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How to End a Story: 6 Approaches That Lead to Success
by The Write Life Team | Nov 30, 2021
Learning how to end a story effectively is even more important than learning how to start it.
Both the beginning and end of a work of fiction greatly impact a reader’s level of satisfaction. If the start of your story is weak or unengaging you run the risk of people putting down your book before it even gets going. But a lot of readers are willing to persist even if a story’s opening isn’t really to their taste. A strong middle section and climax can overcome any initial disappointment.
But what if your story finishes on a weak note?
Because it’s the final experience readers have before putting your book down, it leaves a lasting impression. Most people don’t finish books the books they start to read. Those who do are the most invested readers out of everyone who chose your book. It makes sense that they would be strongly let down by an unsatisfying conclusion.
So how can you write an ending to your story that leaves readers satisfied?
Here are six types of story endings that have stood the test of time along with some general tips on ending a story the right way.
6 Ideas to Consider for How to End a Story
Conclude your story in a neat and tidy way
Sometimes, the best way to end a story is by offering a clear resolution that neatly ties up all the loose ends and plot points.
If you’ve ever felt a plotline has been forgotten about or ignored, you’ll know how irritating it can be. Making sure the fate of everyone in your book is clearly explained can avoid that dilemma.
Examples of this type of ending include romances where the characters get together and have no threats to their happiness or unity on the horizon. Or adventure stories where good triumphs over evil and any villains have met definitive defeat.
This type of story ending can be seen as a bit unimaginative but it is the safest option. Going this route avoids the possibility of annoyed reviewers leaving comments along the lines of “but what about so and so character” or “it wasn’t clear to me if there’s still a chance of this or that happening”.
Leave your reader hanging from a cliff
Cliffhanger endings leave some elements of a story unresolved. Deciding to end your story on a cliffhanger is important if you want to leave readers eagerly anticipating the next installment in a fiction series.
It’s important to note that a cliffhanger ending should be a conscious choice. The majority of plot points should be resolved and the ending should not feel like a disappointment. You need to strike a balance between leaving your reader feeling they’ve reached something of a climax while still leaving some story aspects intentionally open.
If you have a rough or even concrete idea of what your story sequel will look like then make sure your cliffhanger ending will segue naturally into the next installment. Or, if you’re unsure of whether a follow-up book is the right route, you can leave the possibility open without committing to it. For example, when George Lucas chose to freeze Han Solo in Star Wars it was due to not knowing whether Harrison Ford would be available for the sequel.
A cliffhanger ending runs a higher risk of leaving readers disappointed than tying everything up neatly. However, when written well, they are some of the most exciting endings possible.
Provide a twist in the tale
A twist ending is a great choice if you can pull it off effectively. This type of story ending can have the highest level of impact but is also very difficult to get right.
Twist endings typically run into two problems.
First, readers may be able to spot your twist coming a mile away. There’s nothing more annoying than a big ‘reveal’ at the end of the story that you predicted back in the first act.
The second common issue is a twist ending that is too unbelievable. If something happens out of nowhere and there was no hints in hindsight readers may fail short change. An effective twist ending, therefore, needs to work on both an emotional and a logical level.
To write an effective twist ending, you want to give a few clues that foreshadow the twist without being heavy-handed or obvious. Ideally, your reader won’t figure out their significance at first, but when looking back will notice there were subtle clues in place. You can also play around with red herrings that hint at an altogether different ending, but be careful about using too many and confusing your reader.
Twist endings are incredibly hard to get right, but if you can manage to write a good one, you’re sure to leave readers thinking about your story long after it ends.
Play around with ambiguity and unreliability
Some readers detest not knowing exactly how a story ends. Others love the chance to come to their own conclusion.
The suitability of an ambiguous ending is also partially down to your choice of genre. For example, romance readers typically want a clear ending where the outcome they’ve been rooting for the whole time is given to them clearly. Readers of a gritty psychological thriller, however, might enjoy having their minds messed with by an ending that doesn’t spell everything out for the reader.
Unreliable narrators are a great fit for ending a story on an ambiguous note. Consider American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis (spoiler alert!).
Throughout the story, we are shown events through the eyes of Patrick Bateman. However, there’s a lot to suggest the ways he’s telling things may not be exactly how they’ve gone down. Ellis doesn’t resolve things either way and allows the reader to reach their own conclusion.
Sometimes, ambiguous endings are truly divisive. Just ask any Sopranos fan. This type of ending is a good choice if you’re confident in both your ability to write it and the likelihood that your readers won’t hate you for it. It’s probably the wrong choice for the majority of stories though.
End on an epilogue
Epilogues can be an effective way of adding a sense of realism or depth to your story. By suggesting that events carried on far after the main action ends, it gives your reader the feeling that the story took place in a believable world rather than one that existed purely to serve the plot.
However, sometimes epilogue endings can feel a little unwieldy and almost tacked on as the author couldn’t think of another way to conclude. For example, Ender’s Game has an epilogue that adds a ton of detail that sort of feels rushed and brief in comparison to the main tale told.
If you want to use an epilogue as a device to end your story, take the time to read a wide range of stories that ended in this way. Read those that are well-reviewed and those that are hated alike. This breadth of reference will allow you to identify the type of endings that work well so you can try and apply their principles to your own story.
Choose a cyclical ending
If your story begins and ends similarly, giving readers the feeling that events have come full circle, you’ve employed a cyclical ending.
A cyclical ending isn’t the same thing as simply ending things as they started. Even though the story might begin and end in the same place, the readers should have been on a journey alongside the characters who have developed or learned something along the way.
One example of a cyclical ending that many people will be familiar with from school is Of Mice and Men. The story starts and ends in the same location which is said to be symbolic of the inescapable fate of its main characters constrained by the lot life dealt them.
Now that you know six proven ways to end a story satisfactorily, let’s look explore the concept of effective endings in more detail.
Story Ending FAQs
How do you end a short story.
You can end a short story in all of the same ways that you can end a full story. An epilogue ending is perhaps a less likely choice due to the constraint on length you’re working with but is still technically possible.
What is the ending of a story called?
You might see the ending of a story referred to as its climax , conclusion, denouement, or simply ending. These terms are all slightly different in meaning although they are often used interchangeably.
How do you write a sad ending?
Sometimes, sad endings linger in our hearts and minds in a way that happy endings don’t. Think about the power of Romeo and Juliet’s ending, for example, or the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist. Writing a sad ending to a story requires the readers to care about the characters. A sense of avoidable tragedy can often increase the emotional gut-punch of this type of ending.
How do you end a children’s book?
The end of a children’s story should be appropriate for the age of its readers and the overall tone of the book. Gritty twists or sad endings are, unsurprisingly, not the way to go here. Younger readers often prefer a neat ending that leaves them feeling as if everything has been explained. You can still use a surprise ending, but it should be a fun and happy surprise!
You now have six different answers to the question of how to end a story as well as some tips for different genres and styles of writing.
It’s important to remember that there’s no right or wrong way to end a story. Multiple types of endings could work for your story. It comes down to your ability to write them well and to satisfy your readers.
If you’re unsure of the right type of ending for your story in particular, feel free to jot down ideas for each of the six different types but applied to your work of fiction. Which feels most suitable? Get feedback from people whose opinion you value and see which type of ending they feel would work well.
Take as long as you need to write and rewrite your ending. Getting it right is crucial if you want to get good reviews and leave your readers with a positive impression of you and your work.
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Posted on Apr 13, 2020
How to End a Story Right: 13 Tips Every Author Should Know
Whether you have the final scenes of your book worked out from the moment you put pen to paper or it comes to you in the weeds of writing a story , there’s one thing every writer needs to master to leave a lasting impression on readers: how to end a story.
Writing the ending can be a source of anxiety for a lot of authors. After all, you don’t want to finish a great story with a weak ending and disappoint your readers. To help you effectively bring your novel to a close, this post will cover six popular types of endings found in literature, and provide seven tips (including some from professional editors! ) that show that ending a book doesn't have to be hard.
Six Types of Endings (and what they're used for)
The ending has an enormous impact on how (and if) readers will remember your book in years to come. If they are dissatisfied at the closing of the final chapter, they won’t likely read it again or share it with others. While the start of your story might convince people to read your book in the first place, the end is what will determine if they turn from a reader into a fan.
Of course there’s no universally right or wrong endings. Art is subjective, after all, and every reader will like different things. However, writers must consider reader expectations — and whether their story is best served by meeting or subverting those expectations.
A few things to consider when trying to determine reader expectations are:
- Plot structure
- Target audience
- Theme and overall message
In genre, for example, there are many people who don’t consider something a true romance book until it ends with a happily ever after (or at least a “happy for now”). If you’re following the Hero’s Journey true to form, your protagonist will end up back in the same location that they started from, but transformed by their experiences. Children are going to have quite a different set of expectations from a book than adult readers. And of course, your theme and the takeaway you want readers to have will determine whether subverting or meeting their expectations is likely to go over well. (Just make sure that your subverted endings are still true to the characters, plot, and themes that you’ve established, lest you give readers such a curve ball that they won’t be able to follow what you were going for!)
Understanding the most common ways other writers end stories will help you no matter which approach you’d like to take, so let’s examine some of the most common types of endings out there, and why they work.
1. Resolved Ending
Wrap it up and put a bow on it. A resolved ending answers all the questions and ties up any loose plot threads. There is nothing more to tell because the characters’ fates are clearly presented to the reader.
Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude provides a great example of a resolved ending. In his Nobel Prize-winning book, García Márquez intertwines the tale of the Buendia family and the small town where they live, from its creation until its destruction. [Caution: spoilers ahead!]
Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.
With this ending, García Márquez effectively ends all hope of a sequel by destroying the entire town and killing off all the characters. Unlike a Deus Ex Machina ending, where everything is suddenly and abruptly resolved , this is an ending that fits with the themes and plot of this book. Though it is not exactly expected, it brings an appropriate closure to the Buendia family and the town of Macondo.
