It’s been said that the most important parts of any written work are the first statement and the last. Everything in between just passes the time. And when we invest hours of time in a novel or movie, we expect to be rewarded with a conclusion that is both satisfying and thought provoking. Otherwise, we feel slighted.
At WritingRoom.com, we could write our own book on the many ways to end a story, but there are a few tried and true techniques that can be summed up below. Most likely, your ending will fall into one of the following categories.
One thing to keep in mind: it’s essential that you conclude with the same style, tone and flow you’ve established throughout your story. For example, if the entire story features a series of high-impact, dramatic events and you end on a quiet note, the audience will be confused and disappointed. No matter what ending you choose, this article can provide the tips that may help lead you to a flawless finish.
The Big Twist: When written well, this ending is quite popular and, thus, very appropriate for commercial audiences. It’s the wow factor that keeps people talking long after the last scene or chapter. This technique is common to science fiction and almost all mysteries, but can be applied to any genre. To work, however, it must pull all plot lines together in a conclusion that is both surprising and believable. Easier said than done, of course. It will help if you take the time to drop subtle clues throughout the storyline that may provide hints to the characters’ future actions.
The inconclusive Ending: All stories leave the audience hanging to some extent but, in this case, the author chooses a cliffhanger approach that could be a set up for a sequel…or not. It may be that the protagonist is faced with a choice at the end and you leave it up to the audience to decide his fate.
You must be strategic with this technique; if you’re not careful, the audience may interpret you as lazy or unable to come to a proper close. Use it in a short story scenario where the audience expects the author to be brief or write an intelligent story for a sophisticated audience who is willing to put thought and discussion into “what happens next” after it’s over.
The After-the-Fact Ending: Also known as the epilogue, this is a scene that is fully removed from the story in both setting and timeframe. You may choose to revisit the characters weeks or months after the climax…or a generation into the future when their children are grown up. Either way, you must provide some insight into what has happened “in the meantime” to send your audience off on a high note. It should also be filled with the character’s retrospective insights to provide a different perspective on the events that had occurred.
The Everyday Ending: Not every story has to end with a big, satisfying BANG. The everyday ending is similar to the inconclusive ending, except with a bit more detail. It leaves the characters in a setting or situation that they’ve been in all along, but includes insights that clue the audience into what will happen in the future. With this approach, the characters’ fates are not extraordinary; they’ll simply live their lives in the same manner, if not slightly changed from the events that occurred in the story. To be successful with this ending, it must somehow confirm and fulfill the characters personalities in a way that is consistent with a real life scenario.