Some people say the ending is the most important part of a story. I’m inclined to agree. Mess up the ending, and your reader will feel cheated. Like they’ve wasted their time. The greatest premise in the world won’t mean squat if you can’t stick the landing.
I’ve experienced this personally. Remember the game series Mass Effect? I invested hundreds of hours in that game and was so excited when the final installment hit shelves. But, in the end- SPOILER ALERT– your character just dies. It’s sold as a sacrifice for some higher purpose, but it didn’t feel that way. After all that time and emotional investment it felt like, well…
It felt like a kick in the balls.
Now, I can’t help you write the perfect ending, but I can help steer you away from some of the cliffs. With that said, here are a few things that will help you craft a great ending.
Start with the End in Mind
There are two kinds of writers: Plotters and Pantsers. Pantsers write stories “by the seat of their pants” without plotting or outlining. And plotters write stories with good endings… Okay, that’s not quite fair. There are some very successful pantsers out there like Stephen King and Margaret Atwood.
But, I’m sure as hell not as talented as they are, so I have to plot.
If you’re a great pantser I envy your natural talent. But, if you’re like me, you should outline your story before you start. Having an ending in mind will keep your writing focused.
The ending and plot points may change along the way, and that’s fine. But a good outline is like a roadmap. You might not need it, but it’s sure nice to have when you’re lost!
At the end of your story does your hero out-ski his rival, win the girl and live happily ever after? Or worse, does he wake up and realize that it was all a dream? Then you’ve got a problem, my friend. But, don’t worry your not some unimaginative dolt. You just need some inspiration.
Cliched writing usually means you haven’t done enough research. But how do you research for a fictional story? Start by reading non-fiction. After all, the best stories are rooted in reality.
Writing a police procedural? A perfect ending could be in the pages of your local police blotter. Working on a story about time travel? Then it’s time to read up on black holes, quantum physics, and maybe a little history.
Go Back to the Beginning
Matthew McConaughey once said that “life is a flat circle.” Well, so are the best stories. Good endings will often take the reader back to where the story began. They tie everything up with a nice bow.
Take Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Our adventure begins in The Shire. Over the next three movies, we travel across Middle Earth, defeat Sauron, and destroy the One Ring. But in the end, we’re right back at The Shire where we started.
Or how about Citizen Kane, one of the greatest films of all time. We start with the cryptic whisper of a dying man- “Rosebud.” We don’t discover the meaning of “Rosebud,” until the movie’s final frame- a huge emotional payoff. Connecting your story’s ending to it’s beginning will give your reader a satisfying sense of closure.
Keep it Tight
The final act of your story is not the place to introduce new characters, plot threads, or information. The final act is about ending your story, so wrap up those plots, and kill those characters.
Okay, you don’t have to kill all your characters. But remember final acts are like group therapy. They’re about one thing- resolving the conflict. New information will get in the way of that sweet, sweet resolution.
Let the Hero Take the Wheel
The final act of the story is about your protagonist finally taking charge of her situation. She may have been lost in the first act. Friends may have saved her butt in the second act, but by the third act, she needs to be kicking ass and taking names (but make it too easy for her). Point is, she should be the one doing the saving!
Your hero should take the lead in the final act. Which brings me to my final tip…
Throughout a story, protagonists should transform into new, better versions of themselves. It’s not enough that they conquer the Big Bad. They should also prove that they’ve earned their victory. So while they’re vanquishing that diabolical villain they should also defeat their inner demons as well!
Okay, there are a few tips to help you write a perfect ending. Remember, the ending is the most important part of your story. Don’t screw it up. Otherwise, you’ve wasted everyone’s time. Don’t do that!
So, uh… That’s pretty much it.