So, happily ever after, or ending with tragedy?
Or maybe that grey area, in between? A sense of hope, mixed with a degree of sadness and regret, perhaps? Genre can impose restrictions. For example, romance novels require a happy ending – although, of course, a love story can end tragically, as long as you aren’t hoping to market your book as category romance. Beyond genre considerations, the decision is yours. If you do plan to end the story on a tragic note, with a character death, or multiple deaths, my post on killing off characters might be of interest.
A degree of closure is generally expected, and appreciated, by readers.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean full resolution. If every strand is tied up with pretty bows, that can actually leave the reader feeling dissatisfied – but too many unanswered questions will leave the reader feeling less than satisfied, also. As with many other aspects of writing, it’s a balance that you need to find for yourself. Experiment with different endings, if necessary. After readers have stayed with your characters for their entire journey, you definitely don’t want to let them down, at the very end.
Consider your various subplots.
Some of these may ultimately converge with the main plot, as the novel draws to a close. Whilst there may not be full resolution on every B. story, you shouldn’t leave the reader with too many questions, or give the impression that any of the subplots were simply forgotten. If you plan either an epilogue or a sequel, or both, then that could be a valid reason for not resolving every subplot.
Although there are exceptions to every rule, it rarely works to end an entire novel on a cliffhanger – even if a sequel is planned.
Normally, even in a series, individual novels should be able to stand alone, whilst at the same time, enticing readers back for more. If no sequel or epilogue is planned, and you still want to end on a cliffhanger, seriously ask yourself whether you can justify doing so. You’re basically using a device that compels readers to continue – but giving them no way of ever finding out what ultimately happened. That’s just cruel, and could severely damage their trust in you, as an author.
Don’t be afraid to alter your ending.
It happens. Even if you’re a plotter, like myself, your ending could change dramatically, as you write, and get to know your characters. Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow. And, as I mentioned before, experiment.
Writing your novel’s climax can be challenging.
But hopefully, these tips will help you to create an ending, that does justice to your story, as a whole.