The great Mickey Spillane once said, “Nobody reads a book to get to the middle.” Well, duh. But really, think about that. Isn’t the ending what you inevitably carry away with you more than any other part of the book, whether good or bad?
Many times over, I see writers asking others what they find harder to write, the beginning or the end. For me, I’d have to say it’s finding that perfect spot in the story to begin. But then, I really only struggled with that once so far. I’ve never had an issue wrapping up the story or knowing where to end it, although I have to admit to asking myself on more than one occasion after I’ve written “the end” if I’ve done so too soon or too late and was it satisfying and done just right? Because if not the latter, I could very well have just ruined the entire book. And for some of us, writing that satisfying ending or finding that sweet spot can be a frustrating challenge.
Think back to the last book you read, where after finishing that last line, you said to yourself, “Well, that ending sucked.”
If this has ever happened to you, more than likely, it ruined the entire experience. What you paid for the book (which could be nothing) doesn’t factor into the equation in the least because you went away regretting every minute you devoted to each page.
Ask yourself, How willing would you be to recommend that book to another reader? And how eager would you be to give that same author another read with their next book?
I’m willing to bet this is not how you want your book to be remembered, especially after writing such a compelling beginning that you pulled your readers in with success and held them in thrall all the way to the end. Both are awesome accomplishments. So don’t throw all that away by allowing your story to crap out at the end.
Of course, your genre, theme, motif, etc., will dictate much of the way you write your story and how it will end, but still, there are several factors that can wreck any ending. So, let’s break those down a bit and discuss what mistakes to avoid.
1 Where’s the Resolution?
One surefire way to leave your readers dissatisfied with your ending is by failing to wrap up all those loose ends or leaving things too open to interpretation.
I made this mistake with the first book I ever wrote (not published, by the way), where at the end of the story, the romance was wrapped up in a comfy blanket of happily-ever-after, but the villain who had been haunting the heroine from page one until just a chapter before was simply not mentioned at all. In his last scene, the antagonist was stopped, but then the scene was cut off, leaving the reader to wonder, Was he killed? Arrested? Will he be back to haunt her again someday? I was so caught up in wrapping up the romance that I forgot about the dirtbag. And I’ll tell you, my critique partners were sure to loudly voice their dissatisfaction with that crapfest of an ending.
By making such a huge mistake as failing to resolve all of your main character’s primary struggles and issues, you leave your readers walking away with two thoughts. One, that perhaps you weren’t sure yourself how to end the story, or two, you just didn’t think that plot point was important enough to wrap up. And that tells the reader you weren’t as invested in your own storyline as you should have been.
Either one of those scenarios is a major letdown for your readers and guaranteed to leave them frustrated with not just your characters but also you as the author.
Making sure your story structure is solid, meaning every plot point has a beginning, middle, and end, is imperative. So don’t leave your readers saying, “Hey, wait. What about…?”
2 What’s the Rush?
Have you ever read a story that started out so good just to leave you at the end saying, “Wait! No, really, hold up a minute!”? The author pulled you inside page by page, got you invested in the characters and their story from the very start, and kept you trotting along beside them at the perfect pace until less than ten pages from the end when suddenly, BOOM! It’s over.
Still a good book, perhaps, but what a disappointment.
I’ll refer to your story structure here and warn you against skipping or skimming any of those crucial final aspects. Wrap-up – Resolution – Outcome
Likewise, avoid squeezing them together into the same scene. After all, your readers have invested their time, energy, and emotions into your characters and story, and they’ve anticipated that final outcome with patience and devotion. So don’t reach the final conclusion so abruptly that you give them whiplash.
Imagine standing in line for a highly talked-about amusement park ride.