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How to Write the Perfect Ending


“And they all lived happily ever after…”

Last month was all about rising action so to close out the year, we want to talk about endings.


Endings are one of the most important parts of a story and often the hardest part to write.


The way your story ends can make or break a reader’s experience. Wrap things up too quickly, and you leave the reader unsatisfied. Drag it out too long and they lose interest. Throw in an unbelievable plot point and it’ll take them right out of the story. But no pressure!


Learn more about what makes an effective story ending and get some useful tips for writing endings that are sure to leave your readers in awe.


The different types of endings

Just like there are different story arcs and character archetypes, there are a few different categories that endings fall into. Learning what they are can help you drum up ideas and find out what works best for your own story.

  • Resolved ending – A resolved ending is basically what it sounds like: everything is neatly wrapped up, with no open questions or unfinished plot lines. This type of ending is typically found in classic fairy tales and children’s books (“And they all lived happily ever after”), but it can be an effective ending for most stories, especially lighthearted, feel-good ones.

  • Unexpected ending – This is the ending that (almost) no one sees coming. Unexpected endings include plot twists that catch the reader off guard and force them to question and reevaluate the story. This is perfect for mysteries, thrillers, and fantasy stories, but it can also add a unique aspect to any genre. The important thing is to make sure you’re leaving hints throughout the story that lead to the plot twist. Twists lose their charm if they don't make sense to the rest of the story.

  • Ambiguous ending – An ambiguous ending is one that can be interpreted in multiple ways. This type of ending often lends itself to stories with unreliable narrators. The reader isn’t able to fully trust the narrator’s interpretation of events. There might also be mixed emotions and unanswered questions posed that leave the readers to decide what happened for themselves. Perfect for book club debates!

  • Tied/circle ending – This is when the ending ties back to the beginning of the story in some way. It might take place in the same setting as the beginning, or reference some of the language or dialogue used previously. The goal isn’t simply to create a circle, but to show how much has changed over the course of the story. The Hero’s Journey is a great example of this: the Hero leaves home to go on a quest, they succeed, and then they come home again, this time with the added weight of their journey.

If you’re struggling to write an ending, try thinking about which ending type would fit best with what you have written so far. Don’t be afraid to test a few out before deciding on one!


Endings: to plot or not to plot

A lot of people will say that it’s best to figure out what the ending of your story is before you start writing. For some, an outline is really helpful to keep your story on track; you can have a clear finish line in mind.


For others, it can take some of the magic out of writing. I’ve found, at times, that when I know the ending to my story, I feel less motivation to write because it’s already “ended” in my mind.


The reality is that once you have your story down, you can go back and edit to make your ending make sense in the context of the rest of the story. If you realize part way through that it’s going in a different direction than you thought, don’t sweat it! You can always make changes and no one (except your editor) will know the difference.


Tips for a satisfying ending (for you and the reader)

If you’re having trouble seeing the end in sight, try using some of these tips to bring it into focus.

  • Test it out first – Writing is a process; the first ending you write isn’t set in stone. Write multiple endings and figure out which one fits best. And if you can’t pick, you can try to pull a Clue and put them all in!



  • Look at the rest of your story – Sometimes, the problem isn’t with the ending, it’s with something else in the story. They are connected, after all! Focus on building up the rising action/climax of the story, or slip in some foreshadowing throughout. The ending often hits harder when the rest of the story is equally compelling.

  • Steer clear of plot holes – Sometimes an ending doesn’t fully land because it’s not believable, given the events of the rest of the story. Unintentional loose ends will unsuspend your reader’s disbelief and pull them out of the story. Scan for any possible plot holes and shore them up to prevent this.

  • Change it up (but not too much) – You don’t want to take a complete tonal 180, but changing up your narrative style a little can add more intrigue to an ending. Look at one of the most iconic endings in classic lit, from The Great Gatsby: “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The language here is quite different from the rest of the book—it’s much more poetic, and it switches to the plural, rather than the singular first person used in the rest of the book. It adds an air of mystery and makes the reader think about everything in a new light.

With these tips, you should be able to write the ending of your story before the end of the year!

 

About the author: Lindsey has a BA in English and creative writing from Brandeis University and recently completed the Columbia Publishing Course, nicknamed the "West Point of publishing." She loves writing short stories and has more recently taken an interest in writing poetry. For three years she was an Editor-in-Chief for her school literary magazine, Laurel Moon. You can usually find her reading, crocheting, or bothering her cat, Sister. She hopes to be a writer and an editor in the future to continue to help others improve their work.


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