This post is the twenty-seventh in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.
Every story must end. At some point after your story’s climax, your characters will return to their regular lives. Before that there may be some fallout from the climax as the consequences of your character’s choices are played out.
But knowing exactly where to stop your story and what you want the last words to be are not always easy. Here are some tips to ending your novel.
- Ensure the ending makes sense. Don’t cheat and suddenly have everything work out fine. Your ending doesn’t have to be happy (unless you are writing a romance novel in which case there often is a Happily Ever After). The ending does have to fit appropriately to the rest of the story. The reader will feel robbed or tricked with anything that doesn’t make sense.
- Don’t be predictable. Even with a HEA ending, you don’t have to be predictable. There should be more than one possible ending for a book. Try to keep your reader guessing what will happen up until the end. (But re-read the point above. Twists in the plot are fine, as long as they make sense and aren’t simply tricks.)
- Ensure that you do wrap up any loose ends or subplots to your story. Every question you placed in your reader’s mind should be addressed even if the answer is to say the character will address it later (after the book ends).
- Don’t introduce new characters or subplots at the end – even if you are writing a trilogy or series. Any appearances toward the end of the book need to have been foreshadowed, referenced or already in play.
- If possible, you can link your final words to events in your opener as a tie-back, or you can create a feeling that your final words hearken to an earlier moment in the story.
Deciding how to end your book and what the final words on the page will be can be a daunting task. The bottom line is that the ending of your book is what the reader is going to remember. Yes, the opening scene must draw them in but a satisfying ending is going to be what gets you that good review or word of mouth recommendation.
If you have loose ends to tie up that don’t fit into the last chapter, you might consider an epilogue.
Romance novels often include an epilogue of what happened to the characters at a later point in their lives, whether it is several months, a year or perhaps even a number of years later.
Epilogues are NOT final chapters. They are meant to cap off the story, giving it the final piece of finality. Here are some reasons for an epilogue.
- Provide closure – This is where you can add some details that might have diluted the climax if they had been included in the body of the novel. This might be especially true if a major character dies or when the fate of the characters is not clearly depicted.
- Gives us the happily ever after – This is where you find out what happened to the main characters sometime down the road. This is where you might read of the wedding or the birth of a baby in a romance novel. Or you find out what happened to Harry Potter and his friends nineteen years down the road.
- Set up a sequel – If your story is over, but you can’t just let go of these characters, perhaps you will write another book. You can close the first book out in the final chapter and then use the epilogue to pique reader’s interest in the next episode.
Should you write an epilogue? Only you, the author, can decide that. But generally, the answer is no book needs an epilogue. If the information is crucial to the story, then include it in the actual story.