Recently I talked about chapters that ended too soon, and it sparked an interesting discussion in the comments about how we end chapters. It made me realize that I've never done an ending post, so today, let's talk about endings.
What makes a good ending?
It really depends on what kind of ending you mean. There are scene enders, chapter enders, and novel enders. Let's work top to bottom.
Novels end when the core conflict of the story is resolved. How this is done is up to the writer, and there are countless ways to do it. But a novel end should do one major thing: It should resolve the story to a satisfying conclusion.
"Satisfying" can mean anything. It might have a happy ending, tie up every loose end and leave the reader joyful and bubbly. But it doesn't have to be happy, it doesn't have to tie up all the loose ends, and it can leave a reader feeling bad. But as long as they're satisfied by how the story resolved its conflict, it'll most likely work.
There are a few things I can do to point you in the right direction to see if your ending works.
1. Does it resolve the core conflict of the novel?
This is the big "this is what my book is about" question that your protagonist has spent the entire book trying to achieve. This is a biggie for series books, as there's a larger story arc across multiple books. But the goal in that one book needs to be resolved (yes, I know some authors don't, but those are almost always big name authors will a proven track record and they can get away with things new and unpublished authors can't.)
2. Does it satisfy the major questions posed in the novel?
You don't have to tie up all the loose ends, but there are probably a few major things in the story readers will want to know answers to.
3. Is this the ending most readers are hoping for?
This one can waffle a bit, because we've all read books where we wanted one ending, but the book ended another way. I read one over the holidays like this, and while I wasn't satisfied by the ending, I could see why the author chose to end it that way. I'll be honest, it did affect how I felt about the book. Up until the end, I would have recommended that book to anyone. After the final chapters, I won't. So if you do have an ending that isn't how readers will likely want it to go, make sure it's clear that that's how it needed to go to make whatever point you're trying to make.
Chapters should end in ways that make the reader want to turn the page. That doesn't necessarily mean a cliffhanger or action scene, but some question left unanswered, some detail they want to see more of, some issue they need to see resolved. Something that makes them want to know what happens next. I like to be mean and make it as impossible as I can for readers to put down the book, because books I can't put down are ones I tell all my friends about. I don't want you putting my book down, even though there are places where the enders are quieter where you could. Any time a reader puts a book down, there's a chance they won't pick it back up again. Books that take me a month or so to read usually aren't ones I mention. It's usually when someone asks me if I read it, and I'll say something like, "Oh I did, it was okay" or "It's wasn't bad." Not the stellar word of mouth a book strives for.
The other school of thought, is to pace your novel so you give the reader lulls so they can put the book down and get to sleep so the book doesn't take over their lives, so to speak. Break it up into chunks so those who like to read in spurts can easily do so.
Scene endings are a lot like chapter endings. They're places where the story has reached a turning point or resolution, and the reader has an opportunity to book the book down. I try to end my scenes same as my chapters, with something driving the story forward. But this is a spot where you can often have a quieter ending that gives the reader a breather if they need one. Scenes often end in the middle of a chapter, so characters are gearing up for an event, or just coming down from an event. There's usually enough inherent drive to keep the story moving, yet give a sense of resolution that slows the pacing down.
What type of ending you pick has a lot to do with how you choose to pace your novel, and what genre you're writing in. Fast-paced genres are expected to have un-put-down-able chapter enders, while slower-paced genres can end on quieter notes. Mixing them up is a good idea, as the same ending every time gets predictable, and predictable is boring, no matter what's going on in the scene.
Whatever type of ending you choose, figure out what kind of reading experience you want your reader to have. That'll go a long way toward determining not only how to pace your novel, but how to end it.