Have you had this happen to you?
The End comes too soon, leaving you feeling unsatisfied.
OR, the whole thing just goes on and on, for far too long — a complete anti-climax.
We’ve all been there, at one time or another. An author leaves us hanging with a too clever cliff-hanger.
Another author, unwilling to leave her magical world, adds a half-dozen chapters after the dramatic “final” scene, and desperately works to tie up every possible loose end.
You don’t want to disappoint your own readers by committing either of these two extremes. You want your novel to end in a way that feels “just right.” But it isn’t always easy to find that perfect sweet spot for those crucial words, “The End.”
Trouble is, there’s no ONE right way to end a novel.
One rule of thumb is:
Always leave your readers wanting more.
But you don’t want to leave your readers wanting more time to beat you over the head with a hard-cover version of your novel, because you’ve left them frustrated and confused. (Writers of the series Lost come to mind.)
Series writers know it’s important to do two things in each “installment”:
- Complete one major story arc in each book.
- Add some sort of secondary cliff-hanger leading into the next book.
The key here is to “satisfy” your readers by concluding your main plot-line, and then add just enough more to create a sense of excitement for the next novel.
On the other hand, a common courtesy to readers is for the writer to include a cool-down chapter that neatly wraps up one or two dangling subplots (known as “denouement”). Sometimes this is done as an Epilogue; but editors disagree about including epilogues at all.
Some writers believe that every novel, series or standalone, should only end on the deepest sigh of satisfaction, with utter resolution — sort of like a giant Thanksgiving meal that lasts for hours and leaves no leftovers. (Sorry for mixing metaphors here.)
Do we really need to know if Aunt Betty got her cat back? If the protagonist’s sister got the job she wanted? If the mechanic was able to repair the classic Mustang damaged in the car chase? If the bad guy’s lawyers decided to file an appeal?
Well, here’s the beauty of it all:
As the author, you get to decide if any of those things matter.
Maybe the kidnappers were holding the cat for ransom, too. Or the sister’s job will be crucial in the next installment. That Mustang could be a treasured gift from father to son. The lawyers’ successful appeal might hinge on an error made by a key character. All of that is up to YOU. All you have to do is make it matter.
Whichever way you choose to end your novels, it’s important make an emotional impact on your readers. Of course you want to leave them wanting more, but also leave them feeling something powerful: satisfaction, delight, resolve, fear, surprise, even sorrow.
Do NOT, however, leave your readers baffled by or angry at you, the writer. These emotions are highly counterproductive toward your goal of selling more books.
Nor should you burden your readers with boring minutiae, just because you feel compelled to follow every loose plot strand to its logical conclusion. Some meals are meant to be left unfinished, especially if they include lima beans.
Speaking of endings, I’m having trouble deciding where to end this post. There’s more I could say; but is there anything of real value left to add? I’m not a huge fan of epilogues or afterwords, though I do sometimes enjoy reading them. I wonder if I should delete this paragraph…
How do you feel about novel endings? Do you like things tied up neatly with a red bow, or do you prefer to leave a lot to your readers’ imaginations? I’m curious to hear your opinions about this and related Novel Ideas. Share your thoughts in Comments, below.
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