When might you use a resolved ending? This sort of conclusion is common to standalone books — especially romance novels, which thrive on ‘happily ever afters’ — or the final installment in a series.
2. Unresolved Ending
This type of ending asks more questions than it answers and, ideally, leaves the reader wanting to know how the story is going to continue. It lets them reflect on what the hero has been through and pushes them to imagine what is still to happen. There will be some resolution, but it will, most likely, pose questions at the end and leave some doors open.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince does exactly that. After years of confronting Voldemort, Harry finally knows the secret to bring him down once and for all, however, the road will only become more dangerous and will require more sacrifices than anybody thought. [More spoilers!]
His hand closed automatically around the fake Horcrux, but in spite of everything, in spite of the dark and twisting path he saw stretching ahead for himself, in spite of the final meeting with Voldemort he knew must come, whether in a month, in a year, or in ten, he felt his heart lift at the thought that there was still one last golden day of peace left to enjoy with Ron and Hermione.
Like Harry, readers are aware that a final meeting between him and Voldemort is coming, and that everything is about to change for him and his friends. As a stand-alone book, this ending would probably be unsatisfactory. But as the penultimate book in the series, it leaves the readers wanting for more.
When might you use an unresolved ending? Because it can create anticipation and excitement for what comes next, you may want to use an unresolved ending if you are writing a series of books . Who doesn’t love (and hate) a good cliffhanger?
3. Ambiguous Ending
An ambiguous ending leaves the reader wondering about the “what ifs.” Instead of directly stating what happens to the characters after the book ends, it allows the reader to speculate about what might come next — without establishing a right or wrong answer. Things don't feel quite unresolved , more just open to interpretation.
The first installment of The Giver series, by Lois Lowry, makes use of this ending. The Giver focuses on Jonas, a teenager living in a colorless yet seemingly ideal society, and on the way he uses his newly assigned position as the Receiver of Memories to unravel the truth about his community and forge a new path for himself. [Caution: spoilers!]
Downward, downward, faster, faster. Suddenly he was aware with certainty and joy that below, ahead, they were waiting for him; and that they were waiting, too, for the baby. For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps it was only an echo.
Readers will wonder what happened to Jonas once he finishes his journey, and what happens to the town and people he left behind. There are three more companion books with more plot points , but the story centering on Jonas is finished. Readers will see him again, but only as a side character, and will neither find out how he rebuilt his life nor how his old community fared. There might be speculation, but an answer is never clearly given: that is left to the imagination.
When might you use an ambiguous ending? If you want your readers to reflect on the meaning of your book, then this is the ending for you. While a resolved ending may satisfy readers, it probably won’t give them much pause at all. However, by trying to unpick an ambiguous ending they get closer to what you as the author are trying to say.
4. Unexpected Ending
If you have led your readers to believe that your book will end one way, but at the last possible moment you add a plot twist that they didn’t see coming, you’ve got yourself an unexpected ending! For an author, this type of ending can be a thrill to write, but it must be handled with care. Handled poorly, it will frustrate and infuriate your reader.
An unexpected ending must be done in such a way that, while surprising, still makes sense and brings a satisfactory conclusion.
A popular novel that makes use of this ending is And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie , where she tells the tale of ten murders without an obvious culprit that took place in an isolated island mansion. [Spoilers coming!] The last lines of the novel read:
When the sea goes down, there will come from the mainland boats and men. And they will find ten dead bodies and an unsolved problem on Soldier Island. Signed: Lawrence Wargrave
The ways in which the murders occur lets the reader suspect guilt of just about every character — and then in an epic twist, they all die in the end, leaving the murders unexplained. It is not until the message in the bottle arrives that the true culprit is revealed, as one of the victims no less! The ending is satisfactory to the reader because it brings the plot to a close in a way that, though surprising, invites them to think back on how the murderer set things up for the remaining deaths, and ultimately makes sense.
When might you use an unexpected ending? These ‘twist endings’ are the bread and butter of mystery novels . Just be aware that while fans of the genre will expect a twist — they won't want one that comes entirely out of nowhere. To execute a flawless unexpected ending, you must lay groundwork throughout your book, so that the reader can reflect on the plot and go, “ah, but of course!”
5. Tied Ending
Much of storytelling is cyclical. Sometimes it’s a metaphorical return home, such as in The Hero’s Journey . In other cases, the cycle is quite literal — the story ends where it began.
Erin Morgenstern uses this ending in her book The Night Circus , where she tells of a duel between two magicians that takes place within Le Cirque des Rêves , a traveling circus and, arguably, a character on its own. [Spoilers!]
Widget takes a sip of his wine and puts his glass down on the table. He sits back in his chair and steadily return the stare at him. Taking his time as though he has all of it in the world, in the universe, from the days when tales meant more than they do now, but perhaps less than they will someday, he draws a breath that releases the tangled knot of words in his heart, and they fall from his lips effortlessly. ‘The circus arrives without warning.’
With what may be the most famous lines of the book, “The circus arrives without warning,” this novel closes the characters’ storylines the same way the book begins. In both cases, the words are used to start telling a story; in the beginning, it serves as an introduction to the book, the words filled with wonder and expectation. At the end, it serves as a resolution, the words filled with hope for those who remain. Additionally, Morgenstern later uses a few more pages to finish the second person narrative of the reader’s own visit to the circus, effectively ending the novel with the same point of view that it began.
When might you use a tied ending? More common in literary fiction, a tied ending can help give you a sense of direction when writing your book — after all, you are ending the same way you began. But don’t think that this makes writing your ending easier. On the contrary, it is up to you to give greater depth to those repeated actions and events so that, by the end, they have a completely different feel.
6. Expanded Ending
Also known as an epilogue , this type of ending describes what happens to the world of the story afterward in a way that hints at the characters' fates at some point in the future.
In Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief , Death himself narrates the story of a young girl living in Nazi Germany. In his four-part epilogue, Zusak gives the reader an insight into what happened to Liesel after the bombing, her adult life, and even her death. [Spoilers!]
All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said to the book thief and I say it now to you. *** A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR*** I am hunted by humans.
Instead of going into great detail, Zusak uses short chapters that feel more like sneak peeks into her life. Additionally, it serves the purpose of joining Liesel, the main character, with the narrator, Death, and allowing them to have a conversation on more equal terms.
When might you use an expanded ending? If you need to tie up loose ends but were not able to do it within the actual story, then this is the ending for you. However, it should not take the place of a traditional ending or be used to compensate for a weak ending. Instead, it should give further insight into the characters and give a resolution to the readers.
Seven Tips to Craft the Perfect Ending
Now that you understand what kind of endings there are, let’s start thinking about how to create them for yourself! We’ve compiled expert knowledge for sticking the landing, so you can create an ending that will linger in people's minds long after they've read your book.
1. Find your ending in the beginning
While your story may contain several different threads and subplots, all books are going to have a central question that’s raised by the opener. Who killed the boss? Will our star-crossed lovers end up together? Can a rag-tag group of heroes really save the world? Is there meaning to a middle-class existence? Can this family’s relationship be saved?
Your central question is the driving force of what will happen in the plot, so make sure you settle it by the time the book ends. Even if your hero's story continues in a sequel, you’ll want each book to have a central question, and a resolution, for them to feel complete.
2. Completion goes hand-in-hand with hope
Literary agent Estelle Laure explains that a great ending is one that gives the reader both a feeling of completion and hope.
“You have to assume the character has gone through hell, so let them see something beautiful about the world that allows them to take a breath and step into the next adventure. Even your ending should leave your reader dying for more. They should close the book with a sigh, and that’s the best way I know how to get there. This is, after all, a cruel but wondrous life.”
3. Keep things fresh
This is good advice for every stage of writing, but perhaps nowhere is it more important than the ending. While there are certain genres where a type of ending is expected (romances should end with a happily ever after, mysteries with identifying the killer), you don’t want people to be able to see everything coming from miles off. So even if the payoff from the big resolution is expected, as the writer you’ll want to think hard to find ways to keep things fresh and interesting. To achieve this, try to dig deeper than your first impulse because, chances are, that’s also going to be your audience’s first impulse as well. You don’t necessarily need to subvert that expectation, but it will give you some hints as to what most people think will happen.
4. Make sure it’s really finished
To create a satisfying ending, close your book with purpose.
As Publishing Director of Endeavor Media, Jasmin Kirkbride’s biggest tip is to make sure you follow the rule of Chekhov’s Gun : “Every subplot and all the different strands of your main plot should reach satisfying, clear conclusions. If they are meant to be left ambiguously, ensure your reader knows this, and create something out of that uncertainty.”
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5. Last impressions matter
In some ways, the final line of a story is even more important than the first one. It’s the last impression you’re going to make in your reader’s mind, and the final takeaway of the whole book. Hone in on what kind of emotions you’d like your reader to feel as they close the book, and ask yourself what kind of image or concluding thought would best convey that. Not sure what that should be? Try looking at your book’s theme! Often the final image is the summation of everything your theme has been building.
6. Come full circle
Editor Jenn Bailey says that a good ending brings the book’s internal and external story arcs to a rational conclusion: “You need to come full circle. You need to end where you began. You need to take the truth your main character believed in at the beginning of the story and expose it as the lie that it is by the end. In your ending, the main character doesn’t have to get what they want, but they do have to get what they need.” For more about character arcs, check out this post !
7. Leave some things unsaid
There’s a balance to endings — too little resolution and your book will feel rushed and unsatisfying, but too much and the denouement starts to drag. In general, though, you want to keep things brief, especially if you want room for an epilogue. It’s okay to trust your readers to reach some conclusions on their own, rather than spending whole chapters making sure every question you raised is answered. But, if do you really want everything tied off, consider moving the resolution of some of your subplots to just before the climax. This avoids jamming everything into the last five pages, allowing your subplots space to breathe.
