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The end is near: How does yours measure up?

What do you want your readers to feel after turning the last page of your novel or memoir? I’ve been thinking about endings because I’m revising my memoir and want to make sure it measures up. Here’s what I’m using as my guide to create a satisfying conclusion.

A good ending:

Echoes or answers questions or ideas raised in the beginning. Every story is essentially a mystery that must be solved. Readers want to know that they will find the answer to the dramatic story questions by the time they reach the last page, even if the answers aren’t neat and tidy. City of Thieves: A Novel by David Benioff is one of my favorite books for the way the ending ties back to the beginning.

Shows growth and change. Readers will feel let down if the characters don’t experience some sort of emotional transformation by the end of the novel. Good stories require conflict, which requires change. A fulfilling end carries the thread of emotion through to the end.

Ties off the threads of each plot and subplot. A friend and I recently watched a TV show in which a couple bad guys kidnapped another character to try to get some information out of him. Not only was this guy kidnapped, he was beaten up and tied to a chair. The story progressed, but at the end of the hour-long show, no mention was made or action taken to rescue or find this character. The rest of the story was resolved except for this. It was as if time ran out. I looked at my friend and we both said at the same time, “but what about the guy who’s tied up and bleeding?” It was very unsettling.

Fits but isn’t predictable. A good ending should make sense, feel logical, but not be a cliché. As you’ve progressed through your story, you will have set the foundation with scenes, planted imagery, and offered clues that lead to an inevitable conclusion.

Ends when the time is right. In the interest of good pacing, make sure to end the story when it has been fully told and imagined. You won’t have a satisfying ending if readers feel something is missing.

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