Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WRAPPING UP: Final Lines

Thanks to everyone who played the Continue This Story game last week! It was fun. If you missed it or still want to comment/play, click HERE.

Two weeks ago I posted about the importance of having a hook or intriguing beginning as the first line of a novel. But what about the ENDING of your story? This line (or lines) is also important. It is the last thing a reader reads, and will be what stays in his/her mind--or not--after the book has been put down. And if an ending is satisfying, a reader is more likely to pick up other books by the same author. The best end lines leave people with a sense of satisfaction, and sometimes even smiles on their faces.

So it's crucial to have an ending that satisfies and feels complete.

How do we as writers obtain this satisfying ending? Here are some ideas:

1. A satisfying and complete ending doesn't necessarily mean everything ends happily.
2. An ending needs to tie up loose plot threads--without over-explaining.
3. Even with the first book in a series, the plot should be/feel tidied up and complete.
4. The rhythm and wording of a book's final lines sound different. Readers should not turn the page and be surprised they've already reached the end of the book.
5. Try not to wax too poetical at the end, or give a lot of lush description. It's not a good time for readers to tune out and have their eyes glaze over.
6. Don't moralize or give in to the urge to insert your opinion about the story.
7. Avoid cliché endings: riding off into the sunset, sweeping into a passionate kiss, etc.
8. End on a tone that is consistent with your genre/story; stay dark, lighthearted, etc.
9. Your character should change by the end; they must grow from their journey.
10. Don't be longwinded, and don't go on and on after everything is settled.
11. Be sure your ending sentence is memorable, not trite or blah.
12. Beware of ending on a passive or weak note by using weak verbs, structures, or ideas.
13. Ask your critique buddies if your ending lines are satisfying and sound complete.
14. A lot of times the ending line is set apart by itself, having its own paragraph.
15. Be aware that some genres typically end a certain way: romances almost always end happily, dystopian or sci-fi novels typically end not-quite-so-happily.

1. Chapter ending lines also sound different and more "final" in rhythm and wording.
2. Chapter endings should make people turn pages and stay up late to keep reading.
3. Most of your chapters should end mid-action or mid-scene rather than on a restful note at the end of the character's day, or when things have been wrapped up.
4. Not ALL chapters have to end on a gripping page-turner note; variety is good.
5. A "page-turner" moment doesn't have to be earthshaking, but it should contain enough tension, conflict, and interest for the reader to be curious about what happens next.

What is your favorite ending line from a book?
Which do you think is more important: a strong beginning line or a strong ending line?
Are you a fan of happy endings--do the books you read have to end happily for you to like them totally?


  1. I think if a reader will stay with you, the ending line/s need to be powerful, then they'll shout from the roof top how great it was. Not to downplay first lines, some readers won't read past that if the hook isn't good. I'm a give an author more than one page chance. :)

    Great tips!

  2. Great post Carol! I esopecially love your tips on chapter endings. Many writers concentrate on beginnings and endings and chapters are often overlooked, I think. But they shouldn't be as they should be tempting the reader to read on!

  3. Endings are important. It's awful when you're reading and turn the page, thinking there is more when the story has ended. Ugh.

    I'm not sure which is more important in a novel, beginnings or endings, but I think endings need to be inevitable and satisfying, which, for me, makes them a teeny bit easier to write.

  4. That "continue the story" was fun last week.

    I think endings are important. It must be satisfying, or I'm very disappointed.

    You gave some great tips.

  5. I like a fair ending. As in, not a cheating ending. But a fair tie up of things. Believable within that world.

    Happy Writing & Boogie Boogie.

  6. Oh, man. I love happy endings. If they aren't satisfying, I stew about it for days. :P Don't even get me started on the third Hunger Games book...

  7. Hi, Carol,

    I loved this post. So many times ending are wishy-washy and you want to KILL the author, publisher, or both!

    These are some GREAT suggestions. I couldn't agree more.

  8. I love endings, especially if by the time you reach the end of your novel you've grown so attached to your characters they break your heart. I'm a big fan of happy endings. Seriously, if the book ends bad it just ruins the whole story for me.

    I'll be gone for the rest of the year, so Merry Christmas. :)

  9. I too, am a fan of happy endings. However, if the ending is sad - for noble reasons, then the inspirational factor trumps a happy ending every time!

  10. I adore intelligent endings. Henry James is one who always leaves me satisfied with his endings, be they happy or sad (bittersweet, usually). Imaginary Girls had a beautifully written ending. As a reader, I don't need resolution as much as I need clarity - a moment of understanding or purpose. Never Let Me Go was another where the final paragraph brought the whole book together for me.

  11. I do like a happy ending but I like best the sort of ending where you think, yes, that's exactly how it should end. And sometimes that isn't happy.