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As we have seen, there are many methods for ending stories! However you decide to finish your novel, there is one thing that you should always keep in mind: take account of the story that came before and give it the ending that it needs, not the one you think readers want, and it will be satisfactory for all.
What is your favorite way to end a story? Or do you have a favorite closing passage? Tell us in the comments below!
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100 Ways to End a Story (with examples)
But where do you stop? Which sentences are the last sentences?
In this post, we’ll look at 100 ending lines from a diverse group of authors, both novelists and short story writers. We’ll identify how different types of endings contribute to a story. And, ultimately, we’ll determine how the author crafts a sense of satisfaction in their closing phrases.
After collecting many, many endings, the following categories emerged:
Normally, writers think of using a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter. But they absolutely can be used at the end of a story or book, for a few reasons:
- Pique the reader’s interest for the next book in the series
- Uses the “in media res” technique to go out on a high point, rather than dribble to a conclusion
- Extend the reader’s imagination beyond the story, so they finish hungry for more, and curious about the future of the storyline. It keeps the story alive, rather than closing it off.
“Lie back, Michael, my sweet.” She nodded briskly at Pauline. “If you’ll secure the strap, Nurse Shepherd, then I think we can begin.”
— Ian McEwan, “Pornography”
“I turned and looked past the neighborhood kids — my playmates — at the two men, the strangers. They were lean and seedy, unshaven, slouching behind the brims of their hats. One of them was chewing a toothpick. I caught their eyes: they’d seen it too.
I threw the first stone.”
— T. C. Boyle, “Rara Avis”
“Then his father walks toward the door stooping slightly and B stands aside to give him room to move. Tomorrow we’ll leave, tomorrow we’ll go back to Mexico City, thinks B joyfully. And then the fight begins.”
– Roberto Bolano, “Last Evenings on Earth”
Whatever you’re ending on, it’s something you want to emphasize, right? So heighten that emphasis with repetition.
Here’s an exercise: take all the examples below and try rewriting them without any repetition. Just say the key word once. Doesn’t have the same ring, does it? In fact, it makes it seem like the middle of the story, just another unremarkable line.
It takes two or three repetitions before there’s a finality to it, like a bell tolling for the conclusion of the story.
“His feet are light and nimble. He never sleeps. He says that he will never die. He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.”
— Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
“Big flakes not falling in orderly rows, a dervishing mob that swirls, lifts, goes limp, noiselessly spatters the glass. Snow obscuring the usual view greeting me when I’m up at crazy hours to relieve an old man’s panicked kidneys or just up, up and wondering why, staring at blank, black windows of a hulking building that mirrors the twenty-story bulk of ours, up prowling instead of asleep in the peace. I hope you’re still enjoying, peace I wish upon the entire world, peace I should know better by now than to look for through a window, the peace I listen for beside you in the whispering of our tangled breaths.”
— John Edgar Wideman, “Microstories”
“I imagined the story of a girl made human. I imagined Tallie’s grave, forsaken and remote. I imagined banishing forever those sentiments that she chastened and refined. I imagined everyone I knew sick to the point of death. I imagined a creature even more slow-hearted than myself. I imagined continuing to write in this ledger, here; as though that were life; as though life were not elsewhere.”
— Jim Shepard, “The World to Come”
“Sometimes all humanity strikes me as lovely. I just want to reach out and stroke someone, and say, ‘There, there, it’s all right honey. There, there, there.’”
— Sandra Cisneros, “Never Marry a Mexican”
“That would be the man we’d spare. That would be the man who’d drop to his knees in the mud and, in the cloud of gun smoke, raise his hands in surrender. That would be the man who’d tell us who he was, where he’d come from and why.”
— Will Mackin, “Crossing the River No Name”
“In the desert, in the lightning, in his crumbling duplex, in the field, in the many rooms of night, Wild Turkey wakes up, he wakes up, he wakes up.”
— Arna Bontemps Hemenway “The Fugue”
“Then sometimes I get up and don my robe and go out into our quiet neighborhood looking for a magic thread, a magic sword, a magic horse.”
— Denis Johnson, “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden”
“Your time’s not up. Your time’s not even close to being up.”
— David Means, “The Chair “
Sense of Sound
Good writers understand that sensory details are the lifeblood of fiction. And just as images are crucial ways to end a story (that’s the next section), you can also use sound as a way to dial up or dial down the end of your story.
A crescendo ends a story well because it makes the story’s end feel climatic. While a decrescendo eases you out of the story, giving a sense of closure to the reader.
If you look at the examples below, especially Jones and Bausch, you see how they use sound as a stand-in for a character — a deceased mother’s footsteps echoing through time, a wife’s domestic duties that make the husband feel estranged from her.
So sound can often a way to wrestle with complex character conflicts.
“And even when the teacher turns me toward the classrooms and I hear what must be the singing and talking of all the children in the world, I can still hear my mother’s footsteps above it all.”
— Edward P. Jones, “The First Day”
“The mastiff’s howl tears through the estate, setting off the usual thousand and twelve strange little circuses that disrupt the science of slavery.”
— Patrick Chamoiseau, “The Old Man Slave and the Mastiff”
“A long silence and then, slowly, applause, soft at first, then waves of it, which on this old recording came across like a pounding rain. I was shivering. There was no question we were under water.”
— Daniel Alarcón, “The Bridge”
“She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of a cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch. There was the hum of bees, the musky odor of pinks filled the air.”
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening
“He shut his eyes. Listened to the small sounds she made in the kitchen, arranging her flowers, running the tap. Mary, he had said. But he could not imagine what he might have found to say if his voice had reached her.”
— Richard Bausch, “Aren’t You Happy for Me?”
When you end a story, you’re helping the reader transition from the world of the story back into the real world. Sometimes that transition is easier if the last lines of the story don’t deal with the main characters, or plot, or themes, but instead talk about the universe of the story.
Namely: description. Try to describe a particular thing in the story which resonates with the main themes of your story. If you’re writing about father/son relationships, then end on the description of your character seeing a father walk with his son.
If you have a character sacrificing everything in the hopes of a big payday, then show that same idea in the animal world, for instance, pelicans divebombing for fish, like the Taylor Antrim example below.
“They’ve forgotten, or left on purpose, a few things they don’t need, things I hold on to. Pictures the girls drew, shells they picked up at the beach, the last drops of a perfumed shower gel. Shopping lists in the faint, small script that the mother used, on other sheets of paper, to write all about us.”
— Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Boundary”
“His eyes went upward, looking again for some civilizing sign — better yet, for the rectangular peak of his building, like the needle of a compass, the darkness down here, the shadow of his life up there. Friedrich and Lana resting up for tomorrow. Paulette waiting for him posed on all fours in bed. They were trying. He was trying. But above him there was just sky and trees in all directions.”
— David Gilbert, “The Sightseers”
“And in the morning when the sun came up and the colors of the hill and its valley accelerated from gray and brown to red and green to white, the company agent gathered stones for his family and they breakfasted on snow.”
— Jim Crace, “The Prospect from Silver Hills”
“Boom-splash. The pelicans take these kamikaze plunges into the water. The way they hit, not one should survive — but of course they all do. They come up with their beaks full of fish.”
— Taylor Antrim, “Pilgrim Life”
Unspoken Dialogue is very similar to a cliffhanger. While a cliffhanger refuses to resolve plot , this Unspoken Dialogue technique refuses to resolve the dialogue .
There’s tension when a character wants to say something, but doesn’t.
If you’re trying to learn how to write good dialogue, it’s always important to remember that characters don’t often say exactly what they’re thinking, or even what they want to say.
Why does this work to conclude a story? Well, it highlights the weakness of the character, how they are not doing what they want to be doing. They are holding back, and perhaps they will regret it later.
“I wanted to say she’d lied to us all, she’d faked it about the dog, as if it mattered whether the animal spoke, as if love were about the truth, as if he would love her less — and not more — for pretending to talk to a dog.”
— Francine Prose, “Talking Dog”
“Tell more, more, I want to say to Eduardo but do not say because he seems ready to leave. Tell me about Garcilaso and about how things went well for him.”
— Joseph O’Neill, “The Sinking of the Houston”
“They are always very interested to hear that you don’t read music. Once, you almost said— to a sneaky fellow from the Daily News, who was inquiring— you almost turned to him and said Motherfucker I AM music. But a lady does not speak like that, however, and so you did not.”
— Zadie Smith, “Crazy They Call Me”
“She begins to scream, her face turning even redder, you cannot hear or understand what she is saying but you know she hates your father, hates you, hates many, many people. You want to help your father, the man who has only recently come back into your life, clean-shaven and speaking of God, you want to run toward him and defend him and protect him, but now he is holding out his hand to the man again, he has taken off his hat and is holding it out toward the man. The woman is now silent. The man takes the hat, a brand-new fedora with a feather, and puts it on his head. And looks at you, as if for the first time.”
— Justin Bigos, “Fingerprints”
A question is one of the most popular ways to end a story (look at all the examples below!). I could even add more quite easily, like the question to conclude Margaret Atwood’s book, “Handmaid’s Tale”: “Are there any questions?”
But if you use this technique, I would recommend following these three guidelines:
- Must not have an easy answer
- Must resonate with the main themes of your book
- Must strike an emotional chord (look at the Russel Banks example).
“But why are you invested in other people’s stories? You too must be unable to fill in the gaps. Can’t you be satisfied with your own dreams?”
— Antonio Tabucchi, “A Riddle”
“And who would she tell her stories to while he was gone? Who would listen?”
— Russel Banks, “My Mother’s Memoirs, My Father’s Lie, and Other True Stories”
“Then in the space of a wet blink, the gap between the trees would close and the mown grass disappear, a violent indigo cloud would cover the sun and history, gross history, daily history, would forget. Is this how it would be?”
