Or, how to bring your reader to a fantastic finale and satisfying conclusion.
Bringing a book to a close is an important stage in both writing, and reading. Leave your reader unsatisfied, and they may not return to try another work. But if you are writing a series, you must also leave them wanting more. There’s a fine line between the ending of the final climax, and the feeling of being left dangling off a cliff until the next book.
A friend told me, as I was struggling with the ending of Pixie Noir, to think of it as a cigarette moment. That apocryphal relaxation after a peak, where there is some contentment, resolution, and a warm glow. It will leave your reader with a good feeling, as well as your characters. I know, especially for those writing dystopia, that a happy ending isn’t always in their book. Personally, as a reader, I prefer them, and require at least that something has changed and grown my main characters. Even with an unhappy ending, leaving the MC dangling is only going to disappoint your readers.
There have been some stand-out disappointments for me, over the years. One was a book I bought, thinking it was a novel, only to find out that it was a serialized novel, and what I had bought – with no warning, and for a novel price – was the first third. It ended, literally with the characters traveling between one place and another. Another was the last time I bought that author pre-order, in hardback, which I had done faithfully for years. Now, I wait for release, and reviews, and don’t even always buy the book, but might get it at the library.
We readers are tender souls. We want to have at least a hint of resolution, not simply something horrible happening and then… nothing. It’s awfully hard to face another book with that bleak prospect hanging over your head.
So keep this in mind as you draw your story to a conclusion. I added an additional chapter, a mere 2500 words or so, and it made a big difference. When you send your story out to beta readers, listen to what they say about the ending. Leaving them wanting more is wonderful. Leaving them wondering what happened is not.
Ending a romance is easily accomplished. Take this, the ending of Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester. “‘No, no!’ he said hastily, taking her in his arms again. He then, with great presence of mind, put a stop to any further recriminations by kissing her; and his indignant betrothed, apparently feeling he was too deeply sunk in depravity to be reclaimable, abandoned (for the time being, at all events) any further attempt to bring him to a sense of his iniquity.”
The ending of one of the most enduring fantasies of all time winds up the tale with an “autumn evening some years after.” Not quite the last line, “You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”
Larry Correia’s Warbound, which I just finished last week, winds it all up, as it is the end of a series, with an epilogue taking place a year later. Harry Potter, famously, winds up the whole saga with a reunion of the families many years later, sending their children off to Hogwarts. This is a very satisfactory way to quickly revisit our heroes, whom we had grown quite attached to, and say goodbye, while glimpsing their happy-ever-after.
Not every book needs a happy ever after, but don’t sneer at it. Life shouldn’t be bitterness to the dregs, after all. And we do condition our brains with what we read and look at, perhaps not to a great extent, but it is true that if you smile, you will begin to feel happy, even if you didn’t start out that way. So take your reader away from the humdrum and mundane for a bit, and remember, leave them smiling in afterglow.