The Dos and Don’ts of Novel Endings

In learning how to end your novel with a punch, it’s important to know what you can and can’t do to write success novel endings that attract agents, publishers and, most important, readers. Here are the dos and don’ts of writing a strong closer.

Don’t introduce any new characters or subplots. Any appearances within the last 50 pages should have been foreshadowed earlier, even if mysteriously.

Don’t describe, muse, explain or philosophize. Keep description to a minimum, but maximize action and conflict. You have placed all your charges. Now, light the fuse and run.

Do create that sense of Oh, wow! Your best novelties and biggest surprises should go here. Readers love it when some early, trivial detail plays a part in the finale. One or more of those things need to show up here as decisive elements.

Do enmesh your reader deeply in the outcome. Get her so involved that she cannot put down your novel to go to bed, to work or even to the bathroom until she sees how it turns out.

DO Resolve the central conflict. You don’t have to provide a happily-ever-after ending, but do try to uplift. Readers want to be uplifted, and editors try to give readers what they want.

Do Afford redemption to your heroic character. No matter how many mistakes she has made along the way, allow the reader—and the character—to realize that, in the end, she has done the right thing.

Do Tie up loose ends of significance. Every question you planted in a reader’s mind should be addressed, even if the answer is to say that a character will address that issue later, after the book ends.

Do Mirror your final words to events in your opener. When you begin a journey of writing a novel, already having established a destination, it’s much easier to make calculated detours, twists and turns in your storytelling tactics. When you reach the ending, go back to ensure some element in each of your complications will point to it. It’s the tie-back tactic. You don’t have to telegraph the finish. Merely create a feeling that the final words hearken to an earlier moment in the story.

Don’t change voice, tone or attitude. An ending will feel tacked on if the voice of the narrator suddenly sounds alien to the voice that’s been consistent for the previous 80,000 words.

Don’t resort to gimmicks. No quirky twists or trick endings. You’re at the end of your story, and if your reader has stuck with you the whole time, it’s because you’ve engaged her, because she has participated. The final impression you want to create is a positive one. Don’t leave your reader feeling tricked or cheated.

Nervous that your novel is missing elements that would make it appealing to agents and publishers? Consider:

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7 thoughts on “The Dos and Don’ts of Novel Endings

  1. AvatarMartin Lake

    As someone who has finished three novels and found the ending most challenging I thought this advice is extremely helpful. I particularly liked the advice about mirroring the end in events earlier on in the novel.

    I came to that conclusion but it was a long journey to get there.

    I shall look out for your other articles.

  2. AvatarCristina Marin

    This article was eye catchy too because I am very new to writing novels and actually I just got to the 18th chapter of my first book. I am searching like a ant willing to learn as much as I can but I have a certain satisfaction thinking that I managed to strike all of those points above with no hard work what-so-ever. I mean it just came naturally. I hope it will came also for the next volumes of the series I am working on.

    Thank you James!

  3. AvatarHuffmanHanni

    I think a lot of these are good common sense and good reminders especially to those of us noobs to creative writing. I think the one I found the most helpful is the tying your ending to the beginning somehow. I could see that in the form of mirror the feeling in the opening, perhaps the story circles back to the beginning in the same physical location, etc.

    I disagree the most with the statement about offering redemption to your heroic character. Life isn’t about that necessarily and I’m finding the older I get, the more I appreciate stories that don’t go in the direction I thought they were going. Sometimes heroes lose. Sometimes the terribly choices lead to situations that one cannot get out of. If your heroic character can achieve redemption, then go for it but if not offering redemption is in keeping with the tone of your book, go for that.

  4. Avatarlovdotsprite

    I understand your second statement, but I do not agree with the description provided. It is not about keeping description to a minimum, but about what was previous stated. Your way of simplifying it only demeans what your point is. I am certain you are most likely trying to say to not analyze the ending while it is in process by description and other means stated. I disagree however with this if throughout the entire book the same method is used and if it has clever angle that draws the reader in.
    In some parts you refer to a girl reader and a girl character. There is nothing wrong with that, but when writing an article it is best to keep it neutral. It is a common mistake when writing articles. Even myself has trouble with that general rule of thumb. It is something you want to keep in mind to not leave a subliminal negative impression on people’s mind.
    The sixth statement is also a little off. In the end you state to express the in the end they find that they have done the right thing. That is not true in many cases. When implying the have done the right thing you are giving off a negative impression of the character by no admission of guilt. It is not about doing the right thing, but that they did there best or that they did something wrong, but there is no changing that. They have to do better in there lives and move on from there past mistakes.
    Lastly, the very last statement refers to not using any type of trick. It is true that you do not want to trick or cheat the reader, but it is not true that it is impossible to do so and still leave a positive impression. If you can do it in a clever and unique way that can impress the reader without complete deception then it can make it heavily remembered long after being read. Deception may hurt the reader if done improperly. Although, a properly done trick that follows through with the tone of the book can really blow the reader away.


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