— Julian Barnes, “Evermore”
“I imagined John-Jin’s girder underneath me. I wondered, in my rage, if you took that one piece away, would everything fall?”
— Rose Tremain, “John-Jin”
If a blind man could play basketball, surely we…If he had known Doc’s story would it have saved them? He hears himself saying the words. The ball arches from Doc’s fingertips, the miracle of it sinking. Would she have believed any of it?”
— John Edgar Wideman, “Doc’s Story”
“Safer and better to have no freedom, maybe, but no, you wouldn’t say that. The humming stopped when he flicked the light switch by the door. No you wouldn’t say that, would you? In the dark of the hall he could not see his way; he went toward the vague light of the front window with one hand on the wall. No you wouldn’t but what would you say?”
— Madison Smartt Bell, “Witness”
“Who was it that thought up that idea, the idea that had made today better than yesterday? Who loved him enough to think that up? Who loved him more than anyone else in the world loved him?
— George Saunders, “Puppy”
“Where was she now, this Clara? What had become of her, this ardent, hopeful girl in her white dress, surrounded by her family, godparents, friends, that her Bible should end up in a Goodwill bin? Even if she no longer read it, or believed it, she wouldn’t have thrown it away, would she? Had something happened? Ah, girl, where were you?”
— Tobias Wolff, “Bible”
“He reached for the telephone and dialed his home number. ‘Rhona,’ he said in the quaking receiver. ‘Would you like to see the juvenile tuataras? The babies?’”
— Barbara Anderson, “Tuataras”
“But for the other man, who would be watching the night fall around the orange halo of the street lamps with neither longing nor dread, what did the future offer but the comfort of knowing that he would, when it was time for his daughter to carry out her plan of revenge, cooperate with a gentle willingness?”
— Yiyun Li, “A Man Like Him”
You can’t write good fiction without making your characters feel things (and your reader feel things). So here, we see authors ending stories by showing the final arc of their character’s emotions.
Some of these characters have emotional epiphanies, feeling something for the first time. Others have felt it all along but perhaps only now have been able to admit it to themselves.
But if character arc and character change are essential for stories, it makes sense that their emotional journey would conclude the narrative.
“Even so, I sat there gazing up at the granite outcrops of Spruce Clove streaked in evening gold, I had an almost overpowering sense of being looked at myself, stared at in uncomprehending astonishment by some wild creature standing in the doorway.”
— James Lasdun, “Oh Death”
“I stand here shameless in ways he has never seen me. I am free, afloat, watching somebody else.”
— Bharati Mukherjee, “A Wife’s Story”
“She has done an outrageous thing, but she doesn’t feel guilty. She feels light and peaceful and filled with charity and temporarily without a name.”
— Margaret Atwood, “Hairball”
Paul Harding, who won the Pulitzer Prize for “Tinkers,” said that contrast is the essential technique of music, painting, and storytelling.
Below, we see contrasts between:
- chill cats and stressed-out humans
- the busyness of day with the solitude of night
- the flowers of love with the chants for the dead.
When you contrast something, you throw it into higher relief. A happy person doesn’t seem exceptionally happy until you see her side by side with a depressed person.
Contrast offers that extra emphasis — much like repetition — to make the reader feel satisfied that this ending resolves the story.
“She hears a distant siren, the wind in the trees, the bass beat from a passing car. Please, she thinks. Please. She is about to go inside for a flashlight when she hears the familiar bell and then sees the cat slinking up from the dark woods, her manner cool and unaffected.”
— Jill McCorkle, “Magic Words”
“Susanne sat on the couch, surrounded by her family while out in the night, partner to the extraordinary, Roy held a shovel made for digging deeper in the dirt.”
— Samantha Hunt, “The Yellow”
“By day she entertained a constant stream of visitors. At night her father kept vigil beside her bed.”
— Jennifer Haigh, “Paramour”
“Violins and lit candles revolved in the sky. Leo ran forward with flowers outthrust. Around the corner, Salzman, leaning against a wall, chanted prayers for the dead.”
— Bernard Malamud, “The Magic Barrel”
Marcel Proust’s memories brought back by the taste of a madeleine are probably the most famous memories in literature, but stories have always used memory to make readers nostalgic, evoke the senses, and make us feel the bite of time.
When you end a story with memory, it ties the whole story together — past is united with the present.
In some ways, ending a story with a memory is the opposite of a cliffhanger — memory looks at the past, while a cliffhanger anticipates the future.
Memory allows the writer to skip around in time to find the perfect character moment to end the story — which could be much, much earlier in their life, or only a few years back, or only last week.
Perhaps in the character’s current life, there’s no event that perfectly captures the emotion you’re going for, so mine the past for it.
“I no longer remembered the day we married. Only the day I knew we would, those moments with my heart warm and rapt, the silent promise of the frozen world, the elm chafing in its coat of ice.”
— Karen Brown, “Galatea”
“…She will be secretly glad, relieved that time is passing, that Paris is again becoming nothing more than a word she might see on the cover of a glossy magazine or on a cable travel channel, certainly not a place where she once spent a few breaths of her life, and she will hardly remember the way the Seine sliced the city in half, a radiant curving knife, merciless and perfect.”
— Victoria Lancelotta, “The Anniversary Trip”
“He remembers waking up the morning after they bought the car, seeing it, there in the drive, in the sun, gleaming.”
— Raymond Carver, “Are These Actual Miles”
“Who will remember?”
— Alex Rose, “Ostracon”
“She will see the garden that day and the tears shining in her sister’s large blue eyes and remember her unanswered cry for help.”
— Sheila Kohler, “Magic Man”
“And as for the scar, I’m glad it is not on Nyamekye. Any time I see it I only recall one afternoon when I sat with my chin in my breast before a Mallam came, and after a Mallam went out.”
— Ama Ata Aidoo, “A Gift from Somewhere”
The epiphany ending is the classic story ending. After everything the character has gone through, what have they learned?
This is the chance to show that the journey has not been in vain, that your characters have changed and learned and grown because of this journey.
Epiphanies are particularly useful for short stories, rather than novels, because short stories have less runway for plot. So you can’t have a huge murder or birth or world catastrophe solved at the end of a short story (the way most novels do), but you can show the character realizing something about themselves, others, or the world.
“He closed the door carefully, not slamming it. Clea and I waited an appropriate interval, then turned and clung to each other in a kind of rapture. Understanding, abruptly and at last, just what it takes to be a King. How much, in the end it actually costs.”
— Jonathan Lethem, “The King of Sentences”
“He was shot five or six times, but being such a big man and such a strong man, he lived long enough to recognize the crack of the guns and know that he was dead.”
— Nathan Englander, “The Twenty-Seventh Man”
“Years later, as an adult, I realized that what my little sister had confided to me in a quiet voice in the wind cave was indeed true. Alice really does exist in the world. The March hare, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat— they all really exist.”
— Haruki Murakami, “The Wind Cave”
“— How d’you like my lion? Isn’t he beautiful? He’s made by a Zimbabwean artist, I think the name’s Dube.
— But the foolish interruption becomes revelation. Dumile, in his gaze — distant, lingering, speechless this time — reveals what has overwhelmed them. In this room. The space, the expensive antique chandelier, the consciously simple choice of reed blinds, the carved lion: all are on the same level of impact phenomena undifferentiated, undecipherable. Only the food that fed their hunger was real.”
— Nadine Gordimer, “Comrades”
“Sarah looked at him with an intent, halted expression, as though she were listening to a dialogue no one present was engaged in. Finally she said, “There are robbers. Everything has changed.”
— Joy Williams, “The Farm”
“And that was it. Somehow it didn’t really matter, finding out. Two years earlier, it would have changed my life. But on that day, I suppose the only thing I felt was some small measure of contentment for her: that he had, indeed, come back for her, just like she always said he would. They were different after all, destined to be together. I thanked Allen for bringing her things, watched him ride away on his motorcycle, and went inside to have dinner with my father.”
— Jess Walter, “Mr. Voice”
“And then, as if he had forgotten that she had already moved on to other things, as if we were still sitting across from each other, deep in one of our conversations without beginning, middle, or end, Room wrote that the last thing that had surprised her was that when Ershadi is lying in the grave he’s dug and his eyes finally drift closed and the screen goes black, it isn’t really black at all. If you look closely, you can see the rain falling.”
— Nicole Krauss, “Seeing Ershadi”
“‘No problem,’ the waitress sang, ‘no problem at all,’ replacing the girl’s fork, bending to snatch the soiled one off the floor. Smiling hard but not making eye contact with anyone. When she retreated leaving Richard alone with his son and the crying girl, it occurred to him, with the delayed logic of a dream, that the waitress must have thought he was the bad guy in all this.”
– Emma Cline, “Northeast Regional”
“But I remember you. I remember when we were so close that people couldn’t tell us apart. I remember your parents’ phone number, your neatly folded cutoffs and your constant fear of not being special. I remember when you started claiming that fictive characters are way better than friends, since they are less annoying, more interesting and never die. You stopped returning my calls. When I needed you the most you were nowhere to be found and when I died you started seeing me everywhere. On sidewalks, in shop windows, on balconies. So you decided to write my story. You dress me in cutoffs. You force extreme amounts of apple juice into me. You retell the most painful week of my life as it were a never-ending bachelor party. And it is not until the end. About. Here. That you realize what you’ve done. I’m not bitter, Miro. I’m just dead.”
— Jonas Hassen Khemiri, “As You Would Have Told It to Me (Sort Of) If We Had Known Each other Before You Died”
“It took some time for me to understand that Elida’s body had not been satiated on mine, that she wasn’t purring because she swallowed my heart.”
— Louise Erdrich, “The Big Cat”
“I used to think that all my emotions belonged in the past, to history, but I know that I yearn for the future just like everyone else. Even as life draws to close, I realize that I have never understood myself completely.
But now it certainly is too late to do more, to be more, in this lifetime.”
