We all know the feeling of loss when we finish a good book (or the sigh of relief when we finish a bad one), but what are some ways that we as authors can end our own books? Here are five possible ways to end a book.
1. The Happy Ending
The guy gets the girl, the villain is vanquished, all is right with the world, the sky is filled with sunshine and rainbows, “and they all lived happily ever after.” Probably a lot of people will tell you this is their favorite kind of ending. While I like reading a happy ending, I’m terrible at writing one. (You have been warned.) These are the endings that leave the reader with a warm fuzzy feeling and a smile on their face, and they’re likely to expect that this is your nice wrap up and there isn’t going to be more. (I mean, unless there’s a series behind it and they’re aware of that.) It’s a good ending for a standalone or conclusion to a series.
2. The Pyrrhic Victory
The victory that is tantamount to defeat. The good guys win, but they’ve lost a lot, whether it’s people they love, their home, they’ve been mortally wounded, whatever. They’ve won, but things aren’t looking good. Apologies to anyone who doesn’t like this ending, because I plan on writing it at least once in The Dark War Trilogy.
3. The Open Ending
My specialty, both because I stink at actually ending things and because I like to leave space for sequels and other connected stories. (My mom actually said as she was helping me edit short stories, “You don’t like ending your stories, do you?”) Three out of four of the short stories in my short story collection have open endings to one extent or another (and the fourth’s could be considered open if you wanted it to be). An open ending doesn’t really end the story, but leaves it open to more… story… in the future. Mine are sometimes mixed with the other ending types on this list. In the short story collection there’s a happy ending, a tragic ending (which we’ll talk about later), and two purely open endings (one sort of leads into The King’s Paladin and the other could about be a prequel to a full novel (but it won’t be. Don’t get your hopes up.)), the second of which I suppose could also be considered a cliffhanger.
4. The Cliffhanger
“Stephanie tripped and fell off the ledge, screaming as she fell toward the rocks and crashing waves below…” And the book ends. Tada! I use these for chapter endings more than actual book endings (partially because I don’t think I’ve written a series yet that goes in strict chronological order with each book starting directly after the other), but it can be a lot of fun. November 1st two years ago I was working on finishing House of Mages for NaNoWriMo and I intentionally ended every chapter I finished that day with a cliffhanger because I was copying them directly onto a document that Allegra was reading and it was her birthday. I think she got five cliffhangers in just one day. She hated me, but it was a ton of fun seeing her reaction. (I kind of cooled it after that, though. I’m not entirely mean to my readers.) Don’t use this at the end of a standalone, don’t do this at the end of a book in a series if you don’t plan on promptly answering it in the next book. Be intriguing and a bit mean, not cruel.
5. The Tragic Ending
And then everyone died. The end. This is where pretty much everyone dies, the world is a disaster, and the villain is probably locked away but he might have escaped or there might be the possibility of his escape. (Only use that second half if this is part of a series. Don’t truly end on quite that dark a note, please.) When writing a tragic ending, however, make sure there’s some glimmer of hope, otherwise your readers will be greatly disappointed and will send you nasty fanmail. (Okay, I sincerely hope they’re more tasteful than that, but you get the point.) Be tragic, wrench at their heartstrings, don’t break them and make them want to burn the book.
Bonus: The Unsatisfactory Ending
Where there are still loose ends, the plot didn’t make sense and you have way too many unanswered questions, but the series is over and the prequels give you no more information (if anything they give you more questions). Yes, that’s oddly specific, just don’t do this. These are the kinds of books that make me want to throw them at a wall, rip them up, and burn them, but they’re from the library so I have to just tolerate the atrocious writing and lack of answers. There are enough books like this. Don’t add to them.
What’s your favorite kind of ending? Your least favorite? What’s the best example you’ve seen of a great ending?