I finished my second novel a little over a week ago. It took me four months, in which I stressed myself out to the max by trying to juggle NaNo, senior year midterms, and losing two chapters five hundred words from the end, but finally, I finished it.
I went through this once before with FAIRY TALES, but honestly, endings still freak me out. I have no idea how to end stories—do I wrap everything up in a neat little bow? Should I write an epilogue? Do I do one of those open endings everyone hates? Is this too abrupt? Etc. I’m a perfectionist, guys. And a worrywart. Plus there’s the fact that I love love love VINDICTA, the aforementioned just-finished novel, so much that I really, really don’t want to let it go. It feels weird not writing it after writing it so intensely these last four months. But I have learned a little about endings over these last two novels, and I’d like to share them for people like me.
Have your characters changed?
By the end of your story, your characters will be affected by what’s happened to them. Take VINDICTA for an example—my two main characters are on the run from a group that wants to wipe them out. They have no external support whatsoever. It’s just the two of them, and they have to do a lot of bad things to survive—including killing enemies. Even if both of them were entirely okay at the start of the novel—and okay they definitely were not—that experience alone would be enough to change them. Both of them are emotionally scarred and don’t get along with each other. But by the end of the novel, they’ll have to face their fears and problems. And for better or for worse, they’re very different people by the time VINDICTA’s over.
Something to keep in mind is that your plot revolves around your characters. You can’t have one without the other. And although most people will say duh when I point out that your characters affect your plot, the reverse is just as true. Your plot affects them just as much. It’s Newton’s Third Law turned literary. I’ll give you another example: Clarke Griffin from The 100. [If you haven’t finished the show and don’t want spoilers, skip the rest of this paragraph.] In the Season 2 finale, she irradiates Mount Weather to save her friends and loved ones. In the process of saving them, she kills hundreds of Mount Weather citizens. And that affects her so much that she has to leave Camp Jaha because of all the guilt she feels. Just as her actions changed the course of the show, they changed her, too.
Make sure it’s realistic.
A lot of the problems I have with certain books stem from the ending being so crappy. This can come in two ways: a) the ending is so sugary-sweet and then they lived happily ever after! That it makes me want to throw up or b) WHAM! PLOT TWIST. YOUR FAVOURITE CHARACTER IS DEAD SUDDENLY AND FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON. OOPS. (Some of you may know which book I’m talking about. If you do, I feel your pain.)
I’m okay with an ending as long as it’s realistic. I liked HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOW’s ending even though some of my favourite characters died because it was realistic. They’d just fought a huge battle. If there weren’t casualties, it wouldn’t have been realistic. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish Remus and Tonks and Fred had all survived, but I understand why J.K. Rowling killed them off, and I can deal with it.
But I’ve also read stories where the ending is too picture perfect. Two characters who still have lots of issues—but it’s okay! They were meant to be—run off into the sunset, surviving all odds in some miracle. Don’t do that either. I know it’s hard to kill off your darlings or not give your favourite characters the happy ending they might deserve, but that’s life. Not everyone gets a happy ending.
(As for the second part—okay fine, maybe I’m still a little bitter about that one book that shall not be named. If you have to kill off your main character, fine, do it. But only if it’s necessary and makes sense to the plot.)
Tie up loose ends.
Now, this doesn’t mean everything has to be wrapped up in a neat little bow. It just means that your readers shouldn’t close your book and then say, “what, what?” a couple seconds later. If you ask a question in the first chapter, it has to be answered by the last one. It’s a core rule of writing (see: Chekhov’s gun). Some smaller things, like what happens after the novel finishes, can be left open-ended. You also don’t have to explain everything in your plot to death. But make sure things make sense. Don’t bring in a character to forget about him/her. In other words, be wary of plotholes.
Know when to end.
This is the hardest part for me. I second/third/fourth-guess myself so much that I’m almost never sure if I’ve ended at the right spot. With VINDICTA, it was a little easier, because I knew what my ending was going to be from the beginning and I had more experience under my belt. FAIRY TALES was a little harder, though, because I changed the ending around so many times. The main thing is you can’t end too abruptly, but you can’t let it drag on too long, either. It’s a hard sweet spot to find. Hopefully, you’ll know where it is when you stumble across it.
What tips do you keep in mind when writing endings?