All The Write Stuff: Beginning Your Endings

As the year comes to a close, some of you may also be considering how to close your stories. Whether you’re writing prose or poetry, short or long, fiction or nonfiction, these resources might help you end your piece.

There’s no tried-and-true trick to ending your piece; many authors find conclusions to be the most difficult part of writing. Below, I’ve listed a number of common conclusion techniques that might help you brainstorm a suitable ending.

WRITE A FULL-CIRCLE ENDING

This technique is especially common on comedy specials and late-night news. The comedian will bounce from story to story until their ending, at which point they’ll tie their final story to a point that had been raised in a previous story.

This style appears in other genres, as well; for example, some poetic forms like the villanelle have a full-circle ending built in to the form. The trick here is that rather than repeat the same line with the same meaning, you want your audience to experience the same line with a new meaning by creating a shift in the previous lines.

In prose, a full-circle ending might replicate the comedic use, returning to a former bit to pack a punch. It might also echo poetic form by ending with a repetition that has been given new meaning. Prose writers might also use this ending to conclude a frame story or back story, returning to the overarching narrative and providing some sense of conclusion for those characters.

WRITE A MORALISTIC ENDING

This may be one of the oldest techniques, which may be why it’s tricky to pull off today. Many oral fables and fairy tales would end with a clear statement of the moral the storyteller wanted the audience to get from the story. Maybe it fits your story to build on that tradition—or, maybe it fits your story to twist and revert that tradition.

Consider what understanding you want your audience to reach from your work. Has a character or speaker reached similar conclusions by the end, or are their conclusions and sentiments the opposite of your audience’s?

This style of moralistic/summary ending has been successfully adapted to a number of memoirs, including Jasmin Darznik’s The Good Daughter, which concludes:

“Where there is too much distance and too many leave-takings, there are no returns, or none in which we can fully believe. Still, one love always entangles itself in another, grows unrecognizable, and survives.” (324)

WRITE A FORWARD-LOOKING ENDING

This is used commonly in journalism. When your story has reached its conclusion, hint at what your characters or speaker might do next. This could be anything from the happily-ever-after big life decision like marriage to the ordinary day-to-day task like grocery shopping.

For readers, alluding to the continuance of the character’s life—whether changed or not—only takes a picture of them moving (or struggling to move) past the events of the novel. You certainly don’t need to cram the next twenty-odd years of their lives into the final pages, unless you want to give your readers whiplash.

WRITE A SURPRISE ENDING

Does your story rest on a great twist? Would a revelation make the perfect ending in itself? If you’ve been building suspense on an unanswered question throughout your novel, your readers are going to expect strong delivery. Just make sure that if you opt for this conclusion, you use the right amount foreshadowing. Too much and your story is predictable. Too little, and you’ve slapped on a cheap ending.

As you consider your conclusion, be sure to steer clear of clichés. Try to avoid the “it was all a dream” or deus-ex-machina ending formats. I’d also stay away from vague conclusions—that’s the sort of ending that feels like the author just shrugged on the page. Unless you have a spectacular reason for that ending that audiences will understand, these are seen as lazy endings.

You want to leave your reader with enough substance to chew on for hours after they close your book. You want that ending to haunt them at reminiscent moments years later. You want your last sentence to make contact—to either kiss the reader or slap them in the face.

If you’d like to learn more about beginning your ending, I’ve compiled craft and inspirational resources below. 

For more information on the craft of writing endings, check out:

How to Write Your Best Story Ever by Christopher Edge The Art of Death by Edwidge Danticat Beginnings Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress


For stories with endings that might inspire your own ending, check out:

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery OConnor Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar Wade in the Water by Tracy K Smith Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan The Kite Runner by Kahled Hosseini Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link