Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How to Write a Satisfying Conclusion



As I approach the end of my WIP, I wonder how to conclude everything in order for every reader to feel satisfied. My question to you is, what constitutes a great ending, an ending where you feel the book is complete? How many of you out there like happy endings?

Here are some of the points I'm working toward:

1. Tying up all the loose plot ends.

2. Making sure each character is accounted for!
a. Who gets a happy ending.
b. Who gets what's coming to them.
c. Finding out what happened to that guy they met for two minutes at the bar.

3. Creating a big climax/battle scene.
a. Laser fights
b. Surprise death of a main character (maybe)
c. Almost impossible rescue mission


What else? What am I missing?

33 comments:

Cherie Reich said...

I believe it is the type of story that depends on how the ending will be dictated. Of course, for your novel, a satisfied ending would likely be a happy one and one where the reader feels a true conclusion to the story.

I think you have all the bases covered in your list. I would think for space opera that you would want the battle scene with a victory of some kind and perhaps characters getting together at the end for a happily ever after...or at least happy for now ending. At least, that's how I see space operas from what little I know about them.

Aubrie, do you usually know the endings you want for your novels before you start or do they come later as you write?

For my own writing, I typically know the beginning and end, bits of the middle, and then I have to fill in all the parts in-between.

Lindsey Duncan said...

Sounds like you have a good plan in mind. For me, I like the sense that the story doesn't end even when the book does - that even though the plot is tied up and resolved, that the characters have new plans for the future. Which means that the occasional minor thread untied is fine with me.

Not a fan of "sad" endings. I don't care how appropriate they are. ;-) If this be irrational, so be it. Bittersweet is all right with me, too, but doesn't sound like it would fit the tone of your book.

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Hey! Just found your blog - nice! For me, I just have to feel that things are resolved and any remaining questions have been answered - for the most part. My only caution to myself is to make sure it's not TOO neatly tied up, yanno? It's okay to leave your character with some uncertainty (just not in the big questions you raised throughout the MS, lol). Great post!

Faith said...

I like endings that satisfy all the promises made throughout the novel, but don't wrap everything up so neatly that you could slap a bow on it... unless that's what the story calls for, but usually that approach feels contrived.

I'll tell you what I don't like... surprise deaths of main characters at the end ;) But maybe that's just me!

Alexandra Shostak said...

I tend to do this thing where, in tying up the loose ends that I had in the book, I make sure that, though the plot threads ARE tied up, it ends up leaving the reader with more questions. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing (I don't have an agent, so perhaps it's a bad thing) but it's the only way I can reconcile my 2 pet peeves about endings (which are polar opposites.) I hate endings that leave everything flapping about in midair, or that do something unhappy simply because there wasn't supposed to be a happy ending. I also hate endings that make everything TOO happy.

I like your list--sounds like you've got all the components. Some stuff ends happily, some stuff ends dramatically, some stuff ends sadly. I think once you get there, you'll find that the type of story you're telling and the characters you've created will dictate the end for you. :) Good luck!

Cher Green said...

Aubrie, everyone likes happy endings, don't they? :)Although a happy ending is not necessary for a satisfying ending.

You have some great points to work on. It seems you have it planned out. On the surprise death of a main character: This is rare, but I just finished a book in which this happens. I was shocked and saddened but it did not make for an unsatisifying ending.

Your question: What constitutes a great ending, an ending where you feel the book is complete? I want to know where everyone is and the new directions their life may go in. I HATE endings that leave all kinds of unanswered questions.

Good luck with your ending.

Beth Caudill said...

If this is a series, you need to have some threads that lead into the next book. Maybe a scene with the secondary character who will be the hero/heroine of the next book.

While you want the main plot threads tied for the book, you still need something that will bring the reader back for book 2.

Lisa_Gibson said...

Oh *sigh* I always go for the happy endings but maybe with a hint of things to follow in the future.

Jackee said...

You've got a great list, Aubrie! I love an ending with a twist, but it looks like you might have that with the death of an important character.

Good luck!

Julie Dao said...

Sounds to me like you've got the bases covered! Those are great places to look when you're wrapping up a story. To me, the most satisfying endings don't leave any loose threads hanging.

Saumya said...

Your list looks extremely thorough so I'm sure your ending will be great!! I'm at a point where I'm debating whether or not to have a happy ending too.

