’d read all year.
Then I got to the ending. I’m sure you’ve been there before, reading a book or watching a movie and suddenly all those little clues you were loving, the twists that were getting twistier by the page, and the buildup to the reveal just went… nowhere. Or worse, the book didn’t end properly, leaving you with more questions than answers (which was the case with my recent read).
There’s nothing more disappointing than reaching the final chapters of a book and having it finish terribly.
While opinions on what makes an ending good or bad differ (there’s plenty of people on Goodreads who loved the ending of the book I read, and others who felt the same as me), there’s also just as many ways to end a book.
While endings can be as predictable or as rule-breaking as you want, and I believe the author should always write the book ending they want, there are some tried-and-true tips you can follow to ensure you get the best from your book ending.
Tips For Book Endings
Show The Meaning
No matter what type of book it is and what happens, the end needs to show everything that happened in the book had meaning. Was the problem solved? Did the characters change? Was there justice, even if it wasn’t fair? Prove there was a meaning for the events in the story, no matter whether it’s good, bad, indifferent, happy, sad, resolved or open-ended. There needs to be a point to the events and what happened in the story, and your ending needs to show that.
Show The Ending
Some books end with an epilogue that lets you know what happened after the action is said and done. If it suits the story and you couldn’t show the loose ends tied up any other way, there’s nothing wrong with a good epilogue, but please move away from ending your book with two pages of “telling”.
You’ve given the reader the chance to live as the character throughout the whole book, don’t ditch that at the end by telling them what happened in the aftermath. Show it to your readers.
Shy Away From Anything New
Unless your book is part of a series and new info needs to be introduced at the end to drum up interest for the next book, shy away from anything new.
You can’t spend the final few chapters tying up all the plot strands only to kick off another one, or reveal something not known before (unless it’s a plot twist that makes sense).
By the time you’ve reached the end of a standalone story, your final chapter/s should be about bringing everything together and to a close, not to start anything new.
This goes for new characters, new plots, and new problems that kick the action off again instead of slowing it down to a natural conclusion.
While cliffhangers have their time and place in a story, and one in the final chapter of an ongoing saga is perfectly fine, if your book is ending—for the sake of readers everywhere—resolve your plot strands!
It doesn’t have to be a happy resolve; it doesn’t have to be an over-explained resolve, but things should be resolved on some level.
Whether it’s the one big mystery or every little problem since chapter one, give the readers either straight answers or enough hints they can work out what happened. Books without a clear resolution are some of the most frustrating—and the last thing you want to do as a writer is annoy your readers.
Drop The Dumb Luck
A coincidence can be used to great effect in a book to kick off the plot, but using a coincidence to end your book… not so much.
Unless you have set up dumb luck being the way your book ends really, really well from the get-go, do not go down that path.
Readers want to see your characters earn their ending. They want the murderer caught because the MC outsmarted them, not because they tripped running away and accidentally triggered an alarm.
Ditch The Way-Too-Happy Ending
As much as readers want to see every character survive, the bad guys get their comeuppance, and the good guys win, that’s not life, and that doesn’t make a good story.
Yes, things can go the MC’s way and they can end up better at the end than they were at the beginning of the story, but there’s always a cost for those things. The love they found but had to walk from, or the treasure rescued from the pirates at the expense of half the crew. Have a happy ending if it serves the story, but keep it realistic. Not everyone gets the girl, friendships don’t always last, and not every wish turns out perfect.
I hope these book endings have inspired you. What’s your favorite way to end a story? Share your tips in the comments.
— K.M. Allan