Don’t Be Lazy Now

In the sprints, many authors have announced that they’ve completed their work, first draft or edits. Others are following their footsteps. I thought we’d take this opportunity to talk about endings.

We all know that our endings MUST leave our readers satisfied. The ending can be happy or not. Or, it could leave the reader completely hanging out there with a hundred questions about what happens next, if that is what the reader has expected and will want-think saga.  However, don’t leave the ending up to the reader to draw conclusions. They are the reader, not the author.

Endings need to answer or allude to the resolution of the main character’s conflict. If you allude to the hero’s trumpet but don’t actually show it, this opens the door for disaster to happen in the beginning of the next story, if that is your goal.

As you head toward your end, ask yourself what was the main conflict? Did you resolve it? Remember the hero can win the battle (his priority) but the war can still rage on.

Make the main character the catalyst for the outcome. It is their battle and they are the hero of their story. Make them work to make the things happen in their favor.

Have you read a story where things just came together at the end, tied up with a pretty pink bow? Did you feel cheated, let down? You’ve worked too hard building characters, emotion, and tension, just to tell your characters, to kiss and make-up like children. Don’t come up with contrived details to end your story. Don’t be lazy now.

Don’t end the story using new information that has come out of the blue. Your readers have invested time, getting to know your characters and have racked their brains formulating theories about the outcome, don’t cheat them.

If your ending is going to twist, make sure you sprinkle signs throughout your story. That way, the reader will say the author did warn me, but I let the clues go over my head. They’ll look at the story in a total different light. A light that includes five star reviews. A great example of a twist ending was the movie ‘THE SIXTH SENSE’. If you haven’t seen it, do it. It’s a great study.

And finally, know when the story ends. The reader does not need to know what happens with every character. Once your main characters’ reach their goal, whether they won the battle on a blue star in a galaxy far, far away or lover’s pledge their undying love and go to sleep only to die in each other’s arms, the story is over. It’s time for the reader to feel. Tie up loose ends (brief anti-climax) before the grand climax.

A great ending makes your reader feeling something, good or bad. It makes them think about the story a long time after closing it. It makes them talk about your book to their friends. And it makes them buy your next.

Does anyone have any other advice on writing a great end or examples of great endings?

23 responses to “Don’t Be Lazy Now”

  1. Great advice, Autumn.

    Beginnings and endings of books used to be the worst part for me until I read something on Jennifer Crusie’s blog about bookending. The basic idea is that you put your hero/heroine in a similar situation at the beginning and end of the book, and because that character has changed so much throughout the story, they react very differently in the beginning scene versus the end scene. It doesn’t even have to be a full scene. In movies, I’ve seen as little as a single line of dialog work effectively.

    I can’t find that original article I read anymore, but here’s a different one with some good examples:

    • Awesome piece of advice. I don’t think there is a better way to remind readers of the character’s growth then to actually show it. I love the example. Thank you so much for sharing the link, Ava. Great article.

  2. Ki says:

    Yes! I need this. I’m in a conflicted situation and it’s just not heading in that direction.

  3. Penny H says:

    Harry Dresden, book 8, Proven Guilty, is still one of my very favorite Dresden novels – he bookends this one beautifully both for the book itself and as a mirror moment, in the series, for where Harry was and him moving into his next phase from there.

    The beginning starts with Harry as a new Warden of the wizard council at a warden event – evalutaing, juding, and executing someone who went into the black side of magic and harmed people with it. It’s basically a teenage kid and they execute him. Harry was that kid a few years back after using dark magic in a life or death fight against his uncle and someone stepped in (the guilty are hooded and don’t know who is there with them) and saved him. He had the “sword of Damoclese” hanging over his head (we’re watching- one cock up and you’ll still be executed) until recently. And he is really pissed at his mentor who is there, who has to explain that you can’t save everyone and sometimes it’s the only way.