  12. Great tips. thanks Carol.


  13. I love happy endings, but I guess they don't all have to be happy as long as they are satisfying. As for lines, I think beginning one liners are more important, but it's equally important to have a good ending (it just doesn't have to be a brilliant last line imo).

  14. Those are great tips. I think good beginnings and good endings are equally important. The first hooks you into wanting to read the book. The second can interest you in reading more works by the author, because you finish with a good feeling. This is especially true for writers who are planning sequels.

    -Sherry Ellis

  15. What a great compilation! And I think both are necessary. You want to hook the reader in, and you want to reel them to read your next one.

  16. So many great recs here that I agree with Carol. You are a treasure for writers!

  17. I agree that an ending has to be satisfying, though satisfying doesn't necessarily mean happy either. I want the story questions resolved. I'm not a fan of rushed endings either.

  18. If the author does not wrap up the ending well, the book feels ruined, to me. If I struggled to enjoy the book, but the ending is awesome - then the book feels saved. Endings need to be amazing, and have a ray of hope or direction in order for me to be satisfied. Does that make me hard to please?

  19. I'm going to bookmark this post. I always struggle to hit the right note on the closings to my stories. :-)

  20. This is so appropriate as I just finished Unearthly with a very unsatisfying ending - trying to figure out why. It wasn't a cliffhanger (those also bug me) it was just confusing. Some really good points here about varying the ending of chapters and keeping the tone of the ending but changing the rhythm!

  21. I don't have to have a happy ending. I've read books that have sad endings and I've enjoyed them lots. I may be irritated by an ambiguous ending, though.

    Great list. Sometimes I struggle with endings, so I needed this.

  22. Ooh, those are some great tips.

    Writing that story was lots of fun!

  23. "Well, I'm back" from LOTR is one of my favorites. :)

    I think that a strong ending line is the most important. By the time I've come to the end of a book the thing I'll remember is how it finished--not the first sentence of how it started.

  24. Oooh, this may sound bad, but I can't remember an exact ending line. More of just the feeling I got. I love it when a book ends and my jaw is hanging open. Awesome.

  25. I think they're both equally important, but what keeps me turning pages is definitely the end of the chapter. Dan Brown is a master at this... with each of his books I'd stay up half the night reading when I should've been sleeping!

  26. Such great and important points, Carol! I think it's necessary to hook your audience in the beginning, but it's absolutely critical to end strong because you'll be leaving the reader with a good impression. I actually like sad endings sometimes because I feel that they're more thought-provoking - but I never say no to a happy one! :)

  27. I always want to end on a larger cliffhanger than previous chapters. (Too much TV influence there) Fortunately my editor keeps me in line.

  28. I agree with Eagle! Love Sam's line [g]

  29. Hey Carol!! I love that your posts are always helpful! And this is a nice list to have beside you and check if your ending is good or you need to change something! Thanks!

    Also, thanks for stopping by my blog the other day! It was nice seeing you there. And yes! I'm still jumping up and down! lol

  30. I don't have to have a happy ending, but I want a conclusion...even if it is the first book in a series.

    Call me old fashioned, but I really like cliff hangers at the end of a chapter.

  31. Good tips! I prefer a happy ending mixed with a little intrigue or teasers for storylines that will continue in the next book.

  32. The trick for me seems to be finding a perfect line BEFORE I get to the part where I tie things up. If I find a perfect line, then it sort of zooms in and is satisfying. if I don't, then I tend to ramble and overdo it. My best ending ever though, will probably always be one of the fan fictions I wront--the second long work I evern finished. "So spank me." So perfect. I will never match it.

  33. Excellent tips. Endings are the most difficult for me. I think it's the finality aspect you mentioned that freaks me out. Since they're the last words read, they've got to be more than just good. All my favorite books have endings that stick with me long after I've finished the book.

  34. I like resolution in an ending . . .happy is nice, but resolution is key. One of my favorite ending paragrapsh of a book series is the last bit of C.S. Lewis' "THE LAST BATTLE".

  35. I agree with all of your ending tips. I see it often with movies where a truly good film is ruined because the ending just falls apart. Like they've spent themselves on all their unique ideas and now 'let's just wrap this up, pull a cliche out of the hat and end this puppy.'. Honestly, I think writing a very good ending, one that is not too obvious and definitely not cliche, is the hardest part to do well. And it's where I see the most flaws.

    Also, I agree, each chapter must have its own arc.

    Happy Holidays, Carol!

  36. My favourite ending line is from Children of Dune by Frank Herbert (sci fi):

    "One of us had to accept the agony," she said, "and he was always the stronger."

  37. Like all your tips except the one about ending a chapter in the middle of a scene. Of course, it works to get the reader to turn the page, but, for me, it's a cheap trick. There are far better ways to get the reader to turn the page.

    Loved the tip about last lines in chapters, however, i.e., they should be strong. Same goes for scene endings.

    The endings of things are Points of Stress - too many writers don't milk their Points of Stress for all they're worth.


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