Let’s face it: it is really, really hard to end a novel. Wrapping everything up neatly – or leaving it vague and open to interpretation in a way that incites imagination, not frustration – is, perhaps, one of the worst parts of being a writer.
- A lengthy epilogue – if the final chapter concluded the tale, a lengthy epilogue does little to serve the rest of the story. If you feel you need an epilogue to wrap of plot arcs or correct any plot holes, turn your energy toward resolving it all in the final chapter, or, preferably, earlier. At best, a lengthy epilogue can be a pleasant, if not redundant, way to settle a story; at worst, it can read like a clumsy attempt to correct previous mistakes. Consider including an epilogue – especially a long one – very carefully!
- A letter – whether it is to the reader or another character, ending the book with a letter (when this epistolary form has never been in the novel before) is a huge risk! Like an epilogue, it can come across as an easy out for ending a story. Again, try and include anything you would put in that letter in the previous chapters, and find ways to tie the story threads together throughout rather than leave them until the end.
- Time jump – skipping ahead one or more years, glossing over what happened to your characters during those years, summing up what occurred and then ending on a high but wistful note: sounds appealing, doesn’t it? But it is a risky move. This type of ending can satisfy some, but more often than not is ineffective or unearned. If your story ends with an engagement, for example, there’s no need to jump ahead to a short summary of their happily married life. Let your readers use their imagination and leave them with the thrill of the proposal between two beloved characters. If your story wraps up concisely, why stretch it out with an unnecessary look ahead?
- “It was all a dream!” – this one is rarely seen nowadays, but this type of ending – wherein the whole story, or aspects of the story, are reversed or revealed to be an illusion, a dream, etc. – is one of the most frustrating ways to finish a story. Avoid reversing plot points right at the end, or risk upsetting your readers who were looking forward to a satisfying conclusion.
- Sudden revelations – perhaps the opposite to a lengthy epilogue, a sudden revelation in the final chapter leaves little to no room for proper resolution. Avoid revealing an important aspect of the plot in the last chapter, unless, of course, this story is part of a series. Then, revelations can lead to intrigue and exciting cliff-hangers. Standalones should avoid saving serious plot points right until the end; instead, leave the last chapter available for reflection and careful conclusions.
Of course, any of these types of endings can and have been done successfully, but make sure your story earned it! For example, why include a letter-type epilogue if letters didn’t feature prominently before? What is a time jump going to do for the connection your readers have with the characters unless there was a focus on their futures? Always question your endings and consider why you are writing what you write. Is it stemming from a place of frustration with achieving the ending, or does it really feel like the best fit for your story?
Remember: most authors write multiple endings! Don’t fret if you find yourself writing the ending over and over again until finding the one that fits.
Editors can help immensely with achieving an ending. Work with an editor if you find yourself hitting a wall every time you attempt to writing your ending. An editor’s sharp structural senses can help you figure out where the problem is stemming from. Sometimes a difficult ending is the result of an aspect of the plot that occurred somewhere near the rising action of your story. Work with an editor to exam the timelines therein and eke out the details of your plot before attempting the ending again. Sometimes, all it takes is another set of eyes!
If endings still seem daunting to you, check out this article from Shayna Krishnasamy on confronting the ending of your book.
And, as always, happy writing!