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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Is There a Correct Way to End a Novel?

Judging by the plethora of movie endings on TV you’d think there was a formula. But there isn’t. How many times have you been disappointed by the ending of a movie, or a book? I’m sure it’s a lot of times. Authors end novels in the way they want to, and oftentimes not in the way that the reader wants. So, is that a good thing?

I guess it depends on many factors. It also depends on whether the book is part of a series or not. The most important thing in an ending is to tie up the main theme and plots. If there are a couple of minor points not quite resolved, that may not be important; but there will always be some readers who will notice and be unhappy. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

When you come to write your ending, ask yourself what message you are trying to leave the reader with. Ask yourself if you are really happy with the ending, or whether it feels a bit of a cheat. Inside you will know the answer to these questions. Don’t pretend the reader won’t know either, so write an honest ending that you are happy with. In your hurry to finish your book, don’t skimp on the ending.

Also, try and finish your novel in the style in which it is written. What I mean by this is, if it’s been a really tense book, whodunit style, with lots of action, then let the book end in much the same fashion. If it is a romantic epic, then end it that way too. Readers really do notice when a book ending seems forced and it will spoil their experience of the book and ultimately how they will feel about reading another novel you write.

Finally I want to write a little about series endings and generally leaving the door open. In a mid-series book you cannot close everything off, or else the reader will never need to buy the next book! But, you also can’t leave everything open or they will be really frustrated. You have to strike a balance. The way to do this is to set up a premise or goal for the book and make sure that is fulfilled. Along the way you can introduce the next big thing and that can be the subject of the next book. Just make sure you close off what you implied you would. And what about the topic of leaving the door open? Well, sometimes you may want to finish a book or a series with a closure that is not 100% final. What I mean by this is you deliberately don’t close a particular plot line and the reader understands there may be another story to tell at some point. But, and this is important, everything else they really cared about must be closed out properly.

So there you have it. Don’t cheat the reader. Give them closure, but keep a couple of little things up your sleeve for next time. Which reminds me…


  1. This is a thoughtful discussion of a difficult and fascinating topic. I like your ideas, particularly about fulfilling the premise or goal.

  2. Yes, I agree - leave some possibilities open but wrap up important threads that were major to the story.

  3. I totally agree. I've read some books that leave the ending to the next book--disappointing and appears a ploy to make me buy the next book so I feel cheated on this one. Having great characters with a great story that stands alone, but makes you want more is what makes me buy the next book.

  4. don't cheat the reader should be written on a card and taped to every author's monitor. Great article.

  5. This is an interesting topic. As an author, I agree with your thoughts. I've written two novels, but they're not in a series. Haven't been there yet. Thanks for the advice!

  6. I remember your review for Dinosaurs & Cherry Stems, and I'm taking it as an accounting as I write the sequel. Thanks for sharing your ideas, as they are stellar!

  7. For a writer like me, this was an interesting article to read. Thank you.

  8. Great post! I just read a 500 page novel with an incomplete ending and I was so disappointed!