Beginnings are hard. Endings? They’re just as hard! There’s no set right or wrong way to end a story, but if you want the ending to count, there are some factors to consider before hitting that final resolution point.
But what if you know how you want your book to end—in two different ways?
You have to choose one, unless you’re choose-your-own-adventure-ing, even though the thought of abandoning one good idea for another can be heartbreaking. Here are three solutions to your dilemma.
Solution 1: Pick the ending matching the message you want to get across
Sometimes it’s temping to stick with the ending you originally wrote or had in mind because you want to “trust your gut.” However, you need to keep the purpose of your story in mind. There’s going to be a specific point you want to make, and if the ending doesn’t match, the story doesn’t work.
We’ll use Paper Towns as an example here (because we need an excuse to talk about it amidst the pre-release excitement). I won’t dish out spoilers in case you haven’t read it, but Quentin (“Q”) figures out a lot of stuff and solves a lot of clues, literally and figuratively, on his epic quest to find Margo. Green’s choice of an ending rolls right along with the book’s themes, and admit it, if it had ended any other way, you probably wouldn’t love it nearly as much as you do.
Solution 2: Don’t be afraid to leave some questions unanswered
A good story doesn’t leave the reader clueless for all eternity once it runs out of pages—not where major plot points are concerned, anyway. But your falling action doesn’t have to come out in Q&A format, so to speak.
It’s okay to pose some minor questions without answering them. Real life is full of mysteries, and stories should be, too. If one of the endings you’re considering feels like an unnecessary extension to an alternate, earlier endpoint, go with the latter.
Solution 3: Choose the ending that leaves you feeling at peace
This is different than feeling “satisfied” at the end of a story. You can be dissatisfied with an ending but still know, deep down, it was the right way to end it. Nobody wanted Snape to die, okay? Nobody (not the exact end, but close enough). But we all know it had to be that way. Even J.K. Rowling.
Even if you feel a bit unsettled with whichever ending you’re leaning toward, think of the book as a whole. Sometimes we need to kill off characters we don’t want to kill off. Sometimes we need Jo not to accept Teddy’s proposal. Every ending happens the way it does for a good reason, and as a writer, it’s your job to stand up for that good reason, even if you’re the only one arguing with yourself.
Endings are no easier to write than beginnings. Endings also open up vast realms of possibility, and choosing the right one really can make or break a story. But you know your characters and your ideas better than anyone. Take some time to really think about what your book needs to say, what it doesn’t need to say and what you know, deep down, is the right thing to … write.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.