Writing Tip #10 The Ending

This is the tenth of 12 posts for writers who are planning to self-publish using the great services now available to the amateur writer, such as Smashwords, Amazon KDP, CreateSpace etc.

These mistakes are straight from week1 of “Good Writing 101”. You might get away with one or two of them; maybe people won’t notice. But if you consistently break these rules better not give up your day job.

10. Don’t Screw Up the Ending

I probably spend more time working on the last 5% of each book than I spend writing the rest of it. That’s because the ending needs to be perfect, and endings are tricky.

First, the ending has to be logical. If there’s a mystery to be solved, the solution must make sense and it must be something that the reader could have worked out for herself. There’s nothing worse than a whodunnit where the guilty party is someone that appears for the first time on page 352. Nearly as bad is where the guilty party was introduced on page 10 and hardly ever (or never) mentioned again until the end of the book.

You need to get the pace of the ending right. Many endings read as if the writer lost patience with the book or thought of something urgent that needed doing in the kitchen. If you rush it, the reader will hate you; if you drag it out she will lose her patience with you. The pacing needs to be just right, like Goldilocks.

Consider the taste that the book leaves in the reader’s mouth. Is it bittersweet or will you leave the reader punching the air in shared triumph or cheering or laughing or crying? All of these are possible choices. It really depends on the rest of the book. But make sure it’s consistent with the tone of the book.

The ending needs to tie up loose ends. First, you have to know what the loose ends are. Make a list. Leave it sit for a week, and then revisit it. Are they all there? Consider your minor characters: do they have issues, hopes, ambitions that need to be resolved? Once you have a full list, think about each one. Normally, you should aim to resolve them all, but consider whether it might be better for the story if one or two are left hanging. Sometimes it’s better to let the reader decide, in her own mind, one or two ending outcomes. There are many great books that leave the reader guessing. The Road by Cormac McCarthy comes to mind. If you are planning a sequel, you may need to leave something unresolved, of course. If in doubt, give the manuscript to as many beta readers as you can. Keep the last few pages back, and ask them how they think the book will end. Chances are you’ll get a wide range of responses, and some will surprise you and make you rethink your ending.

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