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3 Important Rules for Writing Endings

This post is by JB Lacaden, a reg­u­lar reader of The Write Practice. If you haven’t already, you’ll definitely want to check out his blog, JB Learns to Write, and follow him on Twitter (@jblearnstowrite). Thanks for join­ing us today, JB!

Trying to start a short story or novel can be difficult, but providing a satisfying ending is just as hard, if not harder.

Recently, I submitted a flash fiction story hoping to get it published. Two days later, the editor replied telling me how much he liked how the story. Unfortunately, he said, the ending didn’t provide enough answers. “Make the end worthwhile”, he said in his last sentence, “and I’ll publish it.”

Riding into the Sunset The End

How many of you struggled in writing a satisfying end for your story? I know I did. After reading that email, I quickly edited my story. I revised and revised and created different versions on how the story ended. Eventually I came up with one that I found satisfying. This time, the story got accepted!

This experience taught me one thing: Writers have to finish strong.

Here’s how:

1. Respect your readers.

Your readers spend time and effort reading your words. The least you can do is respect them by providing an entertaining story—this means writing your best from beginning to end. In my flash fiction story, I got lazy. I haphazardly ended the story just to end it. Fortunately, for me I was given a second chance to correct that mistake. Don’t do the same.

2. Fill in all the holes.

Whenever you’re writing a novel, you want to make it as thrilling and as well-written as possible. You lay out the plots and subplots, and you provide readers with the dramatic questions that’ll keep them hooked.

But for each question you raise, you are tasked with the responsibility of providing an acceptable answer. No one wants to finish an Agatha Christie story without knowing who did it.

Unless you’re planning a sequel, don’t leave any questions hanging.

3. The end must be in line with the story.

Deus Ex Machina, or an ending that comes unexpectedly from out of nowhere, has to be the most frustrating type ending I could think of. Avoid this like the plague.

Your ending must be logical.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a ghost story where the protagonist finally faces off with the evil, supernatural entities haunting his or her little house? Then, in the middle of their fight scene, the Ghostbusters arrive. Doesn’t seem logical, does it?

Suddenly providing a quick out will only drive readers away.

One form of Deus Ex Machina I often see are dreams. You read the story from beginning to end only to find out that everything was just a dream. You just wasted your readers’ time. There are moments when the dream approach works but unless handled the right way, it will only pull your story down.

Don’t just throw in some random ending that will magically solve everything. Work. Don’t shortchange them.

Writing’s like baking a cake. A proper ending is waiting for the right time to take the cake out of the oven. If you become impatient and take it out too early and it may get ruined.

How do you try to end your stories? 

PRACTICE

It’s the night James finally faces off with the supernatural entities hunting his house. He’s prepared everything the carnie fortune teller had told him to prepare. How will you provide a satisfying end to James’ story?

Write for fifteen minutes, and post them in the comments.

About JB Lacaden

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  • http://twitter.com/pootlesuzie Suzie Gallagher

    thanks JB, it is in the tying of the knots the whole story holds together.

    • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

      Right Suzie. I believe it’s not just to provide an ending for the sake of ending, it’s to fully satisfy the readers

  • Mhoule56

    It’s also important not to drag the ending out too long. I’ve certainly read more than a few books where I’ve just wanted the writer to end the darn thing so I could move on to my next book.

    • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

      True. Some writers tend to produce subplot after subplot that the story gets too long and messy

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Meghan-Malcolm-Kenyon/820450092 Meghan Malcolm-Kenyon

    He exhaled a cold, trembling breath. He focused his eyes on the flickering candles in front of him that he had strategically placed in the attic earlier that day. The attic felt much different when it was bathed in darkness; the night that James would finally be free of all that haunted him was finally here.

    The witch-like voice of the haggard fortune-teller echoed through his mind, “Then, you wait.”

