Inklings #4: Endings

Hello and welcome to Inklings, the blog where I use 3 decades of writing experience to offer some of the bits of knowledge I’ve picked up along the way.

Last time we talked about beginnings. So, it seems fitting to talk, this time, about endings.

Because if beginnings are hard, endings might actually be harder. If, that is, you don’t know the trick of it.

Whether you plan it, wing it, or something inbetween, knowing when and how to stop is a tricky concept. Sometimes the final scenes of a book just keep happening, tumbling over each other, adding more and more post-ending content. Sometimes the story will end abruptly, leaving the reader slightly stunned and checking they didn’t miss something. Sometimes the ending is at the right time, but feels so contrived it makes the reader cringe.

These are all problems, and they can make an otherwise good book feel lesser than it otherwise would have. If you’ve kept your reader right up to the end, then they need a good ending to take away with them. Don’t let “good book, terrible ending” be their takeaway.

The biggest trick with endings is actually pretty simple, but it’s all about how you see the story you’re writing.

Rather than a self-contained plot, which doesn’t touch anything else, consider this. You’ve created a world with moving, thinking, acting characters in it. The story you’re telling is what happens to those characters, and what they do about it.

At the beginning, you had to choose where in their lifetimes to pick up their tale, and the same is true of the ending. Once the plot is completed, your ending is the point at which you choose to stop not their story, but your telling of their story.

Imagine that the wider world of your story continues on without you. More things will happen, more stories might be in their future or it might be a peaceful one, but it’s up to you to decide when to close the door on them.

When the plot closes, look into the future of your world, and end things before they move on, away from the happenings you’ve just related.

For example: once your heroes have successfully vanquished their foe – that’s the end of your plot. The end of your story, then,  generally needs to happen soon after this. Tell the reader how each character reacts to the ending of their quest, and then let them continue on their way without you. Unless you have a very specific reason for checking in on them a few years in the future – you don’t need to.

Beware the difference between wanting to write that bit years down the line, and needing to end your story.

Ask yourself this, about everything you write post-plot: does it add value to the story? Is it necessary for my readers to see this, or am I writing because it’s in my head so I feel like I should?

There’s absolutely no reason to write anything post-plot that isn’t about wrapping up your characters, and potentially giving a hint/opening to the next book (if one is coming).
Train yourself to spot the moment when the right cutoff has arrived by asking those questions every time. Your ending is not the time for filler, or to satisfy your urge to keep going. Learn when you need to step back. Offer the reader a satisfying, explained, but tight ending, at the end of an enjoyable story, and they’ll come back for more.

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