Narrative Writing


Satisfying Endings

Story is struggle. You begin your narrative just before the protagonist is presented with a dilemma, at the point of attack. The character struggles with the dilemma; the dilemma worsens into a crisis. The crisis rises to a point where it must be resolved. An action is taken, bringing about the climax. The result is either favorable or unfavorable, but the crisis is over. In either case, the entire situation changes.

                    — James N. Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Novel

Writing a satisfying ending is difficult. If it were easy, every book you read and every movie you watch would have a satisfying ending—and we all know that that's not the case. Even professional writers have trouble nailing the ending every time.

In this lesson (and in the next six lessons), you're going to learn some tricks that will increase your chances of success.

Answer the Story Question

By the end of your story, your reader should learn the answer to your story question: Does the hero achieve their goal?

Either way, your goal should be to write an ending that's satisfying, and believe it or not, that has little to do with whether your ending is happy or sad.

So how can you write a satisfying ending? Let's start by discussing some of the things that you should not do.

Don't Be Deceitful

The ending of your story should feel honest and authentic. That means no gimmicks!

The most common gimmick I see every year is some variation of:

For some reason, students think that this is terribly clever. Trust me, it's not. It just feels lazy and dishonest.

Now don't misunderstand me: An unexpected twist near the end of your story is fine. A clever twist is delightful. However, as a reader, I never want to feel like the author has intentionally deceived me by withholding important information until the end of the story.

Don't Throw Away Your Ending

Another problem I see every year is stories that end too abruptly. Here is a typical example:

Now, it's clear to me, when I read such a story, that the student ran out of steam. I get it. It's not unusual to start a story, and then, five pages in, realize that your story is turning into a 200-page novel. And who has time for that? So the student slaps on a slapdash ending and submits it.

The problem, again, is that it feels dishonest. If you've taken five pages to put your hero at the start of a momentous, intergalactic battle between the forces of good and evil, and then you decide that you have lost interest in the story, just skip a line and write the following words:

I would much rather read those words than read: "And then Barbara defeated the aliens and went home."

I don't care that you're not really planning to finish your story. I still appreciate the fact that you've written five good pages. Don't spoil them by tacking on a lazy ending.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.