Angie said...

Sounds great! I tend to like happy endings. I'm feeling a little wishy-washy about the end of my own project right now.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Make sure you leave the reader feeling satisfied - it should FEEL finished. Great list! :-)

Kaylie said...

Ooh, endings. The hardest part of the novel for me. For me, part of my list is making sure I tie up any themes/symbols/issues I've brought up during the writing. For example, how does my character resolve feeling invisible?

Talli Roland said...

I think you have them all there! Personally, I like a happy ending with the loose ends tied up in one great big neatly-wrapped package.

Southpaw said...

I'm pretty open with the types of ending I like as long as it is an ending. The main question should be answered. I don’t like cliff-hangers as an ending.

sarahjayne smythe said...

Sounds like you hava a great plan for your ending and everything covered. But I'll also go with leaving more questions for the reader when you tie up those loose ends.

Jess of All Trades said...

I think you've got a good plan. One of the speakers at a conference I went to talks about the need for thunder and lightning at the end. It doesn't have to be literal, or even an explosion, but just a high climax of Some Kind that concentrates and releases the energy of a story so that it doesn't just...End.

Susan Fields said...

Your list sounds good. I love happy endings, though not everything tied up perfectly. I like my mc's to overcome the big challenges, but still have a few battle scars.

Shannon said...

I'm not sure what else to add. I do think it's helpful to have a list of things to cover/wrap up. Sounds like you're good to go! :)

India Drummond said...

I find endings the absolute hardest bit to write, partly because life doesn't stop for these folks just because I've stopped writing about them (well, at least in my head!)

Great article.

Jen said...

I think it all has to do with the premis of the story to how the ending will be handled. My ending is both happy and sad, sad because the character is letting go of a life she used to live but happy because she is moving on to something rather amazing. It will make you think, luckily it's a series so eventually you'll learn they all have happy endings!

Theresa Milstein said...

Now I really want you to finish!

I agree with your list, but I'd add a couple of other aspects of a satisfying ending:

- Who doesn't get a happy ending (besides the dead guy)
- What plot line doesn't get resolved

I find that a little mystery left when the book is done annoys me, but makes the story linger in my head.

Tara said...

Me, I love a happy ending!

Excellent list, I think you have it pretty much covered.

Shelley Sly said...

Those are some really great points! Especially making sure every character is accounted for. The only time I didn't do that was on purpose -- I wanted a minor character to slip away from the spotlight and my main characters to forget about him... because then I wanted him to appear as the surprise villain in the next book (that I never ended up writing).

Anyway, this is a very helpful list, thanks!

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

You've got a great list. Just keep in mind as you write that climax scene: Figure out what's going to happen...and then make it bigger/more surprising!

Alexandra Crocodile said...

Hmmm... I'm not sure that you miss anything. Satisfaction I think is the main point. Is every character "satisfied"? As in, everything is accounted for? As lond as there are no unanswered questions I think you're done:) Good luck!

Creepy Query Girl said...

Wow, sounds like you're going out with a 'bang'! I personally like happy endings with one loose end left to keep us thinking about the characters in 'I wonder what happens to them down the road' type thing. Not TOO happy of an ending- and nothing cheesy:)

Lisa Rusczyk said...

Looks like you got some great advice. I agree with Cherie too about your book in particular. It's so romantic so far, and romance usually has a happy ending, as do space operas. But your seems more scifi than space opera to me. When I think space opera, I think fast read with the usual suspects in the characterization. I can't think of the word right now. You know, that word for characters that are in books? That are always the same? Oh what's that darn word!

Anyway, your characters aren't like those so much for it to be space opera in my opinion.

Lisa Rusczyk said...

Archetypes, that's the word I was looking for. Your story doesn't have all the typical archetypes for space opera I think. It's more scifi because of that in my opinion.

Margo Berendsen said...

Maybe one thing you're missing from your list? I like a sense of how characters have changed as a result of the challenges they'd faced.

Space Opera! I love space opera.

Elana Johnson said...

Great list! For me, it's making sure that everything is resolved. I'm not a huge fan of Happily Ever Afters, but I do have to have resolvement. So that's what I work for. And work for. And work for.

Palindrome said...

I think you have everything covered for a great ending. I'm not a big happy ending person either but I do need resolution.