— Zhang Jie, “An Unfinished Record”
I am born at noon the next day. My mother tells me this is the first thing she did: she checked the clock. I am still attached to her when she looks. We are not yet two when she begins to keep track of me, the seconds I have been alive and then, after she cuts through the cord herself, cleaving my body from hers with a kitchen knife, the seconds I have been on my own.
This is what women do, she says.
By which she means she understands that one day I will leave her too. Lift off the ground, think myself beyond gravity.
—Aria Beth Sloss, “North”
The Unhappy Ending
The ending is one of your last chances to make the reader feel something. And while the happy ending is always a classic crowd-pleasing, I find that it’s often easier to make the reader feel sorrow.
Happiness is a tough sell, particularly when writing short stories. I think if you were going to survey 1000 short stories, a lot more would end sad than would end happy. Novels are probably the opposite — many more end happy than sad.
It’s mainly because of the length. When you’re writing short, you don’t have the time to acheive happiness without it feeling cheesy. While in the space of a novel, the happy ending feels earned.
“Now they were both dead, and the city was dirty and crumbling, and the man I was traveling with was sero-positive, and so was I. Mexico’s hopes seemed as dashed as mine, and all the goofy innocence of that first thrilling trip abroad had died, my boyhood hopes for love and romance faded, just as the blue in Kay’s lapis had lost its intensity year after year until it ended up as white and small as a blind eye. ”
— Edmund White, “Cinnamon Skin”
“Things are as they have always been. Whoever seeks a fixed point in the current of time and the seasons would do well to listen to the sounds of the night that never change. They come to us from out there.
— Amos Oz, “Where the Jackals Howl”
“She would be invisible, of course. No one would hear her. And nothing has happened, really that hasn’t happened before.”
— Margaret Atwood, “Wilderness Tips”
“There were women around Jesus when He died, the two Marys. They couldn’t do anything for Him. But neither could the men, who had all run away.”
— Robert Olen Butler, “Mr. Green”
“I think of the chimp, the one with the talking hands.
In the course of the experiment, that chimp had a baby. Imagine how her trainers must have thrilled when the mother, without prompting, began to sign to her newborn.
Baby, drink milk.
Baby, play ball.
And when the baby died, the mother stood over the body, her wrinkled hands moving with animal grace, forming again and again the words: Baby, come hug, Baby, come hug, fluent now in the language of grief.”
— Amy Hempel, In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried
“It was not a happy life, but it was all that was left to them, and they took it up without complaint, for they knew they were powerless against some Will infinitely stronger than their own.”
— Paul Laurence Dunbar, The Sport of the Gods
“What would burst forth? A monkey’s paw? A lady? A tiger?
But there was nothing at all.”
— Lorrie Monroe, “Referential”
The Waiting Ending
What does it mean when you have a character waiting at the end of a story? Well, they are expecting the future. But the reader can’t go to the future with them.
It signals a small break in the storyline: this current story has ended, but the future one has not begun. It’s like the character is about to step into narrative limbo.
A “waiting” ending is definitely a quiet ending. It takes advantage in a lull in the storyline to bow out and conclude.
If you write a waiting ending, pay careful attention to subtext:
- Perhaps this character will be waiting a long time.
- Perhaps they are the waiting type of character — a passive character.
- Perhaps waiting signals a sad ending — what they wanted most didn’t arrive by the end
“I measured the passing of time by the progress of the fires in the distant north. My old man gave me daily updates, and I pretended to listen. Five hundred, a thousand, two thousand fires. After a month they had burned out, and I was still waiting.”
— Daniel Alarcón, “The Idiot President”
“He looked toward the eastern sky. It seemed he’d been running a week’s worth of nights, but he saw the stars hadn’t begun to pale. The first pink smudges on the far Ridgeline were a while away, perhaps hours. The night would linger long enough for what would come or not come. He waited.”
— Ron Rash, “Into the Gorge”
“The ice plant was watery-looking and fat, and at the edge of my vision I could see the tips of my father’s shoes. I was sixteen years old and waiting for the next thing he would tell me.”
— Ethan Canin, “The Year of Getting to Know Us”
“Wait here, wait here!” he cried and jumped up and began to run for help toward a cluster of light she saw in the distance ahead of him. “Help! Help!” he shouted, but his voice was thin, scarcely a thread of sound. The lights drifted farther away the faster he ran and his feet moved numbly as if they carried him nowhere. The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.”
— Flannery O’Connor, “Everything that Rises Must Converge”
“Walking to the end of the hallway by the kitchen, he seated himself against the wall. He sat there quietly, waiting for Case to emerge.”
— Bradford Tice, “Missionaries”
“Joshua wondered what they would do now. The need he felt was like when he stepped on the sliver of glass, and his mother pulled at the skin with her tweezers, and pushed them inside, until she found the glass. It was like when she told him to get ready, to squeeze his father’s hand. Clenching his teeth, closing his eyes, waiting.”
— Mike Meginnis, “Navigators”
Figurative Language & Poetic Devices
Aristotle said that comparison of two unlike things was the essence of genius. If so, the writers below are all geniuses.
Beauty has its own charm. The examples below use extended metaphors, multiple similes, and other examples of literary devices to cast a spell of beauty over the reader.
And these comparisons are often symbolic of the characters and the events of the story (for instance, the birds in the Ann Beattie story).
“She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.”
— Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
“Nettie lay there beside him, her breath blowing on his shoulder as they studied the stars far above the field — little pinpoint holes punched through the night sky like the needle holes around the tiny stitches in the quilting. Nettie. Nettie Slade. Her dress had self-covered buttons, hard like seed corn.”
— Bobbie Ann Mason, “Wish”
“Angela was remembering all this, and feeling such a strong surge of sorrowful loss, and at the same time she was studying with interest the miraculous rescue of St. Placidus from drowning, painted on the wall in the sacristy in San Miniato. St. Placidus was rolling fatalistically amid the blue waves of his pond while one of his comrades, endowed with special powers by St. Benedict, came walking across the water to save him. In the picture it looked like such a harmless little point, carved into the earth as neatly as a circle of stamped-out pastry, or a hole cut into the ice for fishing.”
— Tessa Hadley, “Cecilia Awakened”
“He looked at his wife, whom he loved, whom he looked forward to convincing, and felt as though he were diving headfirst into happiness. It was a circus act, a perilous one. Happiness was a narrow take. You had to make sure you cleared the lip.”
— Elizabeth McCracken, “Thunderstruck”
“In the flood of flame-colored light their flesh turned coral.”
— Helen Simpson, “Heavy Weather”
“Louisa sat, prayerfully numbering her days, like an uncloistered nun.”
— Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, “A New England Nun”
“When she turned back into the empty room she looked as though youth had touched her on the lips.”
— Edith Wharton, “The Angel at the Grave”
“In time, his breathing changed, and hers did. Calm sleep was now a missed breath — a small sound. They might have been two of the birds she so often thought of, flying separately between cliffs— birds whose movement, which might seem erratic, was always private, and so took them where they wanted to go.”
— Ann Beattie, “In Amalfi”
Brene Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability is one of the most watched TED talks of all time. Her thesis is simple: people respond to vulnerability.
It holds true in real life just as it does in fiction.
When a character keeps a secret, reveals a secret, or makes a confession, the reader feels closer to them. Even if we disagree with them, we feel like we know them.
“The secret died with him, for Pavageau’s lips were ever sealed.”
— Alice Dunbar-Nelson, “The Stones of the Village”
“Very often I sold my blood to buy wine. Because I’d shared dirty needles with low companions, my blood was diseased. I can’t estimate how many people must have died from it. When I die myself, B.D. And Dundun, the angels of God I sneered at, will come to tally up my victims and tell me how many people I killed with my blood.”
— Denis Johnson, “Strangler Bob”
Here’s some advice on how to write a good dialogue ending:
- Pay attention to subtext . If any place in your story needs dialogue with a double meaning, it’s the ending. It should have a plain interpretation, but also resonate with some deeper issues of plot.
- Make sure it’s the protagonist who gets the final word . In almost all cases, it’s the protagonist or one of the main characters who speak last. A minor character wouldn’t make sense.
“Please come back inside mom! Please get out of the street!”
— Antonya Nelson, “Chapter Two”
“Darling, the angels have themselves a lifetime to come to us.”
— Edwidge Danticat, “Night Women”
“Nemecia held a wineglass up to the window and turned it. “See how clear?” Shards of light moved across her face.”
— Kirstin Valdez Quade, “Nemecia”
“But I had my eyes closed. I thought I’d keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do.
‘Well?’ He said, ‘Are you looking?’
My eyes are still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything.
‘It’s really something,’ I said.”
— Raymond Carver, “Cathedral”
“My dear,” replied Valentine, “has not the Count just told us that all human wisdom is contained in the words ‘Wait and hope!”
— Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
“There were lots of old people going around then with ideas in their heads that didn’t add up — though I suppose Old Annie had more than most. I recall her telling me another time that girl in the Home had a baby out of a big boil that burst on her stomach, and it was the size of a rat and had no life in it, but they put it in the oven and it puffed up the right size and baked to a good color and started to kick its legs (Ask an old woman to reminisce and you get the whole ragbag, is what you might be thinking by now.)
I told her that wasn’t possible, it must have been a dream.
‘Maybe so’ she said, agreeing with me for once. ‘I did used to have the terriblest dreams.’”
— Alice Munro, “A Wilderness Station”
A Character in Denial
The reader gets a sick sense of delight when final lines reveal something a character refuses to acknowledge.
“Maybe it wasn’t such a terrible idea. Maybe it could make them happy. He found a mark on Miriam’s shimmering pale dress and followed it through the trees.”
— Sarah Kokernot, “M & L”
“His gut told him that his mother-in-law knew what had happened that day in the car. Come to think of it, she had never once mentioned the day of the accident to him. She had never even asked about it. His mother-in-law turned her cold gaze back to the plant. To put his crazy thoughts to rest, Oghi told himself that he just really liked plants. He could not think why that might be.”
