How to end your novel or short story

Writers' Cafe on endings in novels

How do end your novel?

During April’s monthly writers’ cafe writers in the Novel Nights community  discussed endings in novels. 

Grace Palmer led the session listing types of endings available to the writer: 

Rebirth endings, death endings, recognition or surprise endings, revelation endings. Explicit endings are where the novel has wrapped things up. Implicit or open endings leave the reader to reflect on the story that they’ve read. 

Writers could end on a thought, an action, dialogue, or a significant word. 

We shared examples of circular endings where the last line of the novel  echoes the title or the beginning of the book with reference to Emma Healey, Elizabeth is Missing. 

In Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield we looked how the writer recognised the artifice of the story and literally led the writer go.

And then in smaller groups the Novel Nights community came up with these responses:

What makes for a satisfying end for stories or novels? 

  1. Readers don’t want to feel cheated
  2. The shape of the story feels complete at the end of the novel 
  3. It feels as if it’s the right time to let go so that the story can continue
  4. Readers are dissatisfied if a new element is introduced at the end of a story. There is a sense of expectations not being met
  5. If the protagonist has struggled, end with a decision. 
  6. No loose endings, the feeling that it’s been worthwhile reading it
  7. Not too much of a shock or surprise
  8. In Short stories there’s a sense that the reader can work at the ending. Never tell the reader want to think

What are you aiming for when you end your novel?

  1. Avoid explanations
  2. The ending can colour the rest of the novel or story in a new light
  3. After a first draft, writers can discover what the novel has been about and change the rest from that point.
  4. To let the ending happen organically. The characters can decide on the ending. 
  5. An ending can break the pace after a climax and act as an emotional buffer
  6. If you are writing genre fiction expectations must be met, for example a  whodunnit or a whydunnit. 
  7. If writing a sequel, hint at things to come – The hero might have won the battle but not the war
  8. To keep readers happy
  9. At the end of a first draft you can come back to the manuscript and tell if it works or not. 
  10. They want readers to buy the next book by that writer
  11. Some writers disliked endings which were neat or tied up – they aimed for endings which stay with you

How do we want the reader to feel at the end of our novel? 

  1. Readers invest a lot in reading a novel  – they need to let go of the story
  2.  An ending can be like attending a party. You can slip away from the noise, or perhaps you can say goodbye very deliberately. 
  3. Genre makes a lot of difference – readers have expectations that might need
  4. To have gone on a journey with the character