Just as we learned about the requirements of a good opening chapter, there are also some specifics to know about the ending chapter.
You have taken your readers on a journey through the lives of the characters, many of whom they’ve come to love. The “goodbye” moment is near, but before they depart, the reader must be given a sense of closure that comes from a well-written ending.
All characters, including the supporting characters, must have every question, situation, and conflict resolved in one way or another. Keep in mind that it’s not always rational for every story to have a happy ending. Perhaps the characters are in a place of acceptance instead of happiness.
An ending can be as diverse as the story itself. One thing to remember is that today’s sophisticated readers require more realism in an ending than they used to. If your book is the first in a line of sequels, it is advisable to make sure the ending of the first book doesn’t leave the story line open. It should be just as satisfying to the reader who may never pick up another of your books again.
The same thing goes for subsequent sequels. Book two should be written in such a way that if a reader never reads the first or third book in the series, they will still be satisfied with the ending.
Nothing infuriates readers, myself included, more than a story that has no real ending, thereby “forcing” the reader to buy the sequel, which may or may not be available for a year or more, in order to find out if the main character is okay.
I read a historical book by a well-known Christian author that had a powerful plotline, and the intensity only grew as the end drew nearer. I literally stumbled over the words in my eagerness to find out how the problem of two babies being switched by their mothers was resolved. Then the book ended with each family holding on to the wrong baby, and they had no way of finding their real infant.
I was angry with the author for doing that to me. She literally was forcing me to make another purchase in order to find out if the situation was ever resolved. This was wrong on many levels. I had to wait another year before the next book was released. I did buy the sequel, but I did it grudgingly, harboring anger at the fact that I had to buy another book to find out the ending to the first story. I’ve never bought another book by that author again. In fact, I haven’t finished reading that series.
Note: Books in a series should all follow one style consistently.
In 2010 I edited a fiction book by a lady who was a ministerial speaker to women. She’d published several books before, but this was her first work of fiction. The premise was that a young woman decided it was time for her to get back to her Christian roots and start attending church again. She visits seven churches, each for two weeks at a time, to decide which would become her new home church.
The author used examples of how sin has seeped into our churches today, and in each church the character attended, the people were engaged in certain sins or the church as a whole had become greedy. By the end of the book, the character had not only rededicated her life to the Lord, but her brother had also.
When her search was over, the main character and her brother, along with a few of their closest friends, sat around a table at a restaurant one evening. The main character announced that she had made her choice of which of the seven churches she’d join.
Her brother tells her he’d go with her to whatever church she decides on because he learned that no church is perfect.
That’s it. The end.
As a reader, I felt cheated. I had invested all this time in this character’s life, and I’d gone to all these churches with her, and now I am not allowed to know which church she attended? Give me a break! Yes, I was the editor, but you’ll be surprised at how entrenched even your editor can become in many of these stories.
I strongly urged her to let the character announce which church she decided on, but the author refused. Her purpose for this book was not to give a nice read, but to make people think about and identify their own sins and how it affects newcomers to their churches.
She succeeded, and today many women’s ministries in churches on the east coast where she lives are using this book as a teaching aid.
Yes, there are times when people will die at the end as in the movie My Life.
Some will be faced with a decision; and you won’t know what that decision is, as in the movie Cast Away.
Some will come to a realization, but it will be too late and they lose what it is they treasure most, as in Gone with the Wind.
But in each of these situations, the main character is okay. They’re fine and in a good place in their life, and they are ready to move on toward their next goal. The ending is still satisfying, even in the face of tragedy.
Remember that if you enjoyed reading a book, you’ll tell three people. If you thought the ending stunk, you’ll tell ten. So in order to give your book a good chance at longevity on the bookstore shelves, make sure the ending is satisfying to your readers. They’ll thank you by becoming loyal to you as an author.