    After hours of waiting faithfully by the lit candles, the furiously growing feelings of doubt and the numbness in his body from the cool draft inclined James to give up for the night. He reached for his lantern and rose to his feet. A sudden crash from the corner of the attic sent him in a frantic run towards the wall, he pressed his back against it,and held his lantern out in front of him. Only being able to see a few feet in front of himself, he began to take raspy, fearful breaths. As he stood frozen to the wall, he thought to call out to whatever…or whoever…had made the noise but decided against the idea out of the fear that he may actually get a response.

    The creaking of footsteps began to trace back and forth across the attic floor. James’ heart beat so savagely that he silently prayed he’d have a heart attack before whatever was in the attic got to him.

    A harsh whisper cut through the dark, musty room, “You!” The creaking footsteps sped up and ran to the side of the attic opposite of where James leaned. James waited for a long time but heard nothing. He slowly lifted his lantern up higher in front of him, the light creeped across the floor and up the wall opposite from him revealing a face!

    James dropped the lantern and crashed down to the floor with it. The exposed flame hit the old, wooden floors and ignited immediately. Ignoring the small fire, he quickly crawled towards the ladder connecting to the lower level…his only chance at escape. A small, freezing hand grabbed his ankle and forcefully pulled him to the center of the room where the fire was slowly growing. The shadowy figure turned towards him, revealing it’s identity…He stared into the grey face of a woman with knotted black hair. Her pupils were not circled with colour, her cheeks had no hint of a healthy blush, and her lips were as grey as her pasty face. Her body was so skinny, every bone in her skeleton was revealed. Then he saw it. A u-shaped scar etched across her collarbone. His heart hammered against his ribcage. He knew this woman. Not only did he know her…he was the one who had killed her.

    —Fifteen minutes is up and I gotta run! But there’s the start of the twist ending :)

    • http://twitter.com/DisposableTea Bronson O’Quinn

      Hurry back! I wanna see the rest of this.

    • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

      Oh wow. Haha. I have to agree with Bronson’s comment. Hurry up! This story is good. Nice Meghan. :)

    • Yvette Carol

      Jeepers Meghan, that was one terrifying read :-)

  • http://twitter.com/DisposableTea Bronson O’Quinn

    This was tough, especially not making a deus ex machina without having info earlier int he story. I once read a screenwriting book that said if you foreshadow something, the audience will believe it no matter how crazy it might seem. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury, so I think I might have failed. Oh well! Practice is practice!
    —–

    James finished lighting candles and poured the salt around the chalk pentagram in his foyer. All he had to do was read the incantations Carny Kev had given him and the spirits invading his home couldn’t haunt him anymore.

    “S-s-spiritus, adep… adep…” It felt hotter than normal. Sweat rained onto the paper as he began to stutter. The stuttering made his heart pound and the beating intensified the stuttering. He’d spent so much time with speech therapists. Why did it have to come back?

    The hardwood floors around him cracked and red light shone through. The entire house started tearing itself apart as he spoke. Every room, wall, and corridor was shredding and falling apart. Every bit, except for the area inside the chalk circle.
    “Adepto nost-nost-nostrom, hic!” His diaphragm spasmed. He had the hiccups, too! It was just like show and tell in the fourth grade. Just like when he’d brought his pet frog and grew nervous in front of the class. It was why he’d moved after high school. The confident businessman he’d become was just an act. The past still haunted him.

    As the house chiseled away, a single pillar of red rock stood before James. Everything else was fire and the abyss. From miles away, a demon flew in with flaming wings and four hoofed feet. It perched itself on the pillar and started laughing at James. “Nolo hic! Te-te-te…” He could see those children in his mind’s eye. Their laughter turned his stomach.

    The demon’s laugh grew louder and stronger. Its power shook the platform James stood on. He could feel his balance shifting. “Te sunt mala daem—” He fell to the ground. The platform was slowly toppling sideways. The candles all flew below him into the fiery darkness. Did it matter anymore? Should he run away? Should he close his eyes and surrender? He struggled with every bit of strength to keep his grip on the platform. It was always easier to just let it go, put it in the back of his mind, and fall far away.

