8 Mistakes to Avoid For a Perfect Ending to Your Novel
Getting a perfect ending is hard. Is it the most excruciatingly difficult part of the writing process? Is it the most hair-pulling, mind-racking, maddening last step that almost puts paid to the idea of finishing the damn thing at all? Maybe. It’s difficult. The ending is so important. It’s your reader’s last impression of the book and it will do exactly that – last.
Just like with the opening to your novel there is no single formula to follow that works across all genres, but there are some common mistakes you can avoid to make sure your ending is as satisfying and memorable as possible.
What does your perfect ending look like?
You want your ending to:
- stay in your reader’s mind
- feel complete
You want your reader chewing over the ending long after they’ve put your book down. Whether it’s a happy ending they are pleased about, a moral learning that sticks in their brain, or an ambiguity that lingers as they consider what will come next. Whichever of these common ending tropes you use, you want your story to feel ‘complete’.
To achieve this, there are some things you really shouldn’t be doing:
1. Don’t close with your first idea
If you want a perfect ending, don’t finish your novel with the first idea you have. Your first idea is probably also your reader’s first idea. Dig deep and consider ways to end your novel that are a little more unexpected. You know your characters and their backstory best. Think about ways to resolve the conflict of the novel in a way that feels fresh. The best way to do this is to ditch your first idea. And maybe your second too.
2. Don’t end with a cliffhanger
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that ending on a cliff-hanger is a valid way to end a novel, however, do not do this with all plot and sub-plot points. And do it with caution.
Your reader needs to feel satisfied, so leaving one of the plot points on a cliff-hanger, even when done well, may not be appreciated. However, it does have the potential to be the perfect bait to lure readers for the next in the series. To ‘do this well’ you have to be very intentional. You need to leave them wanting more but with enough resolution around the rest of the story that they find it exciting rather than frustrating. It’s tricky, but possible if you decide this is the absolute best way to end.
3. Don’t resolve everything in the last three pages
Whilst some resolution may be best kept right up until the last couple of the pages, you do not need to do this for every sub-plot. Spend the last couple of chapters of your novel resolving some of the smaller plot points and save the most meaningful and full circle stuff until the end. This will make the resolutions for each of those much more satisfying than a lightning-speed ride through all revelations jammed into the last three pages.
4. Don’t spell it out for them
Just like in the opening to your novel, you need to give your reader some credit and not labour the points. Be subtle in the conclusions you want them to draw. Show don’t tell. It’s great advice for, not just a perfect ending, but for a perfect novel too.
5. Don’t make it too improbable
There is nothing more frustrating than investing your time in a novel to find that the ending is at best, improbable, and at worst, entirely unbelievable. If you are writing sci-fi you may have a little more leeway here, but overall, the advice still holds. There are no hard rules, particularly with more fantastical genres, but the same rules still apply: the ending should be something perfectly probable in the world you have created.
If your superhero mysteriously develops a new skill ten pages before the end that resolves all plot points…that’s annoying. If your MC has a habit of sabotaging all personal relationships with the same behaviours that happen to disappear just in time for the end…eugh. If someone or something is struck by lightning!? No.
Things that are just a little too lucky are pretty irritating to a reader. Within whatever rules exist for the world of your novel, the perfect resolution should become obvious in hindsight. Your reader should be able to look back and say, yeah, that makes sense, even if they couldn’t have predicted it themselves. Even if your ending is supremely fantastical, it has to be foreshadowed, you have to lay the groundwork for that to make sense.
6. Don’t let your story fizzle out
Don’t put in a novel’s worth of foreshadowing only to decide not to have any of the plot points come to fruition. If it seems like your MC is going to have to face their biggest fear and then, in the end, they actually just move to another country instead, that isn’t going to be very satisfying.
7. Don’t think about the end only at the end
Always have the end in sight – lay the foundation. If you are going to pull the rug from under your reader with a twist, be subtle. Leave markers in the text for them to see in hindsight, but don’t be obvious about it. If you are going to come full circle back to the opening, guide them back round to that denouement. If you are going for happily ever after, make sure you foreshadow the hope you want your readers to have for that resolution. Most of the work for the novel ending is in the marathon middle.
8. Don’t neglect the beginning
All novels are going to have a central conflict introduced in the beginning. This is the driving force for the whole book and it absolutely cannot be neglected. Make sure you consider very carefully whether the question or conflict you have posed to your reader has been satisfactorily resolved.
Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be well on your way to a great story. Take a look at your favourite books. Which do you remember most and how did they end? What happened in the last chapter/last few pages/last few lines? Open up a new project in Novlr and make some notes.