Essentials Elements of a Great Story Ending
News flash! I’m stepping down from my position as a full-time English and public speaking instructor to focus full-time on editing, writing, publishing, speaking, and coaching. I’ve been preparing for this for months, but in the last few days, with the craziness of the spring play out of the way and the seniors already off on their annual trip, it’s finally sinking in.
More than that, I am finishing this stage of my life and moving on to a new one. And that can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. More than ever, I am focusing on ways to make this a strong finish for myself, my students, my fellow faculty, and even my classroom! And I’m laying the groundwork for my future career at the same time.
Finishing is finishing. And the stages of finishing a career path can be remarkably similar to those of finishing a story well. Here’s a checklist to make sure you’re finishing your story well.
1.) Consider the genre conventions – hit all the notes for your type of story.
I work at a private school. The way I finish here is different than if I worked at a public school or a tutorial or a college.
In the same way, make sure you finish right for the type of book you’re writing. Romances often like HEAs (happily-ever-afters). In mysteries, you need to solve the actual mystery. In horror, there better be one creepy/haunting conclusion. When revising and editing, make sure you’re hitting those notes.
2.) Keep the same quality all the way to the end.
Teaching during the last two weeks of school can be brutal, especially if the weather outside is beautiful and you’re trying to teach advanced grammar. So what I do is plan some of my most interesting projects at the end of the year. Instead of tapering off, we go out with a flash of fun.
In the same way, don’t treat your book’s ending like “oh good it’s DONE.” When drafting, try to keep the excitement going through the finale. End with a wedding, a funeral, something momentous. Or at least great dialogue. Revise to polish your ending to a shine. Leave your readers with a great finish.
3.) Finish the character arcs – with each character, even the minor ones.
Even on the last day, I plan on greeting every student with the same warmth and interest as I did at the start–and continue checking in on their future plans! After all, life goes on for everyone!
Treat your characters the same way. It’s tempting to lose sight of those minor characters, but the mark of a good story is keeping track of all of the characters and where they end up (when possible–short stories and novellas can get away with disappearing characters more easily). Invest in all of your characters until the end and give them the send-off they deserve.
4.) Wrap up the narrative – and leave it open for the future.
I’m not planning on coming back to this particular school (in fact, my husband and I are moving five hours away). However, I’m keeping open communication when I can with students, faculty, and staff. Relationships are valuable, both in and of themselves, and because you never know when reconnecting could be mutually beneficial.
In the same way, make sure to tie up all plot in your story in a satisfying way. What this looks like depends on the story, and again, length effects it. Some short stories and flash fiction can end right after the climax (and my novella Storm Warden actually flip-flopped the climax and the resolution). But generally, make sure your resolution actually resolves everything in your conflict in a satisfying way.
AND don’t forget to leave things a little open. If you’re writing a trilogy or a series, this is essential, but even if you’re not, chances are fans of your “absolutely-only-one-book story” might just want some prequel information or maybe a spinoff story or two. This is a good thing. It means they can’t get enough of your work! And having additional little stories can be great to throw on newsletters, blog posts, or even as a Kindle freebie or 99 cent deal.
5.) End with your readers’ favorite things.
Which of course means food and goofy videos–well, in the case of my students. End-of-the-year parties are a great way to celebrate conclusions.
In terms of your book, a feast might not be the ideal ending (although you can’t go wrong with treats, right? 😉 ). But during the revision process, take into account beta reader feedback and make sure you’re finishing strong with more of the same stuff they enjoy. Happy readers make for continuing readers (and happy reviews). If your readers liked the snark all the way through? Have snark at the end. If they’re there for the romance? Make the end have the most feels. Remind those readers why they’re reading your book–and why they want to yell at you to finish the next one!
6.) Make everything clean and tidy(ish).
Naturally, I’m going to leave my classroom packed up and organized as much as I can, as well as invest in a hefty amount of dusting. But it won’t be perfect (especially not with that contact cement stain under the table–whoops!) And I’m grateful for the summer cleaning crew.
In the same way, make sure your book ending is tight and solid–but don’t stress about perfection. As a writer, perfection will never exist. What you’re doing is better than perfection: it is unique, beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent, and potent. Aim for all of those things–and then invest in a good editor or proofreader to deal with the details.
Any other tips for ending a story well? What are your favorite story endings?