    The demon flew next to James, beating his wings as loud as the laughter. James closed his eyes. He remembered the teacher. Even the teacher laughed with the kids before quieting them down. The demon to his right was no match for all those faces, human faces, taunting and punishing a little boy for being a little boy. No match at all.

    Then he opened his eyes and stared at the demon. The hiccups were gone. So was his fear. “Daemones Vale!”

    The demon’s face twisted into a dark grimace and his fiery wings extinguished. It fell down into the abyss screaming and afraid of James.

    Once the demon disappeared completely out of view, James felt a jerk that spun him around. Suddenly, he was back in the foyer, sprawled across his pentagram. No cracked wood, no hellfire. He lay on his back and stared at the ceiling. He wasn’t afraid anymore.

    • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

      You’re right Bronson. It’s hard to provide an ending wIthout fully knowing what happened earlier in the story but you did it. I had fun reading your practice.
      Your ending provided me small glimpses of what the earlier parts of the story is all about. Nice writing. :)

    • Mhvest

      I don’t think you failed. I like this idea of a stutterer in a haunted house, and I really like the quick flashback. Well done!!!

    • Yvette Carol

      Bronson, you are a writer!

    • Bnnylc

      That was awesome!

  • Mhvest

    Jamie arranged the red candles in a line with the tallest one furthest west, in front of the picture window in the living room. He had already finished the pound cake that contained three pieces of sea glass from the north end of the beach. He was consulting his list, when –

    The gnarly, grisly, cursed haunting monster who had three fangs just under his warty upper lip, got ready to pay a visit to the third house on the odd number side of the street which should be also on the east side. He thought about that for a minute and stopped to consult his GPS, and –

    Jamie finished consulting the list and looked at the new welcome mat that he’d placed out front. The carney had told him to get a mat that had the colors of the four winds on it. When pressed to recount once again the colors of the winds, the carney, a an overworked and underpaid public servant had told Jamie “for the forth time Mr. Jamie the colors of the winds are west – white, east – rose, south – azure, north – gray (but black may be substituted if one cannot find gray).”

    Jamie looked again at the mat. He had not been able to find a welcome mat at Walmart with those exact colors, and since he was allowed to substitute black for gray, he figured he could also substitute shell pink for rose. He’d been in a hurry, and tired of the whole haunted, hexed sort of situation, and had therefore maybe taken a shortcut that he shouldn’t have. He stood at the door looking at the welcome mat with his chin in his hand and –

    The cursed, grisly, monster came up behind him and ate him in one gulp. It then burped and went inside and ate the cake, blew out the candles and headed upstairs looking for some dental floss to get James pinky finger out from between two of his three crooked front teeth. As it mounted the stairs the monster considered just what a blessing those almost correct Walmart welcome mats were for cursed haunting monsters like himself.

    • http://www.littlegirltravels.com/ Unisse Chua

      I like how there is a change between what Jamie is thinking and what the monster is thinking. It provides a bit of humor in it too, especially the monster going up to get Jamie’s little pinky out of the way.

      Really nice!

      • Mhvest

        Thanks Unisse

    • Yvette Carol

      Ha ha, nice twisted ending Marianne!

      • Mhvest

        Thanks Yvette Carol

    • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

      Reminds me of Christopher Moore’s writing. Haha. I love it.

      • Mhvest

        Thanks JB.

    • Bnnylc

      Haha I love it! What a surprise ending where the good guy gets killed and the bad ghost settles right into his house by eating the cake, blowing out the candles, and then going upstairs and flossing his three fang teeth. I laughed out loud when I read how the cursed grisly monster came up behind him (and I imagined the monster all casual about it) and ate him in one gulp.

  • http://www.littlegirltravels.com/ Unisse Chua

    James took a final look around his house, in and out. He wanted to make sure that he’ll see the ghost this time around. Having the ghost go rampant around the house has made him extra groggy at work and caused him to have a shaky relationship with his girl.

    “I have to get rid of this one…” He trailed off as he saw the lights started to flicker on and off.

