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7 Terrible Ways to End Your Novel

Updated on July 7, 2015
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Writing a good ending is paramount to the success of your novel. But, you can easily the impact your ending makes by using one of these types of endings.

These tropes tend to be unsatisfying because they are incredibly overdone. As a result, these cliched endings don't inspire your readers. They nauseate them.

Please note: this is a subjective list. You may like some of these endings. That's fine. You may write some of these endings. That's fine, too. Just know that you'll have to be extra careful with the execution of these endings. Being cliched is the last thing your story deserves.

Nevertheless, here are the seven endings:

1. It Was A Dream

The problem: there's no meaning in a story that was just a dream. Even if they made great strides in their personal development, they will have nothing to show for it in their waking life. After all, your character has done nothing for a whole book.

This is not good.

Hallucinations also fall under this category, but to a different degree. Having your character go insane can be done correctly. But, they need to be doing something in reality, even if they are doing something completely different in their hallucination. The ending would then have to deal with the consequences of their actions.

But, if your protagonist is only a crackpot in a white-padded room, the story will hardly have any meaning.

The fix: you need to let go and allow your characters to make mistakes and grow from them. Give their decisions actual consequences, and let them grow from it.

If you still like the idea of things not "feeling real", then have your ending be ambiguous and hazy. You'll get the same mystical feeling, without the backlash from your readers.

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Deus ex Machina

The problem: this Greek phrase means that random coincidences help your characters. In reference to endings, it means that all of your characters get a good ending because of a "happy accident".

In other words, this is a terrible excuse to avoid writing a decent ending.

Rather than examining the narrative for a way to resolve it all, you cheat. You create an impossible set of circumstances to save your character. It's like a kid who spends hours looking for ways to cheat on his math test instead of studying. It is, quite frankly, a waste of time for everyone involved.

The fix: write a story ending that aligns with what makes sense in the narrative. Sounds vague? This is because what works for your book is unique to your book. Don't be afraid to go back and analyze your previous chapters to see trends. Perhaps then you will find the perfect resolution for your work.

A Bad Plot Twist

The problem: bad plot-twists are one of the most cringe-worthy writing mistakes of all times. The worst part is: it's far too easy to write a bad one. There's an art in the subtleties of a plot-twist, and if you get it wrong, the impact of the ending is gone. The feeling is replaced with confusion instead of mind-blowing awe.

The fix: write a good plot twist. While it's harder than it looks,it's worth constantly revising your ending to get it right. Otherwise, the effect falls completely flat.

If that doesn't suit you, leave all the interesting surprises for the climax. It helps the story slow down for the resolution and avoids a nasty cliffhanger ending.

Everybody Dies

The problem: killing a character can be a powerful tool for the writer. But, killing every person in your narrative doesn't usually add extra meaning. New writers often use death as a tactic to keep readers reading. But, because of this added "shock value", the story the crux of its impact. The characters, plot and subplots, amounted to nothing. Instead of enhancing their reading experience, you only frustrate them.

The fix: understand your story's theme. Use that knowledge to find out if writing character death is actually necessary.

If you are writing an children's adventure story with the theme of "Anyone Can Follow Their Dreams", killing everyone in the story would be counterproductive. If you are writing a satire that examines nature's indifference to human suffering, killing all your characters would make sense. Most stories will fall in the middle of this spectrum. As long as each death in the story illustrates a purpose, you'll know who to kill and why.

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Cliffhanger Endings

The problem: writing cliffhanger endings, while a great idea, can lead to some tricky situations later on.

You will be raising the audience's expectations over several years, preparing them for the big "pay off". But, if your book's ending is not "worth the wait", they will dislike it.

While it seems trivial, it happens more often than not. The most notable example of this occurs in The Dark Tower series, by Steven King. It's one of the most controversial endings King has written because of how he failed to meet the expectations of his readers. Many felt a grandiose, Lord of the Rings style ending was appropriate for the 7-book series. But, knowing King's style, that's simply not how he writes.

Therefore, many readers who stuck with him for the whole series felt betrayed.

Now, cliffhanger scenes are great. They keep your readers turning the pages, after all. It's the wait between books, however, that will cause your readers to turn sour if you disappoint them. So, do yourself a favor and manage your audience's expectations upfront.

The fix: make sure the end to your book's series is meaningful. It needs to make sense within the context of the story, as well as make sense with what you've foreshadowed. This means you have to do a little planning if you want to write a series.

Otherwise, you've cornered yourself into a place where you have to disappoint someone. While you can't please everyone, you can please more people by making last few pages of a series worth the wait.

The Ending is Too Long

The problem: long endings are boring. Plain and simple. After the climax, there isn't anymore action to emphasize. There's just general clean-up work and some closing words about the theme. Nothing more.

The fix: keep the ending short. After the climax has come and gone, your readers want any leftover questions answered. Since you've been asking and answering questions for the whole novel, there shouldn't be many left. But, when in doubt, remember KISS: Keep It Short, Stupid!

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Endings With No Meaning

The problem: as I've said before, there's no point to a story that has no meaning. Everything in the book amounts to nothing

The problem affects not only the ending, but the entire book. The effect of your book's lack-of-meaning is only intensified in the last few pages. It makes the book feel hollow and incomplete, because your readers discover there was no real point to anything in the book. None of the character development or the story's events could be applied to their day-to-day lives.

The fix: give your story meaning. What are you trying to say with the book? Is there one idea that you want your readers to feel and understand? Or, is it multiple, smaller ideas that can capture your readers' hearts?

It doesn't matter. You just need a theme. And, when it comes time to write the ending, you need to emphasize this theme as much as possible.

Conclusion

These endings tend to be pretty bad. While they sound good in theory, they hardly make your readers feel satisfied in practice. Thus, you should avoid them as much as possible.

Instead, read some well-received endings to gather ideas on how to end your own novel. Don't steal them (your ending will feel forced), but analyze and adapt them to your purposes. In other words, borrow the concepts, not the words.

What is the worst story ending you've ever seen? Or, do you like any of the types of endings you see above? Leave a comment below!

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 6 months ago

      I think you are right about these endings. The problem is these endings often have successful stories that could make the writer think, "I can do that." Deus ex Machina has been around since the ancient Greeks. Everybody dies in Hamlet. War of the Worlds and The Time Machine arguably have their climax halfway through the book.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 24 months ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      My biggest hurdle is in the ending of my novels, so I end up writing a sequel, and after that another.....

    • jlpark profile image

      Jacqui 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for this hub, Nicole.

      I often wonder if it's cause by the end of writing a novel, one has run out of new ideas, and falls back on one of the cliche ones. I'm saving your hub for my own novel so that I make sure I don't fall into any of those traps....given in my head, the ending hasn't quite worked itself out yet!

      Thanks for sharing this information.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 2 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      I remember being told off about my 'dream' story when I was at school. But I was only 9! And I think that - unlike 'Dallas' - it actually worked. :)