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4 Tips for Writing a Satisfying Story Ending

Updated on June 21, 2015
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There is nothing better than a fantastic ending. It's the last few words of a beautifully-written novel that will linger with your readers for years. Even if the words are long forgotten, the sentiment will remain with them forever.

A bad ending does the opposite. Bad endings waste your readers time. They forget about the growth of your characters or the genius of your plot. If the final conclusion was lackluster, why did anything in your story matter? For this reason, your story's ending is the most important part of the story.

Yet, the ending is by far the most forgotten part of the story. Most writers don't even think about their endings until the climax is over. Once climax ends, they get stuck. How do they write a satisfying conclusion to something that seemed so never-ending at the start?

There's no right way to go about it. You can only experiment with what works best for you. To help you on your journey, here are four simple tips to help you write a satisfying conclusion.

1. You Need the Right Structure

To write a good ending, you must understand the structure of a good ending. Without structure, your story will lose much of its potential impact.

Here is the basic outline of any story ending:

  1. After the climax, the story must come to a swift resolution. Dragging out the story further serves no purpose.
  2. Your readers must know the story is ending. You need to provide the right amount of information and context to do so. If your readers know too little, they feel cut off from the story and thrown aside. Too much, and the ending feels drawn out.
  3. The story needs to end with as much strength as the introduction does. Your ending should be designed to create the most meaningful impact to your readers.

Structure isn't the only thing you have to consider. Besides structure, there are three other things you need to keep in mind.

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1. Tie-Off Everything You've Started

Before writing your ending, make sure you've completed every goal you created for your story. This includes any character arcs and story arcs in the narrative. If you find an unfinished arc in your story, the ending is a great place to close it.

As you finish your arcs, here are some things to consider:

  • Not everyone will have a happy ending. Don't force a happy ending out of your story unless it makes sense. The opposite is also true; don't force a sad ending unless it makes sense as well. When in doubt, follow the natural progression of the story-line.
  • It's impossible to state the future of all your characters. Making the future of your characters ambiguous leaves room for interpretation. This increases your readers' engagement with your novel, as they develop fan theories and ideas.
  • If you want to leave a character arc unfinished, you may want to consider killing a character. It ends their arc swiftly while maintaining interest in your story. But, do not kill your characters too often, as it abuses your reader's emotions.

If you don't end everything in your narrative, you may end up creating plot holes that will frustrate your readers. So, make sure everything in your story is complete.

2. Circularity

Having circularity in your novel means you are bringing your novel full circle by having elements in your story's introduction occur in the story's conclusion. This symbolically completes your story by paying homage to the story's past while moving forward to the future. Doing so creates a satisfying conclusion.

You can do this in a variety of different ways.

  • Repeat a sentence you wrote in the first chapter in the last chapter. This adds a nice, subtle touch to your narrative, reinforcing a chosen idea.
  • Mention a common detail that is in both your first chapter and your last chapter. It can be a metaphor, an object, the location itself. You can use this detail to reinforce an important idea.
  • Have the ending scene mirror an event that happened in the beginning. This helps your readers examine the growth of your characters up to the ending scene. Also, keep in mind that the scenes don't have to match up perfectly. Just having a similar scenario occur will suffice.

This is a subtle way to see how far your story has come and how much potential the characters still have. These fine details are what make your story stand out.

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3. Have Your Characters Reflect

Having your characters reflect on the events of the novel is a simple way to tie the whole story together. It reminds your reader about the past events in the novel while making that information seem meaningful. As your characters reflect, keep these things in mind:

  • Have your character's thoughts point back to the "theme". Use your characters as a platform to make a statement. You can do this by reaffirming a thought or belief your character felt, applying it to a "bigger picture".
  • Don't let the reflection take too long. Just because it's the ending doesn't mean you should start adding long blocks of exposition. Instead, take a sentence or two to have your characters think.
  • Try to make your theme have as much impact as possible. My personal favorite example of this happens in George Orwell's satirical novel Animal Farm. The entirety of the novel focuses on how man oppresses animals, and the animals escaping this oppression. But, by the end of the novel, the animals have created their own oppressors. This looks at the greater theme of absolute power corrupts absolutely. No matter how great the intentions are, the result of your efforts will be tarnished by our greedy nature. That is a powerful idea.
  • This theme doesn't have to be political in nature. As long as your reader can place their own meaning in the theme, the theme should be fine. As a result, your theme should be simple and vague, such as "love conquers all" or "believe in yourself".

The ending should be the time where you make your final statements about your universe. Use that time wisely.

Endings are a tricky beast to master, because there is no way to truly "end" a novel. This is because the end is not "the end" for your characters. It's the beginning of their new lives with the information they've learned. Your job is to convey this idea into words.

How do you end your stories? Leave a comment below!

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    • GalaxyRat profile image

      GalaxyRat 5 months ago from The Crazy Rat Lady's House

      I write the ending first and then work "down" from there.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub Nicole. I don't have an ending, when I dream plot my storylines. And when I write them, I don't get that far. It usually comes to me, when I'm down to the last two chapters or so to tie up loose ends with a satisfying ending. Voted up!

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      I write mostly flash fiction and short stories. The endings usually present themselves as I write. But your four steps give me something concrete to evaluate with. Thanks for the helpful article.

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 2 years ago

      I love the circularity element you stated. Now that I think about it, most of my favorite novels/stories have indeed echoed their beginnings in one way or another. Great hub.

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      GlenR 2 years ago from UK

      E.M. Forster made some very interesting observations about endings in his paper "Pessimism inLiterature" which her read to the Working Men's College Old Students Club on 1st December 1906. If you are interested you can find a synopsis in the Penguin Edition of A Room With a View.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Good tips, Nicole.

      The problem of when and how to end it is different for each story. The solution is not always easy and self-evident. I have rewritten the ending of one of my stories in progress numerous times and am still not satisfied and neither are my beta readers. I have tied off a loose end an easy way that evades an emotional scene—the hero keeps the story of his solution of a murder case secret from his wife rather than confides in her. If I changed the nature of their relationship then, I will also need to change it earlier. What I need to learn: aim for the emotionally powerful, not for the easy.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very useful and interesting article on how to make your ending of the story strike beautiful and appealing to readers. Thanks for sharing these tips.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I usually write the ending when I get to the end, that's to say - when I know I'm near the end and I have an idea of HOW it's going to end, then I begin to look at how the ending reflects the main character's journey arc, the main themes and so on. Or put another way - I check that it all makes sense!