The way in which a novel ends is critical to its success
A satisfying end determines whether readers will go away and say to their friends, “I’ve just read this fantastic novel!”
I believe that a novel is defined by the way it ends. The theme becomes clear, and the focus of the story shines out.
So important is the end, that it can spoil an otherwise excellent novel
As a regular Amazon reviewer, I’ve read novels thinking, This is superb. I’m going to give this novel 5 stars. And then I’ve reached the end, and my potential review slips a star.
So how do fiction writers ensure their novels come to a satisfying conclusion?
A novel is an organic thing. Writers may set out on the journey with the goal of exploring what it is they want to say. The theme may be as yet unknown. Only by a satisfying end to the story will that theme reveal itself. Characters can take over and change their creators’ minds. A pre-determined end turns out to be totally inappropriate. A story may have its true conclusion earlier than you had envisaged. Or too many strands are tied up neatly. You need to backtrack, finish the story at an earlier point, leaving some questions still open in the mind of a reader.
A novel may have a closed or an open ending. The end may be happy, sad, bittersweet or ironical. But certainly the end is determined by the way in which the main protagonist has pursued that over-arching desire which is the spine of the story.
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself as you consider the end of your novel:
1) Is there a “deus ex machina” in your conclusion? Or has the ending evolved from the choices made by the main protagonist? Could this ending have occurred if the protagonist had not made those choices – the motivation for which you have developed throughout the novel, folding them through the plot in a skilful weaving of characterisation and action?
2) Have you answered too many questions and tied up too many loose ends?
3) Have you said more than you needed to? Have you failed to respect the intelligence of the reader?
4) Is your ending climactic? or could the reader have predicted it?
5) Has the outcome been foreshadowed? Could the reader say, ‘Oh yes, of course, this makes sense because…”
Take some great endings as an example.
John Fowles’ novel “The Collector” has a conclusion which penetrates the reader to the core, it is so chilling. And yet it has an organic relationship with the events of the novel and the development of the two characters.
Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece “The Lord of the Rings” is one that satisfies on many levels. One aspect of the ending which greatly satisfies me comes when Tolkien notes that the power of the Dark Lord is reduced and shrunk but not totally annihilated. It is still there, in a corner. It can be reawakened. I found this a profound recognition of the nature of evil in this world.
Finally, a very well-known happy ending is to be found in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. And yet we are still left with the fact that Mrs Bennett and Lydia and Wickham will all continue to be problems in the future. The problems they pose will be of a slightly different nature as a result of the events of this story – but they’ll still be there, because they are inextricably bound up with those characters.
Have you any examples of novels with endings you love? Or maybe you remember only too well those novels spoilt by an ending which failed to satisfy? Let me know what you think! Leave a comment and tell me about the novels which delivered all they promised, and those who let you down with their endings!