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 close your 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 them. (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 way to close your book if you’re writing a standalone or the 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, the second of which I suppose could also be considered a cliffhanger. If you’re looking to not close your book, this is ending for you.
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. Don’t use this at the end of a standalone, and 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 you close your book with a tragic ending, however, make sure there’s some glimmer of hope, otherwise you’ll leave readers with a bitter taste in their mouth. Be tragic, wrench at their heartstrings, but 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. 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?