This article is by Neil B. Tafani.
A novel needs a strong ending in order to tell a good story. This doesn’t mean that you need to have a “happy” ending, or even an ending that gives total resolution. Your primary focus when writing an ending is to make it memorable and enjoyable to read.
Some genres, of course, require certain endings. In a romance you know the hero and heroine will end up together. In a mystery you know the villain will be revealed. The trick is making it happen in an unusual way.
A Magician’s Secret
Cliffhangers can be useful for some books. It keeps the story in the reader’s mind, because they weren’t given resolution. A useful thing to compare it to is a magician’s secret. When we don’t know how a magic trick is done, it sticks in our head. We may ponder about it for years to come. As soon as a trick is revealed to us however, we immediately lose all interest.
Book endings can be the same way, sometimes. If everything wraps up perfectly, your book may never enter their mind again. But if the ending left them wanting more, they’ll remember your book; and they’ll remember you as an author.
Readers tend to have a love-hate with cliffhangers. Again, the magician’s secret aligns well as a comparison. We THINK we want to know the trick; we THINK that we hate having the secret kept from us. But as soon as we DO have access to the trick, we wish we didn’t.
You have to be aware of this when you write a cliffhanger. Your reader is going to hate you for it, on some level. You have to be certain that it’s what’s right for your book. Nothing is worse than a cliffhanger that is put into the ending just for the sake of having one. You need a cliffhanger that keeps the story going in their mind, one that produces questions for them to ask.
What you DON’T want is a forced cliffhanger that just looks like you chopped the last ten pages out of the book. You still need a real “ending.”
Something We Haven’t Seen Before
If you do want your ending to have resolution, it is often best to make it a profound and satisfying resolution. Hold onto something important for the end, such as the reveal of a secret or the protagonist’s realization of a lesson.
You want to make sure your novel is working towards an ending as you write. One trick a lot of authors use is to not write the book in order. The ending is one of the first things that some authors write, so that they know where the story is going throughout. How good an ending is isn’t just determined by its standalone value, but also in how it and the main story play off each other.
Of course it goes without saying that one of the best ways to make your ending memorable is to make it original. We’ve all seen the story that closes on a kiss. We’ve all seen the story that ends on a catchphrase.
The best thing you can do for your ending is to do something we haven’t seen before, or if we have, you present it to us in a new and interesting way.
How do you feel about ending with a cliffhanger? When is it acceptable? When does it become frustrating?
Do you plan endings in advance? If so, do you usually stay with what you plan?
What is necessary for an ending to be strong and memorable? Conversely, what makes an ending weak and forgettable?