“Beyond surprise, there must be a certain satisfaction for the reader,
a sense of ‘rightness.’ If a story is a promise made, the ending is
the promise kept, in ways as various as the stories themselves.”
“A book is a journey, a substantial investment of time and faith for a
reader. When readers say they didn’t want the story to end, but that
they couldn’t wait to find out what happened, writers know that
they’ve navigated that passage with grace.”
Novels or short stories that start out promisingly but run out of steam at the end. We’ve all read these kinds of unfinished works and been disappointed by them. In “Goodbye to All That,” a Writer’s Digest article (March/April 2016), Jacquelyn Mitchard, the author of 11 novels, The Deep End of the Ocean among them, offered some valuable insights on wrapping a story up:
While tons of attention is paid to the need for a great first line to launch a story, relatively little is paid to the need to end it in a satisfying way, yet this is of enormous importance to readers. If an ending falls off a cliff, they feel cheated — and it can dampen their desire to read an author’s next book.
What are the key ingredients in a strong ending? First and foremost, “a conclusion must, to some degree, conclude or resolve the plot of a novel or, to a lesser degree, a short story,” notes Mitchard. Often the protagonist has an epiphany that shows the reader he or she now knows something that wasn’t clear before. “A certain element of
surprise” is also key, because it gives the reader a last frisson of pleasure and a sense of inclusion — of being in on something that they didn’t expect. “Beyond surprise,” adds Mitchard, “there must be a certain satisfaction for the reader, a sense of ‘rightness.'”
Some of the best and most satisfying endings also find a way to endow what’s happened with a sense of meaning, while also looking ahead, pointing toward the future. “A great ending resolves, surprises, and provokes emotion.”
Ending on the right note isn’t easy — and so it’s no wonder that different writers arrive at their closings in different ways. Some writers know what the last line of their book will be and write toward it. Others find that they don’t know what the ending will be until they are well past the midpoint of their story.
Ending strong — something to give great attention to as we all write on.