    “Show yourself!” James demanded, but he was answered only by a creepy shrill giggle. The ghost was a lady, he’d known that already. The fortune teller had said that this particular ghost won’t leave until she’s satisfied – like most ghosts.

    The catch was he didn’t know how to help this ghost.

    A cold wind blew from behind which made James jump and turn. The windows were closed. How could there be wind inside the house?

    “Come out! I’m here to help.”

    Laughter filled the house. It was mocking him, he thought. A ghost mocking him. That made him angry and impulsive.

    “I can really help you cross to the next world. You see, the fortune teller told me that I should…”

    He stopped. A figure materialized right in front of his face, a really beautiful one at that. He was supposed to scream and be afraid but the face of the girl didn’t look scary but also oddly familiar.

    “You’re going to help me?”

    “Ye… yes.”

    “How?”

    He flustered and found the paper in his pocket. “Uh… The list says that I have to know who you are first before I can actually help you with whatever that’s keeping you here.”

    She laughed. “You don’t know who I am.”

    “Should I?”

    She paused for a while, thinking of an answer. “I guess not.”

    “So, who are you?”

    “An old friend.”

    “But I don’t know you.”

    “Yes, you don’t. But someone before you knew who I was. He’s not here. I left for a couple of years and came back to find out that he no longer lives here.”

    “Wait up. How long have you exactly been here?”

    She laughed, and man was she pretty. “Five years.”

    James cursed under his breath. He’s been living in this house for seven years, since his grandfather died. This house was left to him as an inheritance. “Who… Who was the man that you said knew you? What was his name?”

    “James Isaac Carter.” He cursed again. “When did you two meet?”

    “1965.”

    James let out a sigh. “The man you’re looking for is my grandfather. He’s been dead for the past seven years. He’s gone.”

    “I figured, after you said you didn’t know who I was. But it just feels strange to see his face standing right in front of me and even stranger to believe that he’s dead.”

    “I get that a lot.”

    She giggled. “Getting ghosts to say you’re their love?”

    “Ah, that. No. Everyone tells me I look like my grandfather.”

    “Yes. You do look very similar.” And then she smiled. My heart melted. My grandpa sure knows how to get a lady.

    “So will you go and meet him? Uh… In the next world or… Life. Or whatever place it is people go to when they die?”

    “I’m not sure I can go see him there. He has a place with someone else. But I will leave, James. Don’t worry. I’ll leave you in peace now that I know you’re not him, even though you talk and look like him.”

    “Right… thanks? I guess.”

    After that, she dematerialized. James never knew where she went but he knew she was no longer with him that night in his grandfather’s house.

    • Mhvest

      That’s funny but a little sad. I like how she’s a good looking ghost. I wonder if she’s related to James? I like how you start out with the ghost causing him concrete problems.

      • http://www.littlegirltravels.com/ Unisse Chua

        Haha! I was thinking more of not related. Because the grandfather had someone else already in heaven/afterlife with him. ;)

    • Yvette Carol

      I enjoyed that Unisse!

      • http://www.littlegirltravels.com/ Unisse Chua

        Thanks Yvette :)

    • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

      I like the dialogue between the ghost and James as well as James’ thoughts. It’s funny how he was scared one minute then almost in love the next. Nice job. :)

      • http://www.littlegirltravels.com/ Unisse Chua

        Thanks Jb:)

  • Yvette Carol

    Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    • http://jblearnstowrite.tumblr.com/ JB Lacaden

      Very, very true Yvette. Thanks for sharing this quote. :)

    • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

      I knew there was a reason I love Longfellow. Great advice!

  • Bnnylc

    The night was not unusual for late summer. The sounds of crickets chirping in their melodious unison wafted up on the faint breeze heavy with humidity and the scent of the swamp out back behind James lonely old house.

    The swamp, thought James bitterly and with a sudden surge of trepidation, that festering patch of wetland swarming with oh so much more than mosquitoes, bullfrogs and fat garden spiders flanking its parameter. In the looming silence that suddenly squelched the sounds of normalcy, James slowly reached forth one solid muscular arm. As he ran his fingers lightly over the quartz crystal sitting nonchalantly on the table in front of him, he remembered the gypsy’s dire words.

