Monday, June 13, 2011

Ending Your Novel

In Louis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the King says to the White Rabbit: “Begin at the beginning and go till you come to the end; then stop.”

Great advice! 

But where’s the end? 

One snippet of advice I once read is ‘Figure out the end before you write the beginning.’

I’ve read romance novels where the hero and heroine get together and all seems fine and lovely, until you start wondering, ‘Hey, what happened about the conflict over – whatever?  Did they ever resolve that?”

At the other extreme is the novel where the hero and heroine resolve their differences and get together in the penultimate chapter (or even the 3rd chapter from the end) and the rest is a downward spiral as all the other issues are explained, or we find out their wedding plans, or – yawn, yawn!

My view is that the final chapter should begin with the reader wondering how on EARTH is this novel going to have a happy ending?  How are those two ever going to get together? 

That last chapter is as important, if not more important, than the first.  If you get the H/h together too soon, the rest can be redundant, even boring.  Resolve the probems and conflicts, and stop there!  Maybe you have to surprise the reader but you must also satisfy them with an ending that isn’t contrived or, worse still, coincidental.  The loose ends should be tied up before you bring the H/h back together, otherwise you’ll have an anti-climactic ending. 

The aim is to stop on a high, not a long drawn-out low.

Another cliché, but it works here –‘End with a bang, not a whimper.’


  1. You are so right, Paula!
    For me, at my journeyman stage of craftsmanship, the promise of a satisfying ending comes from plotting my story arc. Following Larry Brooks' four-act structure plan, I use the first and second plot points like towers of a suspension bridge, and make sure my first and last acts are supported by my midpoint plot twists.

  2. I want a satisfying ending. One that says, "Of course, they couldn't end up any other way!" One that provides closure to all the emotions the story has created. While I don't have a requirement for a specific number of chapters, I think the author should try to resolve the issues as efficiently as possible so as not to drag things on forever and weaken the ending.

  3. I love surprise endings that end a book with a bang and yet is satisfying. I always have to know how my book will end, maybe not the exact scene, but close to it.

  4. Hi,

    Because I like reading and writing mainstream romances, I don't follow the ethos of category romances in which set scenarios are 1-2-3 re conflict, obstacles and couple not getting it together until the last possible moment: driving off into the sunset type HEAs.

    I quite like it when couples get it together 3rd/2nd from last chapter, though do expect excitement/thrill factor not a downward spiral leading to the end! There's huge scope within this latter time frame for extra conclusions, and for expanding other elements of the relationship that wouldn't otherwise be known and merely assumed by an astute reader!

    In two of my novels the MC is pregnant. In the historical it's inevitable! In the Modern romance it's a downright ruddy heat-of-the-moment mishap. And, I always think I owe it to a reader to know what the baby is before winding up the novel. It's been said by others that two scenes in separate novels involving baby and parents are incredibly sensual and sexy! Who could wish for better than that?

  5. I'm signed in on the Dashboard, and can make 'signed in' comments on other blogs, bot not here for some crazy reason! So will do a 'non-signed-in' reply.

    Ana - you lost me! I just write the story and let the plot twists take care of themselves LOL

    Jennifer - agree the ending has to be satisfying, but everyone reading a romance novel expects the HEA ending. It's the writer's job to keep them in suspense (and to keep them reading!), wondering how on earth the H/h are going to resolve their problems/conflicts to reach the HEA stage. That stage is only satisfying if the problems are resolved convincingly and not 'conveniently' IMO.

    Kathi - I love the element of surprise too, when despite all the odds stacked against them, the H/h beat those odds.

    Francine - I hate the scenario of couple not getting together at all until the end - the 'I hate you, I hate you - oh, I love you' kind of thing. I prefer the development of a loving relationship which is then thrown into turmoil by some internal or external conflict, so that the H/h have to work hard to get themselves through it or past it. Sometimes it works to have this happening before the last chapter but, in the instances of this that I have read, the remaining chapters have dragged the whole thing down so that the ending is a foregone conclusion.

  6. Ending with a bang is important. I've read so many books (including a recent one) that I've enjoyed a lot most of the way through, but when I get to the end I say, "That's it?!!"

    I want the ending to be as emotionally satisfying as the rest of the story. And while all of the loose ends of the story (conflicts, subplots, etc.) need to be tied off and resolved, a lot of story after the HEA does feel a bit yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

    I do tend to write the ending before finishing the rest of the book sometimes, but I agree, it's then so important to go back and make sure anything written makes sense with everything else you've added in the middle of the book.

    And I do like the intensity of wondering how on earth this couple is going to make it to the HEA. I mean, in a romance we know that's what's going to happen, so being able to make a reader think it's going to be impossible is the mark of a truly talented author.

    And I do like to see the relationship develop, not just jump from hatred to love in a few short pages.

  7. This was an interesting article and timely for me as I'd just finished reading 'His Leading Lady' and was caught a bit off guard as to how quickly it was over. As I've been thinking about why I thought this way, I realized I've been reading mostly fanfic and in those cases the stories are about what happens AFTER the couple, who generally are ones that have been dancing around each other in the TV series or movie, but never gotten together, deal with life together. So fanfic is more like the sequel to a Romance Novel.

  8. Interesting views. I agree, I hate long drawn out endings. I much prefer the 'how in the world will they resolve this?' story that then ends with the climax. Figure out all the minor conflicts ahead of time.

  9. Debra, I am currently at the point you describe - struggling with the last chapter, and knowing I will have to go back and change some things in the middle of the book. It doesn't help that I changed my mind about the identity of the antagonist half way through writing it!

  10. Good point about fanfic, Adrienne. It's a whole different process, I think. A romance novel has a beginning, middle and end, whereas fanfic is often an ongoing saga.

  11. Edna - completely agree about figuring out (and fixing) the minor conflicts before the climax.

    Also - thanks for becoming our 100th follower!