A part of me has always known that writing endings is one of my weaknesses. However, it wasn’t until reading this Writer’s Digest article that it hit home. In tip two, Audrey Wick tells us not to submit stories with “to be continued” endings.
That phrase gave me a strong visual that summed up my issue perfectly. That is exactly how I write. I write as if my story will be continued in another story or in the reader’s head.
We see this in Netflix series. We expect each episode to be like a chapter in a book. It may have its own arc, but it’s not independent of the whole. And even at the end of the season, we don’t expect every question to be answered–unless it’s the final season.
I think I’m being clever by leaving my stories open-ended, but what I’m really doing is leaving them confused and unsatisfied. And honestly, I hate reading stories like this. It may work in TV, but not short stories or novels.
I’m sure I’m not alone in writing endings like. So what can we do about it?
Answer the questions
During the course of your story, you will create questions like will they find the treasure or will they find the box hidden in the attic. Some questions are big plot points and some subplots. A story doesn’t feel complete if these questions aren’t answered. I’d strive for answering all of the big ones and the majority of the subplots, if not all of them. Don’t leave your readers feeling like Netflix viewers when their favorite show is canceled after two seasons. Write your stories as an individual, complete unit.
End the journey
Some stories are about a journey from one place to another. For example, your story may follow a character who packs up their car and drives cross country for a big move. Once the journey is complete, the story is over. But there may be more than one journey going on. It could be physical and mental. Your character may need to learn something in order to be happy at the new location. Close all journey loops.
Don’t be vague
Yes, I know there are some wonderful stories written with ambiguous endings. Every writing rule can be broken. However, most stories land better with your audience if they understand what’s going on. Use specific language to paint the picture. Give your reader a clear understanding of the choices your characters make and the consequences they have to deal with. We should know what has happened up to the ending and be able to guess what that future is.
Introduce new questions
Even if you want to continue your story in a duology or trilogy, you need to answer the questions brought up in the story to make it feel complete. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t leave your reader with minor questions. For example, your character finally escapes the situation, but their world is forever changed. This brings up new questions like how will she navigate this new world. I suggest you stay clear of cliffhanger level questions though. Think of it as leaving a spark or a hint, not a hole.
Ask beta readers
I love beta readers. They are the best. Ask them what worked and what didn’t. What part of the story would they have quit reading? Did they feel satisfied with the ending? What did they feel was unanswered? What parts did they not understand?
Writing endings is especially hard because we spend so much time on the beginning. We want to hook our readers so we need to get the opening just right. If they don’t keep reading, the ending is pointless. But, if they read to the end and aren’t satisfied, the whole thing is pointless.
We need to write the endings with the reader in mind. And put the same amount of effort we did for the opening into writing the ending.