— Hye-young Pyun, “Caring for Plants”
These final lines endear readers as characters reveal what remains mysterious:
“But as I write this it occurs to me that I don’t know where I ever got that idea. In fact, I have no memory of whether the desk arrived to me with the drawer locked. It’s possible that I unknowingly pushed in the cylindrical lock years ago, and that whatever is in there belongs to me.”
— Nicole Krauss, “From the Desk of Daniel Varsky”
“’Listen to me,’ he said, expelling all his breath with the words. Two ragged breaths later he tried again, but Jill moved her hand from his forehead to his mouth. ‘Help me,’ he said into her fingers. But the words were whispered, and she mistook them for a kiss and smiled.”
— Angela Pneuman, “Occupational Hazard”
“He knew he was at the beginning of something, though just then he couldn’t say exactly what.”
— Bret Anthony Johnston, “Encounters with Unexpected Animals”
“I do not know where this voyage I have begun will end. I do not know which direction I will take. I dropped the package on a park bench and started walking.”
— Bharati Mukherjee, “The Management of Grief”
If anywhere it’s time to tell the truth, it’s the ending.
Have your characters spill their guts and reveal everything at the end. Or have the narrator offer wisdom or the naked truth.
“It’s the kind of impossible story that holds a family together. You tell it over and over again; and with the passage of time, the tale becomes more unbelievable and at the same time increasingly difficult to disprove, a myth about the life you carry.”
– Greg Hrbek, “Sagittarius”
“As the manual often states, it’s my future. And it’s the only one I get.”
— Diane Cook, “Moving On”
“I’ve begun to appreciate just how much work parents invest in their children, and wives in their husbands; it’s only fair for the investor to become the beneficiary.”
— Katie Chase, “Man and Wife”
“…I survive. It’s only one thing. But it’s also everything.
Pick yourself up.
Start over again.”
— Megan Miranda, All the Missing Girls
“She was knickerless. She was victorious. She was a truly modern female.”
— Nicola Barker, “G-string”
“I can stay. I can lie down. Let the snow fall on my face. Let its hands be tender.
Or I can walk, try to find my way in darkness.
I’m a grown woman, an orphan, I have these choices.”
— Melanie Rae Thon, “The Snow Thief”
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One thought on “ 100 Ways to End a Story (with examples) ”
Excellent collection of endings, types… and quite clear and efficient comments. Thank you.
Every writer NEEDS this book.
It’s a guide to writing the pivotal moments of your novel.
Whether writing your book or revising it, this will be the most helpful book you’ll ever buy.
Table of Contents
What a Good Ending Should Do
What the end of the book should not do, how to end a book (and get readers talking about it), great conclusion examples, how to write a book conclusion (& end your story the right way).
Here’s the thing about ending your book the right way:
If the reader got all the way to the conclusion, that means they read the whole book , they liked it, and now they want to wrap this up.
So don’t ramble on and on. Give them what they want.
The goal of a great ending is to tie everything together, neatly summarize your book, and then provide a specific call or calls to action for your reader.
Don’t overcomplicate the conclusion—just let it do its job, and it’ll work great.
- Clearly summarize the book: That’s the best thing you can do, not only to deliver value to the reader but also to make the book memorable (and recommendable).
- Address any lingering issues and close any open loops: The reader should feel like everything is wrapped up in a bow.
- Provide a call to action: In essence, tell the reader what to do.
- Give even more: Point them to any additional resources you have that could help them.
- A conclusion should NOT introduce any new content: This should only be a summarization of what’s in the book. You can have new stories or anecdotes, of course.
- A conclusion should not be too long: The rule of thumb is that it should be the shortest chapter in your book.
- A conclusion should not break faith with the reader: Don’t tell them “operators are standing by” or try to sell them in a preposterous way that turns them off.
At Scribe, we like to outline the conclusion using this template:
- Grab the reader with a great hook
- Restate the book’s thesis
- Summarize the chapters
- Call to action: what should the reader do when they finish the book?
This is one of the most important writing tips for any Author:
Every chapter should start with a hook. Even the last one.
This can be a story that summarizes the book, or you can close a loop from earlier in the book. But the point is, the reader should feel like they do at the end of a good movie, where everything feels nicely summarized with a satisfying ending.
By this time, you’ve mentioned a lot of different topics. Usually, the easiest and most compelling way to begin the conclusion is by referring back to one (or more) of them. Or you can add another dimension to a story you already told or tie up loose ends.
2. Restate the book’s mission/thesis
This is pretty simple, but make sure you restate the book’s thesis. From the first chapter to the final chapter, your book’s primary message should be consistent.
3. Summarize chapters
This is optional, but most good nonfiction books do this. They summarize the key points so succinctly and clearly that the reader can’t help but understand your lessons the same way that you do.
You want the reader to think about and talk about your book to their friends the same way you would if you could be there yourself. The best way to make sure they do that is to tell them exactly what to say.
That’s what this section is for.
Specifically, it’s about nailing whatever you want your readers to remember about your book. What are the takeaways that really matter? How do you want them to talk about them?
If your book is a memoir, your conclusion also needs to complete your story arc, tying up any plot threads and subplots in your storyline so you don’t leave any cliffhangers.
You might not summarize the plot points of each chapter literally, but you still want to remind your readers of the journey.
4. Call to action
What’s the first thing you want your reader to do when they finish the last word and put the book down? This is usually the final word, and it’s what you should leave them with on the final page.
Note on the call to action
A call to action (CTA) is not required in a conclusion, but most nonfiction books have them. It’s usually the very last bit of the conclusion, the final word to readers, and it ensures they know what you want them to do.
Authors generally adopt a different tone with the CTA—one that’s not just more explicitly inspirational but that’s also framed as an imperative. The underlying message of the call to action is straightforward and empowering: now that you have all the tools, go out there and use them.
This is good, and readers tend to like it. Some authors feel uncomfortable including such a direct appeal to readers because they may feel it’s unprofessional, and they can be right (sometimes).
Authors often want to be too inspirational in the introduction, and not enough in the conclusion. But this is when you can really tell your reader what to do, and be very direct.
What you do not want to do is write a glorified sales brochure. The last thing you want to do here is try to pitch them something of yours to buy.
Think about it—you’ve spent the whole book earning their trust, and now you ruin it with a bad ending that tries to sell them?
Don’t do that. Most importantly because it doesn’t work very well.
Readers are smart. They’re interested in your topic because they’ve picked up your book. If they’ve made it this far, then they’ve already read an entire book’s worth of your knowledge and expertise.
They can form their own conclusions when it comes to contacting you.
That said, if you do want to suggest they contact you, do so authentically—from a place of trying to help them , not yourself. Tell them you want to hear from them, or that you want to help them move forward.
If your website or the name of your firm is in your bio or About the Author page , that’s sufficient. Give them your email in the conclusion if you like—but only if you’re sincere about responding to them.
Ultimately, your goal is to provide so much value to them that they respect and admire you and your work, and choose to contact you because they have sold themselves on wanting to, not because you sold them.
Some authors want a more explicit CTA, such as directing readers of the book to a specific landing page. This can work, as long as the page you’re directing them to gives the reader something.
But it has to be something they’ll see as extra, not something they’ll feel should have been in the book. For example, a map or chart that is additive, but not crucial, to the content is great.
What you don’t want to do is give them something on a landing page that makes them think, “Why isn’t this in the book?” That just breaks faith with the reader.
1. Syndicating is a B*tch, by Bruce Petersen
“The most tangible stress of managing a syndication deal happens prior to close. You’re taking care of a lot of moving pieces and are responsible for a lot of money for a lot of people, and that’s a lot. Once the deal closes, that’s it. There’s not a lot happening at that point.
That doesn’t mean the stress has ended. The more experience you gain doing deals, the more prepared you’re going to be for the weird things that come up—and something will always come up. Remember when I lost $5.2 million to OFAC? I was completely blindsided that first time, and as I’m writing this book, it happened again. Yep.”
This is a fantastic example of how to start a well-structured conclusion. The author leads by talking about closing a deal, just as he’s closing his book. There’s a parallel structure there that orients the reader to the end of the book.
He also refers back to something that happened earlier in the book, then leads into a story about the same thing happening again. The new story hooks the reader while reminding them of an important point he made earlier.
2. Breakthrough Leadership Team, by Mike Goldman
“You’ve just finished reading this book, and your head is swimming with ideas. You’re probably wondering, Where do I begin?
I suggest you start by measuring where you are in your journey toward becoming a Breakthrough Leadership Team …”
Here, again, the opening lines of the conclusion orient the reader, signaling to them that they have reached the final chapter. In this case, the Author jumps immediately into helping the reader figure out what to do next.
The title of this final chapter, by the way, is “Call to Action.” It’s the theme of the whole chapter, reminding the reader of their journey throughout the book and suggesting what to do next.
3. Beyond Wins, by Mala Subramaniam
“Did the book address questions posed in the OpeningThoughts?
Why do I feel like I am on a seesaw of wins and losses in my business negotiations? Even when I win, I sometimes feel like I lost something. Tools and techniques I picked up in books and training are not foreign, so what am I missing? What will put me on the path to success? What Is the yardstick for success?
It did for Paula of the Adrift Website Case, which is a real success story.”
This Author begins her conclusion by returning to and listing the questions she asked at the beginning. As the book ends, she reminds the reader of where the journey started, then immediately leads into a new story.
While you shouldn’t introduce new concepts in a conclusion, new stories that drive key concepts home are a great way to leave the reader with a memorable application of what they’ve learned.
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9 ways to end your stories
There are endless ways to end stories, but few hard and fast rules. Yet every writer knows that the story must reach a satisfying conclusion.
Here are a handful of strategies on which you can rely.
- Closing the circle: The ending reminds readers of the beginning by returning to an important place or reintroducing a key character.
