Saturday, 12 February 2011

How To Write A Novel - Part 4

The ending of your novel might prove more difficult than writing that middle section, because unlike the simple fairytale ‘they lived happily ever after’ scenario, endings involve much more than plain statements and happy ever after moments.

Unlike the hook of a first chapter, where you have to grab a reader’s attention, your last chapter might prove more troublesome because you have to hook the reader into buying your next book.

Getting the ending right is as important as getting the opening right, so think about the ending carefully. You might already have the ending in your head, which is fine, but you have to link it logically from your preceding chapters and ensure your ending fits properly with the overall story.

Endings rely on the preceding events in the novel to work effectively and therefore should develop naturally, rather than ploughing headlong into something that the reader might not be able to follow or even understand. Don’t engineer it so that the ending becomes contrived or forced. The ending must occur after the character has taken that final action, followed by a very brief winding down, or the resolution, which again should come in a natural way.

Ideally a good ending to a novel should leave the reader fully satisfied, that they’ve enjoyed a good read and it doesn’t leave them wanting or wondering. Moreover, it will entice them to read more of your work. An ending can be anything you want it to be, as long as the reader feels that it’s absolutely the right ending for the story.

The ending order is simple: the lead up from preceding chapters, the climax of the story and then finally the resolution. An ending should accomplish three things:

1. Resolve the problems that run through the story, particularly the character’s primary goal.
2. Resolve subplots.
3. Bring closure through a satisfactory climax, conclusion and resolution.

What do we mean by a satisfactory ending?

Well, as the above list indicates, by the end of your story you should have tied up the loose ends and made sure that those loose ends don’t confuse the reader in any way - also make sure you don’t cheat the reader, don’t make them feel as though they’ve been short-changed. They want to feel that everything is resolved by the dénouement of the story, and more importantly, that the ending is right for the story, otherwise they won’t forgive you for a badly written, terrible or contrived ending.

Make sure you resolve your subplots. There is nothing worse than having the hero fall in love with another character by chapter 7 and then that character vanishes in chapter 27, never to be seen again. You might have forgotten, but your reader won’t. It’s easy to forget subplots are still part of your main story, but they need resolution too. Again, don’t force them, they must occur naturally.

There are no set rules about how your novel should end. You can end it through narrative, through dialogue or a little bit of description, but remember to keep the ending brief. Many new authors have a tendency to let the ending drag on by over-explaining everything. This isn’t necessary and it will irritate and bore the reader because the original excitement and punch of the ending will have been lost.

Study your favourite authors to get a feel of how they have achieved an ending. Some use a dramatic last line, because dialogue can be a very effecting way of ending the novel. Some use an effective, punchy paragraph; others might leave the reader guessing if there might be a sequel by using a teasing bit of narrative.

One thing you shouldn’t do with your ending is over-do it. Here are some common problem endings:

• Anti-climax – the lack of surprise or a bang, the failure to raise the reader’s attention. The climax is more of a fizzle than a firework.
• Overstretched – this is where the writer drones on and on and tries to explain things after the initial climax, but goes on far too long, thus losing all the excitement.
• Contrived – these are forced endings because the writer hasn’t grasped the correct way of writing a satisfactory ending which brings all the elements of the story together in a natural progressive way.
• Contemplative – After the climax, the author contemplates the events of the novel through the eyes of the characters. Unless you want to send your reader into a coma, don’t even consider this type of ending.
• Epilogues – Keep them brief. Don’t use drawn out explanations that stretch into several pages, otherwise the reader will lose interest.

Things to remember:

• By the end of the story, your character must have changed because of his or her experience, or perhaps learned something about themselves through their journey.
• The ending must be right for the story.
• The subplots must be resolved.
• The ending must make sense and follow the preceding events of the story.
• Keep it brief and succinct.
• Try to hook your reader into buying your next book.

Next week: Transitions – What, how and when.


  1. Excellent advice. I agree about contemplative or drawn out endings. They should be short and to the point. A writer wouldn't dare start a book with a slow and winding opening, yet some think it's okay to end a novel in that way.

    The only thing I'd like to add, though I may have misread the meaning, is that I personally believe subplots should be tied up before the ending. Resolve them just before the journey into the climax and we have the space and speed to be sharp in reaching the exit.

  2. Thanks Tony. And yes, subplots should be sorted before the climax. My fault, I probably haven't made it too clear, but you're absolutely right there.