That’s our motto. We want to make sure that once we’ve shared with our readers the journey our characters have taken, we also grant them a satisfying ending. It doesn’t matter how great the story is; it must leave us content on some level by the time we turn the final page.
I’m not saying our stories must have happy endings or that our protagonist’s hopes and dreams must all come true. Far from it. But whatever questions we have thrown out there must be addressed and all the loose ends tied up.
The question we need to keep uppermost in our minds, the one that drives the story, is this: What does the protagonist want and does he/she get it?
There are several optional endings for a story, which we will discuss in a few paragraphs.
Whatever happens in terms of the protagonist’s goal and story question, the reader must be left with the feeling that it was addressed and dealt with, no matter what the outcome.
It’s a good idea to keep notes of all the questions/scenarios we’ve raised and make sure we speak to each one.
We should attempt to tie the end back to the beginning in some way. If we can bring our opening scenario back to the reader’s mind at the end, it makes our story more connected, more holistic.
One of our top responsibilities as authors is to create character arcs for the individuals who inhabit our stories. These characters must change over the course of the tale, whether positively or negatively, vastly or slightly. Again, it’s best to keep careful track of the character arcs, at least those of the main characters. This will help direct us to a satisfying ending.
If we are writing a stand-alone novel, all the questions need to be answered in some manner. If this particular story is part of a series, the same is true, although we will be creating some scenarios that will lead to the next book. But even here, we need to satisfy our readers if we want them to read our next book.
Types of Endings
For interest’s sake, I googled suggested types of endings by noteworthy authors and have included several lists. The first is condensed from an article titled Types of Endings in Novels by Cynthia Tucker.
Read more HERE
- Happy endings – the protagonist achieves his/her goal, the antagonist is served justice, and everything turns out well.
My example is Emma by Jane Austen. She learns her lesson and becomes a better person.
- Tragic endings – the main character may be successful in achieving his/her goal, but sacrifices his/her life to accomplish it.
My example is Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.
- Twist endings – surprise the reader (mystery stories)
My example is The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. It’s not a mystery or a novel but a short story which, in my opinion, uses plot twists to create an unforeseen and memorable ending.
- Ambiguous endings – leave the reader to decide what happens.
My example is Life of Pi by Yann Martel. That ending is one I still noodle over.
A second source for typical book endings is from James Scott Bell’s amazing how-to book, Revision & Self-Editing (Writer’s Digest Books). I have condensed his five points below.
The Five Types of Novel Endings
Beginnings are easy. Endings are hard. But it will help if you know the five types of endings:
- The Lead gains his objective (happy ending)
- The Lead loses his objective (unhappy ending)
- The Lead gains his objective but loses something more valuable (classic tragedy)
- The Lead sacrifices his objective for a greater good
- The ending is ambiguous or bittersweet (mostly for literary fiction)
I discovered another list (I love lists) at Creative Writing Now that suggests several checks to insure satisfying endings.
A satisfying ending:
— will show or suggest the result of the story conflict [the story question we talked of earlier]
— will come from the main character’s actions [remember the character arcs?]
— will use elements from the beginning and middle of the story [tying end to beginning]
— will make the reader feel something
More Examples of Great Endings
Here are a two of my favourite novels. Consider what types of endings they exhibit.
Lord of the Rings – I was haunted by the ending of this masterpiece, but it ended as it must. Frodo has courageously completed the task he was given, not one he chose or wanted, and we are proud of his courage and perseverance. However, it has cost him. He goes to his reward, yet this means separation from his friends.
Gone with the Wind – Another difficult ending. We want to take Scarlett O’Hara and shake some sense into her. Yet even in view of her bad choices, we are not left without hope. She’s made it before and we hope she will do so again.
I hope these suggestions and examples will encourage each of us to study what’s out there and translate this into our craft.