    “You must wait,” she spoke with a low voice roughed up by cigarettes and years of inhaling smoldering incense, “wait for them to come. Then, when they are upon you, and not a moment sooner, you light the fire. Use the flint and torch I will give you, for it has been dipped in dragon’s blood. ” Her massive loop earrings tinkled against the pearls dripping from her bronze neck as she lifted the box laden with the loot and her black eyes peered up from under heavily painted lids. “You must do this precisely at the moment they advance upon you, lead them to the crystal with the allure of fire, too soon they will be frightened away, too late and you will be lost, for they will take you into it and there you will be, trapped forever with those who so torment you…”

    James did not have to wait long before he was snapped out of his reverie. It was upon him then, first a chilling dark shadow, then a screeching rush of teeth, and with trembling fingers, he struck the flint to light the torch. When he touched the flame to the cluster of icy looking quartz crystals, it sent them ablaze with a glorious burst of unnaturally brilliant firelight. Thrown down to the floor in the tumultuous battle that resulted once the protesting ghost realized its fate, James panted with terror in the seconds of its violent capture. The fire was soon blown out and the room plunged into darkness, after which there was nothing but the faint glow within the crystal winking once, twice, before it finally winked out for good and the sounds of the summer night rushed in to fill the void as if nothing had ever been amiss.

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    Great post JB! I’m coming in on the homestretch of my novel and I want the ending to justify the reading. These are some great tips and rules of thumb for me to keep in mind.

    I think I’ll pass on the exorcizing of an abode and skip straight to working on the ending of my novel!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61901661 Ash P.

    I’m a bit behind, but I just found this site today. I love it so far and want to contribute! For your diversion…

    ***********************
    In the light of the quickly-dying sunset James picked up a piece of white chalk and traced an enormous circle on the wooden floor boards of his attic room. Next came a large albeit clumsy pentagram, and he placed his soft downy feather at the rightmost point. He did the same at the leftmost point with the enormous bear claw, wondering wryly if it would matter that it had come from the witchcraft store in downtown. Solemnly, he lit five white lavender-scented candles and placed them at each point of the pentagram. The feather went at the top point just within his reach.
    Drawing a deep breath, he opened the bag of white sand took a handful, tracing the circle and repeating the mystic syllables the carnie fortune teller had given him. The air in the attic was very still, the silence oppressive. James felt a shudder run down his back and he knew the spirits were gathering. The headache that had been with him since this whole mess began over a year ago was growing as they began to understand his motions and moved to put a stop to them.
    Now for the blue sand. This he trickled over the pentagram itself and around each of the candles, constantly in motion, still repeating the words. There was palpable tension in the air now. He shook his head to clear away the mental cobwebs. These spirits were going to have to respect this ceremony, done as it was, in desperation. James had simply wanted a place to live and start a family. He set his teeth together and finished the blue sand.
    A feeling of dread washed over him, but he plucked up his courage and stepped into the center of the pentagram. He spoke, “Spirits, I have pleaded with you to leave me in peace, but it has come to this. I call upon the latent power of the earth, represented here in these objects, to aid me in cleansing this house!”
    An audible hum was growing in James’ ears, and he reached for the sharp knife at his belt. “As I spill this blood, I charge you be gone for all time!” Relying on a sudden burst of energy and moxie, he drew the sharp knife over his open palm and squeezed his fist so that the rush of crimson dripped down to the point of his hand and one…two…three drops spattered onto the floorboards. They dried instantly.
    Almost immediately, he could see in front of him a dark shape that at first glance appeared human. As James peered at it, through the light of the candles he could make out a pair of glittering eyes. An evil hiss escaped the figure and James felt his heart stop. “We…do not take orders from mortals,” it rasped. “We…are Legion, we…are many.”

    ******************
    That’s 15 min!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Thanks Ash. So glad you found us :)

      This is intense! Great story :)

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