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.
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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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