- The tie-back: The ending connects to some odd or offbeat element earlier in the story.
- The time frame: Create a tick-tock structure with time advancing relentlessly. To end the story, you decide what should happen last.
- The space frame: Rather than time, focus on place or geography. The hurricane reporter moves readers from location to location, revealing the terrible damage from the storm. To end, you select the final destination.
- The payoff: This does not require a “happy ending,” but a satisfying one, a reward for a journey concluded, a secret revealed, a mystery solved.
- The epilogue: The story ends, but life goes on. How many times have you wondered, after the house lights come back on, what happened next to the characters in a movie? Readers care about characters in stories. An epilogue helps satisfy their curiosity.
- Problem and solution: This common structure suggests its own ending. Frame the problem at the top and then offer readers possible solutions and resolutions.
- The apt quote: Often overused, this technique remains a sturdy tool for ending stories. Some characters just speak in endings, capturing in their own words a neat summary or distillation of what has come before. In most cases, you can write it better than the source can say it. But not always.
- Look to the future: Most stories are about things that have already happened. But what do people say will happen next? What is the likely consequence of this decision or those events?
Taken from The Writer’s Workbench: 50 Tools You Can Use , a self-directed course by Roy Peter Clark at Poynter NewsU .
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9 Ideas For Short Story Endings: How To Get From Here To There | Writer’s Relief
by Writer's Relief Staff | Jun 7, 2018 | Craft: Short Story Writing , Creative Writing Craft and Techniques , Inspiration And Encouragement For Writers | 8 comments
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Sometimes, writing a short story can be like going for a drive with no map: You have a solid starting point, but then the highway has multiple exits. Which direction will get you where you need to go? Time to whip out your virtual writing GPS and ask the Writer’s Relief experts for the best route to a great ending for your short story — you might see your narrative journey with new eyes!
How To Write A Great Ending For A Short Story
Indicate character change through action. If the arc of your story traces the evolution of your character’s emotional change, ending your story with a distinct choice or action can be a great show-don’t-tell way to imply development. Bonus points if your character’s decision/action is not one that he or she could have made at the beginning of your story.
Show character stasis through inaction. Taking action or making a decision can demonstrate a character’s dramatic change, so failure to take action (or to make a new kind of decision) may indicate that your character has not grown as a person in spite of opportunities to do so.
Kill someone. In some ways, death can be the ultimate ending of a short story. But keep in mind that if your story ends with a death, readers might feel exploited if that death has no thematic resonance with everything that came before.
Welcome baby. Births are dramatic events. If the themes and explorations of your story are in line with concepts of expectation and birth, then a big, high-tension labor and delivery scene might make for a memorable closure of your tale. Of course, “quiet” births can also be emotionally engaging.
Do the twist. It’s not easy to write a twist ending. But well-crafted surprise endings are not soon forgotten. Learn more about how to write a story with a twist ending.
Leave the unanswered questions unanswered. Sometimes, you may not want to tie up your story’s loose ends in a traditional dénouement. If your interest in exploring a particular theme is less about answers and more about the journey, there may not be a need to embrace a traditional ending at all.
Come on, get happy. In the world of literary fiction, straightforward happy endings are a rare phenomenon. But if your short story lends itself to a good happily ever after, then by all means enjoy riding off into the sunset of your narrative.
Be a story mad scientist. One of the best things about being a writer is the challenge of inventing new ways to tell stories. Who says you have to do what’s expected? Your straightforward short story about a father contemplating the passing of time could turn into a wild alien invasion adventure. Or, your modern homemaker could be rescued from the drudgery of vacuuming by a deus ex machina . Have fun, take risks, and invite readers to come along for the ride.
Go meta. Metafiction is difficult to define, but essentially it is a type of fiction that flaunts the author’s (or narrator’s) self-awareness of literary style and construction. Your short story might start out as traditional fiction, but who says it has to end that way? Your ending can draw your readers’ attention to the deliberate literary craft of your work as well as your intentions as an author—making your point by pointing to the fact that you’re making it.
What About Flash Fiction?
Flash fiction and slice-of-life vignettes don’t always require the traditional elements of narrative closure that are common to short stories. Readers who appreciate flash fiction and slice-of-life sketches are often expecting a quick peek into a new world—as opposed to a full exploration of it. Check out our best tips for crafting slice-of-life vignettes .
Question: Which of the ending types above do you encounter most often in short stories (your own or stories written by others)?
Journals like the protagonist to reach an insightful ending or stage (unless the piece is humor) To the extent that the “blues” or the negative experiences of the story are unresolved by the protagonist publication may be a hard sell
Added best story writing strategies by choosing an idea. May it will help me more to select a topic for my new post.
Of course, I love the last part. I wrote stories before and I usually end it with a question. It makes my readers hungry for more information; to the point that they will reread the story.
Thank you for this website. At least now, I know how to end my stories.
Ends don’t come easy, because… well… you have to write the entire piece first. … Here is the good news: A story ending to remember isn’t even that hard to write.
I’ll take note of this. Death on endings, is quite captivating. But I myself hate stories that ends in sudden death specially if the character has been developed well in the story, arghh. Anyhow great job.
I completely agree with what you have written. I hope this post could reach more people as this was truly an interesting post.
This article was very helpful thanks! I’m trying to writer a short story in the classic historical fiction style.
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How to End a Story: 3 Secrets to Writing a Captivating Ending
You’ll find loads of advice to help you find a great novel idea, start writing, and push through what I call the Marathon of the Middle.
But you may not find as much on how to end a story, though that’s every bit important.
Of my more than 200 published books, more than two-thirds have been novels, so I know fiction ideas are easy to come by.
Everybody’s got at least one, but maybe you’re stuck . You’ve been sitting on your great idea for too long. So what’s keeping you from getting going? Maybe it’s coming up with an ending that does justice to that great idea of yours .
That’s why publishers rarely hand out contracts and advances to first-time novelists before they see entire manuscripts .
You may have the best novel idea since Chicken Soup for the Left Behind Amish Vampire . But until you prove you can finish — and I mean close that curtain with a resounding thud — all you’re getting from publishers is Fifty Shades of Wait and See .
- Why Writing a Good Ending Matters
You know your opening should hook readers and your middle should keep them turning pages.
The purpose of your conclusion is to turn readers into fans. You must know how to end a story worthy of the time and loyalty readers have invested in you. Your ending should be memorable and emotionally satisfying, tying up all loose ends.
So how do you ensure your story doesn’t fizzle ?
- How to End a Story in 3 Steps
1. Keep the End in Sight the Whole Way
Don’t play the wishing game, hoping it will simply work itself out when the time comes.
Whether you’re a meticulous outliner or write by the seat of your pants, have an idea where your story is going and think about your ending every day. How you expect the story to end should inform every scene, every chapter. It may change, evolve, and grow as you and your characters experience the inevitable arcs , but never leave it to chance.
And if you get near the end and worry something’s missing — that the punch isn’t there or that it doesn’t live up to the power of the other elements of your book — don’t rush it. Give it a few days, a few weeks if necessary.
Read through everything you’ve written. Take a long walk. Think on it. Sleep on it. Jot notes about it. Let your subconscious work on it. Play what-if games. Be outrageous if you must. Force that ending to sing. Make it unforgettable.
- Be generous with your readers. They have invested in you and your work the entire way. Give them a proper payoff. Don’t allow it to look rushed by not allowing it to be rushed.
- Make it unpredictable but fair. You want readers to feel they should have seen it coming — because you planted enough hints — but not feel hoodwinked.
- Never settle. If you’re not happy with every word, scuttle it until you are.
- If you have too many ideas for how it should end, don’t despair. Just make yourself find the best one. When in doubt, go not for the cleverest or most cerebral. Readers long to be moved. Go for the heart.
Rewrite it until it shines. I’ve long been on record that all writing is rewriting, and this is never more true than at the end of your novel. When do you know it’s been rewritten enough? When you’ve gone from making it better to merely making it different.
2. Nothing Can Follow the End
This goes without saying. But I say it anyway, why? Because too many beginners think it appears sophisticated to leave things nebulous, or they want to save something crucial for the epilogue . Avoid that mistake.
Modern readers raised on television and movies like chronology — beginnings, middles, ends. They expect the end to do its job. Artsy types may think it’s hip to just stop and enjoy gassing on talk shows about how life isn’t so tidy.
Well, terrific. I’ve seen enough movies like that, and I can tell you that most people don’t like sitting there shaking their heads as the lights come up. They scowl at each other and say, “Really? That’s it? We’re to wonder what happens now?”
All that does for me as a novelist is to remind me that I have one job, and I recommit myself to doing it again every time. Invent a story world for my readers and deliver a satisfying experience for them. They have invested their time and money, believing I will uphold my end of the bargain — and that means a beginning, a middle, and an end. One that satisfies.
That doesn’t mean every ending is happily-ever-after, everything tied in a neat bow. But the reader knows what happened, questions are answered, things are resolved, puzzles are solved. And because I happen to have a worldview of hope, my work will reflect that.
If you write from another worldview, at least be consistent. End your stories with how you see life, but don’t just stop.
That said, some stories end too neatly and then appear contrived. If they end too late, you’ve asked your reader to indulge you for too long. Be judicious. In the same way you decide when to enter and leave a scene, carefully determine when to exit your novel.
3. Don’t Forget Your Hero
This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen it violated. Your lead character should be center stage at the end. Everything he learned throughout all the complications that arose from his trying to fix the terrible trouble you plunged him into should by now have made him the person who rises to the occasion.
Maybe to this point he has been flawed, weak, defeated. But his character arc is about to resolve and become complete.
The action must happen on stage, not just be about or remembered or simply narrated. It can’t be resolved by a miracle or because he realizes something. He must act.
That’s what makes a reader respond emotionally, and if it moves you when you write it, it will move your readers exponentially.
