Tuesday, December 08, 2020

4 Essentials of Unforgettable Endings

By Laurence MacNaughton, @LMacNaughton

Part of The How They Do It Series

JH: A solid ending not only satisfies readers, but makes them eager to reader your next novel. Laurence MacNaughton shares four tips on how to write unforgettable endings.

It's possible that more writers struggle with the ending of a story than the blank page at the beginning. The good news is, writing a terrific ending is easier than you think. Just follow these four steps.

1. Put the main character in the driver's seat.

This is potentially the best thing you could do to wrap up your story: make sure your main character is the one who makes the ending happen.

The ending you can't just "happen" on its own. It has to be forced into existence by the actions of the main character. 

Not the best friend. Not the love interest. Not the bad guy. The main character.

If a killer is caught at the end, make sure your main character is the one who catches them. If a bomb gets defused, your main character had better be the one who cuts the red wire. If the MacGuffin of Ultimate Power needs to be thrown into the Pit of Impossible Gloom, guess who's doing the throwing?

Your main character. They started this journey, and they need to be the one to complete it. 

2. Deliver what you promised.

The beginning of your story makes a promise to the reader: here is the kind of story you're about to read.

What is the tone of your story? Dark? Funny? Romantic? Action-packed?

What are the expectations of your genre? A mystery novel makes a very different promise from a romance novel. Have you given your readers what they expect? Did the detective catch the killer? Did the heroine find her Happily Ever After?

Make sure that the ending of your story gives the reader what they're looking for. 

(Here's more on The Promise of the First Chapter)

3. Tie up loose ends.

The reader should finish your story with at least some idea of what will happen afterward. Even if it's as simple as the characters riding off into the sunset. Readers want to imagine that the story will continue on.

Over the course of your story, you have also raised a number of plot questions: Who's the killer? What happened that night? Why is everyone lying about it? And so on. If you haven't already answered those questions, make sure they get answered at the end.

Even if you have to be so blunt as to have one character ask the question out loud and another character answer. It's better than leaving any loose ends.

If you're writing a series, you can leave some questions deliberately unanswered, in order to give the story more momentum going into next installment. Just make it clear that you haven't forgotten about those loose ends, or your readers could grow frustrated. If you need to, have one of your characters literally ask, "But what about . . . ?" And have another character reply that they will find out someday, but not today. 

(Here's more on Writing the Ending: Tying Up All the Loose Ends)

4. Show how the characters have changed.

At its heart, every story is about change. The main character started out with a problem at the beginning, and over the course of the story things changed.

Now, the world will never be the same for that character. Either because there has been a dramatic transformation in the world around them, or because their eyes have been opened. Or both.

The biggest transformation should be within one of the characters. Usually, the main character is the one who changes the most, but not always.

If you're writing a series character who stays constant from story to story, then they can act as a catalyst for change. In other words, they help another character transform in some way. In doing so, the main character sets things right again.

Spend some time thinking about the transformation in your story. Someone (probably your main character) used to look at the world one way, but has now gained a new perspective.

See if you can sum it up in a single line of dialogue: "I used to think . . . Now I realize . . ."

Fill in the blanks. Then see if you can work that line of dialogue in near the ending. Even better, see if you can show that change through some final action on the part of the character. Have them do something they never would've done before their transformation. 

Now you're ready to write an unforgettable ending.

As you write the ending, it can help to look back at the beginning. Think about ways that you can make things come full circle.

One powerful technique is to create a "before" and "after" image. The beginning and ending are recognizably similar, but powerfully different. Can you start and end your story in the same physical location, but show It in a dramatically different light?

Remember these four tips:

1. Don't let the ending just happen on its own. Make sure that your main character is the one who takes the action that drives the story to its conclusion.

2. Make your reader happy by delivering on their expectations. Whatever you promised in the beginning has to happen by the end.

3. Tie up any loose ends, answer any lingering questions, and hint at what will happen to the characters after the story ends.

4. Show how the characters have changed from the beginning to the end. Dialogue is good. Action is even better.

Do all of that, and you'll write an ending that your readers may never forget.

Do you have trouble ending your stories?

Leave me a comment below or contact me at www.laurencemacnaughton.com.

Laurence MacNaughton is the author of more than a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories. His work has been praised by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, RT Book Reviews, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. He lives in Colorado with his wife and too many old cars. Try his stories for free at www.laurencemacnaughton.com.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

About Forever and a Doomsday

Crystal shop owner and quick-witted sorceress Dru Jasper is the guardian of the apocalypse scroll, an ancient instrument of destruction held in check by seven bloodred seals. All but one have been broken.

Now, a chilling cohort of soul-devouring wraiths has risen from the netherworld to crack open the final seal. If Dru and her misfit friends can’t stop them, the world will come to a fiery end. No pressure or anything.

These freakishly evil spirits can kill with a mere touch, making them impossible to fight by mortal means. To keep the apocalypse scroll out of their clutches, Dru must solve a 2,000-year-old magical mystery, find a city lost in the netherworld, and unearth a crystal older than the Earth itself.

Can she elude the forces of darkness long enough to save her friends and safeguard the scroll forever—before the undead break the seventh seal and bring on doomsday?

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound Kobo


  1. Sasha Anderson12/08/2020 7:43 PM

    "If the MacGuffin of Ultimate Power needs to be thrown into the Pit of Impossible Gloom, guess who's doing the throwing?"

    I mean, that's not quite how I remember it happening... :P

  2. These are great points to keep in mind, worthy of pinning to the wall above the computer monitor! Thank you for this posting.