    At the end, they are actually in the same position, but in the hood is a teen Harry has known since she was born, and the eldest daughter of his best friend Michael. Harry manages to fight for her and takes her on as his responsibility to train her and get her out from under the sword… And he rembembers by the end…. He figured out who had fought for him and it was his mentor – the Widard councils “black staff”. It rounds out the end nicely when he goes back and askes his mentor to join him for dinner and Harry has now moved into his next phase. A complete change from the beginning of the series, and a great bookend job for the story.

    Two other things I love in here- I think this is the first time we really heard about the Wizard courts “black staff” basically he does the “dirty work” of the court – a wet works problem solving guy that makes the really hard choices and executes them… A foreshadowing of what Harry is getting into over the rest of the series… He’s not the “black staff”- yet, but he is at a similar place of making the hard choices and doing the real dirty work.

    The 2nd thing was…. We end up back at this exact warehouse location with Marcone – a failrly and truly bad mob like dude, for a short story in Harry’s universe, and end up with one of my all time favorite lines… About sometimes, just like in life, a good killing is all about location, location, and location.

    The author Jim Butcher has said that he has the entire series laid out for 20 some books, from the get go…. As you go through the series and continue to find gems like these – you can see it must be true… Another reason I’m working on becoming a reformed panterser.

  4. Liz Talley says:

    Great reminder to go the total distance. I good start is important as is a consistent middle but often authors rush the ending. So it’s good to think about what you are to bring the reader. Thanks for the reminder!

    • So true, Liz. I hate when I’ve invested precious time in a story, only to feel deflated. I want, and need, that big ah moment at the end.

      Maybe in the future, authors will need to offer different endings to the book and the reader will choose ending I, 2 or 3. Then the lazy writer will need to work harder. Imagine that.


  5. Rita Henuber says:

    Mirroring or bookending shows the character and story arc. IMO in order to do this you must know your characters. Establish their archetype. This will help you know the character’s strength and weakness and set them on a road to emotional rebirth for the ending we all want. For me it helps with the story middle because I know their external and internal conflicts.
    Thought provoking post Autumn. Thanks.

  6. I totally agree, Rita. A satisfying ending can only happen if you know your characters and make them grow throughout the story.

    You and I have discussed endings in relation to short stories, and you made a valid point concerning them. Do you want to share?

    • Rita Henuber says:

      ME? A valid point? Hmm. I believe it was when we discussed short stories (less than 10,000 words) that were not romance. Simply a story that draws you in and brings you to a conclusion. Most often a surprise ending, although clues were fed to the reader. Clues that make the reader go OMG. Maybe reread. Make them wonder and think about the story events. Perhaps long after they finish reading.

  7. Tamara Hogan says:

    For an example of an awesome ‘twist’ ending, with a twist: the last two sentences of Sarah MacLean’s “No Good Duke Goes Unpunished” (The Third Rule of Scoundrels) a) connects two of her series together in a completely unexpected way, b) completely up-ends your understanding of a character you thought you knew, c) makes you frantic to read the follow-up book, and d) sends you scrambling to re-read the entire “Book of Scoundrels” series to study JUST HOW THE HELL SHE DID IT.

    That’s a lot of weight to put on two short sentences, but these two are more than up to the task. Simply a stunning exhibition of craft.

    I bow down.

  8. So often, writers work on polishing those beginnings (for contests or simply because those are the parts written first, and gone over the most during editing phases), so it’s great to focus here on endings.

    The only advice I can add is that I keep a list of plot threads and red herrings or other clues as I edit, so that I make sure to wrap up everything in the end.

  9. That is great advice, Anne. So many times, I’ve read reviews where reader is asking what happen to and not I want to know more. Thanks for sharing that advice.

  10. Elisa Beatty says:

    Very timely post, Autumn!!

    I’ve been reading through my stack of RITA books and have really been struck by the power of endings. A couple of the books seemed just okay to me, but a strong ending made a huge difference.

    Like Ava said, seeing the character come full circle and make different choices at the end than at the beginning is super satisfying….and it usually seems to involve being brave enough to take a huge risk…which of course pays off with the HEA.


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