See yourself as the captain of a mighty airline. You’ve taken your readers on a long, eventful journey. Now bring it in for a landing with one of these proven formulas.
- 6 Types of Story Endings
The Closed or Resolved Ending
This conclusion ties up all the loose ends in your main plot as well as your subplots. Your main and supporting characters have grown and their arcs are also wrapped.
But a resolved ending doesn’t have to be a happy one.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: All the storylines come together in the end, giving each character closure.
The Hollow by Agatha Christie: After loads of misdirection throughout the story, the murderer is revealed.
The Open or Unresolved Ending
Cliffhangers are a popular example of unresolved endings, but they’re not the only option. All you need to do is leave questions in your readers’ minds.
If you’re writing a series, however, there’s nothing quite like this ending to make sure your readers are clamoring for your next book.
The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum: The final book in this popular series ends in a solid win for good over evil. The main character survives, but we’re left not knowing anything else about his future.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens: Readers aren’t told much about the future, but the author drops hints that let readers assume both main characters grow to adulthood.
The Ambiguous Ending
This conclusion is cryptic or vague. It leaves the reader with questions that he can answer in his own way.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel: Readers are left to come up with their own explanation of the story, and if they don’t really want to know which is true, they don’t have to decide.
The Stand by Stephen King: The book version has 2 different endings (and King wrote 3 additional possibilities for the TV adaptation.) The original edited version ties up the character’s stories nicely. The Complete & Uncut Edition includes a darker epilogue, continuing the circle.
The Surprise or Twist Ending
A great ending for all genres, but especially for mysteries. Take care — this ending needs a good balance. Don’t give your readers the ending they expect, but avoid a complete surprise that comes out of nowhere.
Be creative. You don’t have to go with your first instinct or even your second one. And don’t be afraid to engineer a plot twist or two.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie: This classic includes loads of surprises and a satisfying, although unexpected, resolution for all characters.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: The energy for this conclusion builds to a climax in a dramatic circus performance and the anticipation of romance.
The Closed Circle
This ending ties your story’s conclusion back to the beginning, revisiting the opening scene or first line, but with added context.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende: The novel’s last line is the same as its first line.
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King: This ending also circles back to the first sentence, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
The Expanded Ending, a.k.a., the Epilogue
After evil is defeated and the main story winds down, readers get a glimpse into the characters’ future, answering questions readers might have (did they live happily ever after?)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: The series wraps by answering the unspoken question in everyone’s mind — does Harry finally find a peaceful life?
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: The epilogue in Collins’s series fast-forwards several years to end on a hopeful note.
- Final Considerations When Ending A Story
When it comes to creativity, there’s no black-and-white, right or wrong. You can end your book in any number of ways. So experiment.
Read a lot in your genre so you’re familiar with the conventions, for example: romance readers expect happy endings, mysteries serve up startling plot twists, sci-fi and horror pit good against evil.
Finally, consider the emotional impact you want to leave your readers with:
- In a sweet ending, characters get both what they want and what they need.
- A semi-sweet ending delivers only what your characters need.
- A bittersweet ending gives them only what they want.
- In a bitter ending, characters get neither.
End your novel well, but don’t feel like you have to end it perfectly. As Stephen King says, “And …in real life, endings aren’t always neat, whether they’re happy or sad.”
End Your Story With a Bang (Instead of a Whimper)
You’ve invested so much time bringing your idea to life and seeing the process through. Make sure to write an ending that makes your readers beg for your next book.
For more tips, check out my 12-step guide on How to Write a Novel .
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6 Clever Ways To Achieve The Perfect Ending To Your Story
You’ve done all the hard work. The amazing story you’ve been writing is 99% finished; now you just have to end it. Cue aimless staring at the computer screen, right?
Ending a story can be an excruciating and frustrating experience. We all want that perfect conclusion, one that complements and fulfils the purpose of the story.
There’s nothing on Earth like really nailing the last line of a big book. You have 200 pages to tickle their fancy, and seven words to break their heart” – Alex de Campi
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No problem. Let us send you a downloadable PDF so you can read it when it’s convenient for you…
We especially want an ending that leaves ourselves and our audience satisfied. Achieving this is not as easy as it sounds; an ending takes on a lot of gravity when you realise there’s no coming back once it’s done.
Often, a reader’s most long-lasting memory of your story will be its ending, so it’s important to agonise over it just as much as you did your faultless first paragraph.
Thankfully, there’s a limit to the numbers of ways you can tie up your tale.
The way your piece ends should largely be connected to how you’ve written the rest of the story.
You should know what you were trying to say when you set out to write, and thus have an idea of the impression you want to leave when the story is over.
There is a theory that stories can only have five possible outcomes , but to make things even easier, here are six specific types of endings you can consider to help you finish your masterpiece.
1. Resolved ending
A resolved ending is great if you want everything neatly packaged and put away.
All the plotlines and character threads are concluded. There’s no conjecture and no questions to be asked. The fate of everyone in the story is known and it is clear how the characters might live on into the future. This is good if you are writing a singular novel or concluding a series.
Examples that immediately come to mind are mysteries. Despite the bulk of a mystery novel being clouded in suspense and confusion, everything is illuminated for the reader at the climactic end of the story.
Usually, one or more people unravel the mystery and expose the culprit or cause of distress. A style that commonly employs this ending is the ‘whodunnit’ story; an awesome example to check out is Stephen Donaldson’s The Man Who Tried To Get Away .
Fairy-tales also use resolved endings , almost every time. Don’t be tricked into thinking this type of ending has to be all roses, though. A story can be resolved without being happily resolved. Take a look at these original fairy-tales that aren’t so Hollywood-perfect.
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2. Unresolved ending
This is basically the opposite to a resolved ending. The overarching plot is left unfinished and the ultimate outcome of the characters’ story arcs is unknown based on the textual information.
This might be used to entice readers to use their imagination and create their own ending, satisfying themselves.
More commonly, it’s used to set up for a sequel . References are usually made to tasks still to be done or conflicts still to be determined, essentially making the book one big chapter of a larger story.
Obviously, this is one of the easiest endings to write. Readers understand nothing has to be wrapped up here, but it’s still vital to create a sense of excitement and anticipation using an unresolved ending, otherwise people may not be interested in coming back for the second instalment.
There are plenty of famous examples to pay heed to, such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Rowling’s Harry Potter series, or The Chronicles of Narnia books written by C. S. Lewis.
3. Implied ending
This is often the most tempting ending for an author and the most frustrating for a reader.
The conclusion, or ‘what happens in the end’, isn’t explicitly stated or displayed. This is achieved by holding back information or leaving multiple logical explanations up in the air, allowing the reader to make up their own mind.
The audience is refused a fully informed outcome. They may be left thinking a range of questions:
- ‘Did he or didn’t he?’
- ‘Is she alive or dead?’
- ‘Is it that or is it this?’
- ‘Is the narrator lying or telling the truth?’
This ending is very effective because it creates a talking point and keeps the reader pondering long after they’ve put down the book. For an author, this is ideal; if readers are thinking about you, they’ll likely go looking for more of your work.
A terrific example of this type of ending is Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (also made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio).
In this story, there are two explanations for the reader to consider at the end. One is more implied than the other, but both are feasible.
Lehane has written so masterfully that he effectively teases the reader, leaving them uncomfortably torn between the two.
Personally, it took me a couple of months and a conversation with my mother, who had also read the book, to settle on one ending over the other.
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4. Twist in the tail
In theory, a story that ends in this way catches the audience by surprise with a completely unexpected turn of events.
As a result, the whole story is usually turned upside down, with a previously believed fact turning out to be false.
This may involve a character ‘coming back’ from the dead, a hero revealing themselves as a villain (or vice versa), or a new and vital piece of information coming to light at the last minute.
A ‘twist’ ending is good for playing with readers’ emotions. You can bring them up quickly or send them crashing down, depending on what route you decide to take with your story. Either way, you can cause a dramatic shift in a reader’s attitude.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk is a novel (and film) that quickly comes to mind here. The revelation towards the end of the story will have you replaying every previous event in your mind and will completely change your understanding of the novel. Here’s a list , topped by Fight Club , which includes six more of the best plot twists seen in literature.
To put it simply, a story written in this fashion will begin and end in the same way. The ending is revealed first before the author fills in the details of how that ending came to be. While this may take away some of the suspense for a reader, a clever author is still able to introduce twists and surprises.
A tie-back ending also allows for a very focused method of writing – it’s always easier to navigate if you know where you’re going, right?
It also creates a feeling of balance and equilibrium for the story.
American author Kurt Vonnegut had many tips for writers , including that they should ‘start as close to the end as possible’.
The Star by Arthur C. Clarke is a nice short example of a tie-back ending; the beginning shows a main character in pain, and the ending ties back to the cause of his pain. Read it online here .
6. Crystal ball
This conclusion goes ‘beyond the ending’ in a way, looking into the future.
It explains what happens to the characters years after the main events of the story.
Authors and readers alike may think they want this ending – understandably, they want to see more of their favourite characters – but most of the time, it may not really be necessary.
A common way of writing a ‘crystal ball’ ending is with an epilogue.
An example might be a section in which the perspective is from the main character’s child, who was absent from the main story. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows fits nicely into this category, rounding off the series with an epilogue set 19 years after the main story.
So there you have it!
Six endings to consider when finishing your story, novel, or script.
Always remember what you set out to achieve and consider the feelings you want to leave with your audience. Last impressions are just as important as first impressions.
Want more tips and tricks? Click here to learn how to hook your readers .
Dean Elphick is a young creative writer from Wollongong. He draws a lot of inspiration from alternative music, film and nature. He writes fiction and poetry with no larger goals than to make a reader feel something, and hold that feeling after they've finished reading. He uses coastal bike rides to clear his mind and is an animal lover.
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The conclusion, or 'what happens in the end', isn't explicitly stated or displayed. This is achieved by holding back information or leaving multiple logical