6 Tips for Writing the Perfect Ending
You've made it through to the end of your story, and it's time for the big payoff. When you started out you probably had an idea for the ending of your story, and you've been working toward it.
Your long journey may have changed some key aspects of the story though, and your ending may need to change as well. Whether your planned ending is tragic, happy, open or has a twist, these steps can help you ensure all your hard work along the way really pays off in the end.
Maintain the tone and style of the rest of the story
This is especially important if the end of your story has a twist, as is common in science fiction or horror stories. The twist should not be entirely unrelated to your story. Instead, there should be clues throughout the story that will leave readers shocked that they hadn’t put the pieces together themselves.
For any ending, maintaining the tone of the story helps the reader feel that the story is complete, not disjointed. Using a circular ending, where you return to the same theme with which your story began, is one way to achieve this.
Avoid “deus ex machina”
This phrase is Latin for “god out of the machine” and was coined by Roman poet Horace.
Literally, it refers to the ancient theater practice of using a harness to deliver an actor portraying a god into the middle of a scene to wrap up all of the loose ends of the play.
To writers today, it means creating some character or event or happy coincidence to make everything work out okay, even though this event has no real relation to the rest of the story.
A large monetary gift, a stranger in the right place at the right time, a miraculous recovery from an illness, etc., are all examples that readers may take as a cop out, when they were looking for a more realistic ending that would make more sense for your story.
Explore different endings
Try drafting several different endings that don’t contain much detail. From these, choose one or two that you like best and write the details into these endings. Now you can explore how each ties into the rest of your story. Comparing and contrasting will either show you which ending you like the best or may lead you in a new direction that fuses successful ideas and phrases from each choice.
Scan your entire story, looking for consistency and inspiration
This ties in with step three. Once you have created an ending you believe works for your story, you need to do your due diligence. Go over the entire story paying attention to the flow of the plot.
Though it may be difficult, try to avoid fixating on small, technical details and concentrate on the activity and thoughts of your characters. Do keep in mind key points that you think are strong areas of your writing or are signposts in the story that will help inform the ending. Then evaluate the ending you have crafted based on the tone and flow of the entire story.
Know when to stop
Knowing when to stop is an art and a skill. You may be tempted to tell not only the story of your main character but also the stories of their children and children’s children. Is that information really necessary?
A good way to look for a stopping point in your story is to identify a moment of change. This may be a significant moment in the life of your character. It should be a somewhat major change, so it is strong enough to serve as the climax of your story. Once you identify that change, you’ll be able to conclude the story shortly thereafter.
Achieve a resolution for your audience
This doesn’t mean telling everything that happens to the character, issue, town and country that you are talking about. Open endings can still achieve resolution for readers.
To do this, you need to answer any major questions that will be in the minds of readers. Questions that you’ve posed and hinted that you were going to answer. Holes need to be filled at least somewhat, so your readers can use their imaginations to fill in the rest.
Your ending can be thought-provoking and artistic, but it should leave your readers knowing they have reached the end of the story, not looking for pages that have fallen out.
Using these six tips should help you on your journey to that perfect ending. Experiment as much as possible, exploring new and different ways to conclude your story.
“After all, tomorrow is another day!”
- Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind