How to Satisfy Your Reader With a Great Ending

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This post is by author Laura Dennis.

Author John Irving is notorious for writing the last line of every novel first. What we can glean from this daunting factoid is that Irving has a clear picture of where he wants the story to end up. The work is “simply” writing the book.

Would that we all be so lucky!

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The End

Ending my memoir, Adopted Reality,* was tricky. I wrote several possible conclusions, settled on one that I knew wasn’t perfect, and then published. Once I got over my writer’s fatigue and was willing to listen to feedback, I accepted that the first edition ending lacked cohesiveness and emotional impact.

Whether you're figuring out how to write a memoir or a novel, creating an ending that is satisfying for the reader is a must (that is, if we actually want readers to buy our future books)!

Uncover the Elusive Satisfying Ending

The thing about endings in a life story is that, unless it’s published posthumously, or written cryptically (and possibly from mental institution à la the fictional Holden Caulfield), we pretty much know the outcome of a memoir: the author survives.

The struggle in my situation is that the story is of the “slice of life” variety. I didn’t want to go into another ten years of my life, lose focus and end up writing a boring autobiography.

After publishing the first edition, I did some belated beta-reading. The feedback I received from beta readers was that there was plenty of adoption-reunion and “descent into madness,” but there wasn’t enough coming-of-age or actual recovery. Readers wondered whether I was able to lead a normal life.

Good call, readers, good call.

Deepening Readers’ Emotional Connection

In crafting the culmination to your work-in-progress, you need to be aware that there’s more to it than allowing the main character to live to see another day (or not). Readers expect thematic conclusions and lessons learned, even if not in so many words.

As for memoir readers, they expect something to happen (hopefully something interesting) and want to see how the author gets herself through that “something.” The personal strength/inner peace/positive-outlook-discovered are a big part of that conclusion.

Caveat time: In fiction, endings are often genre-specific. A mystery, “who-dun-it,” has to reveal the perpetrator or turn into a series. If not, you likely have literary fiction on your hands, and you'd better adjust the prose accordingly.

That doesn’t mean readers have to like the ending. However, they do need to be emotionally connected to it.

The audience doesn’t even have to be attached to the hero/heroine; a minor character will do. Or, write a rainbow-and-unicorns ending to a subplot, while the main plot goes to the hot place.

How I Fixed the Ending to My Book

What did I do to “fix” the ending of my memoir when I’m still alive and kicking?

First, I fleshed out the recovery aspect. Looking back at the first edition, I realized that I’d glossed over some of the arduous, embarrassing aspects of my recovery. In the second edition I went into detail, describing the excruciating meltdowns, the paralyzing anxiety, and continued paranoid ideations that characterized my early months of recovery. In the book, as I emerge from that phase, it becomes clear that I’m maturing and taking responsibility.

Next, I had to figure out how to reassure readers that not only did I make it out of that particular bipolar episode, but I remained (relatively) sane in the long run. I chose to use an epilogue for this purpose, relating the moment I felt I became a mother. Through that story, it’s clear that I have a marriage, a stable home life, and I can give birth and not relapse.

I’ve had the second edition out there for a few weeks. Thanks to Story Cartel, I already have several Amazon reviews*, and it’s clear that not every reader likes the new ending. But so be it. I believe this improved, emotionally connected version is my best work for this work.

I can’t claim to have written the last line of my memoir first, but maybe I’ll get there one day.

What about you? How do you write the best endings possible?

PRACTICE

Write four different “ending lines” for your current work-in-progress. Play with tone: witty and sarcastic, utter melodrama, Zen dude, or any of your own machinating.

Share your four lines in the comments section of this post. And if you share, be sure to give feedback on a few practices by other writers.

Good luck!

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This guest post is written by Laura Dennis. Laura is the author Adopted Reality,* a 9/11 memoir that reads like a psychological thriller. She now lives in Belgrade, Serbia with her family. Laura writes at Expat (Adoptee) Mommy. You can also follow her on Twitter (@LauraDennisCA).

This article is by a guest blogger. Would you like to write for The Write Practice? Check out our guest post guidelines.

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84 Comments

  1. Elwyne

    Endings are absolutely the most difficult part to write. Even when I know how the story ends, I still have to figure out where to cut it, how to wrap up the action, how to present it in a conclusive and satisfying way. With last year’s Nano novel I think I rewrote the entire ending 15 or 20 times trying to get it right emotionally. (I am very happy with the result btw.) I’m now going through the same thing with another story. I know events-wise how it ends; but how do I express it, how do I tie up the character’s development arc, how do I stop the action without either a lurch or a whimper? It’s a good challenge.

    Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      Elwyne,
      What an eloquent description of the “issue of endings.” I applaud you for being willing to spend the time, effort and energy to rewrite 15-20 times … Sometimes we just want to go with our first idea.
      Thanks for writing,
      Laura

      Reply
  2. Jay Warner

    Four possible last lines for my current historical fiction work in progress (working title – The Venus of Morgantina):

    1. She claimed her space with no doubts and no regrets.

    2. That look he knew so well – gazing through him with no more accusations.

    3. “Darling,” he said, “there’s an archaeological dig not far from Aidone that I think you might find interesting.”

    4. She picked up the phone in time to hear the receptionist say, “There’s someone from the Medieval Castle of Pietratagliata with some interesting news for you.”

    1&2 end in the museum, 3&4 end with the possibility of new acquisitions for my museum director. I’m really too far from being done to nail down an absolute ending, but it’s intriguing to think about all the same.

    Reply
    • Maure

      I think I like 1 and 3 best.

      Reply
      • Jay Warner

        thank you for the feedback, I am leaning that way too.

        Reply
    • Margaret Terry

      #1 – feels strong and resolute, makes me want to say “yes!”

      Reply
      • Jay Warner

        good insight, Margaret, that give me much to ponder because I want it to be strong and resolute.

        Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      Jay, thanks for sharing! I’m not an expert in historical fiction, but 3 and 4 sound almost like an epilogue/intro to a 2nd in a series, whereas 1 and 2 feel more like an ending. But like you say, you’re still far from being done …
      Laura

      Reply
      • Jay Warner

        thank you!. I think you are right. I am not sure how I would follow it up, but maybe something will evolve as I continue to flesh out this story.

        Reply
  3. GuesD

    1. And in the dark of the night, keeping her ring as a sole memento, he buried his bride’s fully adorned corpse.

    2. “Shit!” I said, “I forgot my balls at home!”

    3. Mom, seeing me take my first steps, dropped the vase on the floor.

    4. “Water… please, water!” he said as the people around him gaped at his green skin.

    Reply
    • Maure

      I must admit that the first one sounds most intriguing. It’s interesting to think of how the others could all be the endings to the same story!

      Reply
      • Laura Dennis

        I agree, I wonder how they could all be a part of the same story, maybe in a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-kind-of-way. 🙂

        Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      I liked 1 best. 😀 The others seem like great beginning lines, but not so much for an ending one.

      Reply
  4. Maure

    Possible endings for my current WIP, The Princess Wish (fantasy) –

    1. She released her memories of the blue world; the golden one was her home now.

    2. “Princess?” she said, and laughed breathlessly, although it hurt her throat. “Not anymore. I’ll settle for no less than Queen.”

    3. Nadia had no way of knowing what lay ahead; but she had made a decision, and for now that would have to be enough.

    4. As they turned towards home, the rising sun setting the pale edges of the Stone Nest aglow, Nadia twisted the now-useless ring on her finger and smiled.

    Reply
    • Margaret Terry

      I think I like #1 most as it leaves me with a sense of finality, yet a beginning as well…

      Reply
      • Laura Dennis

        Maure,
        These all are great — What about combining #1 and #4? Like:
        As they turned towards home, the rising sun setting the pale edges of the Stone Nest aglow, she released her memoires of the blue world; the golden one was her home now. Nadia twisted the now-useless ring on the finger and smiled.
        It has finality and hope …
        Laura

        Reply
        • Maure

          That is a good combination, thanks!

          Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      I can’t pick a favorite, though 3 seemed a little cliche, but now I want to know about this ring! What did it do and why is she happy that it’s useless?!

      Reply
      • Maure

        Long story short, the FMC made a wish that took the form of a ring. Although it almost destroyed her, taking her from world to world to fulfill her wish and also getting her killed over and over, she had to hang onto it because it was the only thing that kept her soul alive and re-embodied it. So she’s dependent on it and terrified of losing it for most of the story. But at the end she’s made a decision to stay where she is, and has stopped the cycle that kept on getting her killed, so even though the ring’s now lost its magic it’s freeing to her, not worrying.

        Reply
        • themagicviolinist

          That’s super creative! I wish I had thought of that. 😉

          Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      Thanks, Daniel! The logo was all Joe Bunting 🙂

      Reply
  5. Madeline Sharples

    Hi, Laura, So nice to meet up with you here and know more about your story. This is such good advice. I struggled a lot with the ending of my memoir and also used an epilogue to share later events to round out my story. That seems to work for most readers. I look forward to reading your book and blogging with you.

    Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      Madeline!
      Yes! It’s great to see you over here, too — yes, memoir endings are very specific, in my opinion. Can’t wait to get to yours!
      Laura

      Reply
  6. Margaret Terry

    I love this exercise because I am so bad at endings – I think I’ve always had a hard time with good byes…this is for my novel in progress called “The Year of Letting Go”. I have never considered a last line until this moment…fun!

    1. Julia smiled as she surveyed another empty room in the great house.
    2. Sometimes the things we need the most are the things we give away.
    3. Julia smiled at the thought of the realtor’s reaction as she reached for the
    phone.
    4. The empty rooms filled her most.

    Reply
    • Ching-Ern Yeh

      I think i like the second ending more. i don’t think the first one -even though i don’t know what the novel’s about – is really that satisfying. I feel like I’ve heard the third ending before or something like that. It sounds familiar and the last thing you want is something heard before. And the fourth one is a bit cheesy, unless it’ll move me because of whatever you’ve written before hand. But i like the second one. I guess i like those kind of phrases and insights.

      Reply
      • Margaret Terry

        thx, Ching-Ern Yeh. My fav is the fourth one too for the same reasons you state! But my experience tells me that when I love something because it resonates with me, it often means I’m in my own mind/heart instead of my character’s and that can spell trouble…btw, I agree about the cheese. Knew it as soon as I wrote it, but I’m far away from finishing so it was just fun to write!

        Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      Margaret,
      Very cool! I’m glad you’re “up for it,” especially if you dislike goodbyes 🙂 I actually like the specificity of the third one, it shows Julia actually smiling (in spite of everything she’s ostensibly had to let go) and taking action to move forward.
      Laura

      Reply
      • Margaret Terry

        thx so much Laura – a great point about taking action, something I wouldn’t have considered. Makes me excited to see how Julia handles it…

        Reply
        • Margaret Terry

          now you’ve got me going – I’ve know how the novel ends and with your suggestion, am excited at the thought of somehow combining 2 & 3. Thx again!

          Reply
          • Laura Dennis

            Hey, that’s awesome — it’s all about getting the ideas that motivate us to actually write! Keep me updated!

    • Jay Warner

      great endings, makes me wonder what comes before the end! I particularly like 1 and 4, but #3 does have the promise of more of a great story to come. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      2 and 4 are excellent! 😀 4 is very poetic and 2 is very wise.

      Reply
      • Margaret Terry

        thx, magicviolinist – great to hear #2 feels wise when the main character has so much to learn…

        Reply
  7. Boyd

    1. The irony of my wishes, that the burnt ash of our bodies would safely float down in the direction they were intended.

    2. I hope they can enjoy the lights.

    3. I’ve grown to accept my fall, comforted in knowing that for now I’m no longer watching.

    4. It grows smaller still, I feel I was only a visitor anyway.

    I used a sci-fi short that I’m currently working on for this.

    Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      Boyd,
      Wow, I actually love all these ending lines — perhaps you can find a way to work them into the last chapter? They are poetic, wistful and leave the ending “undetermined,” they type of endings I actually really like.
      Laura

      Reply
      • Boyd

        Thank you, Laura. I’m glad you like them! I guess it depends on where my character takes me, but I might try to work more than one of these lines into the final draft. Great exercise, by the way.

        Reply
    • Margaret Terry

      #2 for me, because it lingers and I’m partial to light metaphors in everything.

      Reply
      • Boyd

        That was my initial choice too!

        Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      I can’t single out just one! I like @google-9d7e91ccbb7d4e3dd67090b09a83d546:disqus’s idea of combining them into the last chapter.

      Reply
      • themagicviolinist

        Wow, for some reason Laura Dennis’s name isn’t showing up after the @ symbol. Weird.

        Reply
  8. Ching-Ern Yeh

    Spi:

    1. Laughing, Oscar rode away on his motor bike from the fire, burning away at the house.
    2. “This is your home now,” Ellie said.
    And she looked down at Lucy and she placed her hand in the palm of Lucy’s.

    3. (this is so hard)
    Once the officer locked him in, I took the key from him. It was beautiful outside, with the sea down below the hill. I threw the key out into the open sea.
    4. “Hey, wanna grab a bite to eat?” he said
    I shook my head and gave him a bear hug.

    Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      Ching-Ern, Wow! It’s hard to believe these might all come from one WIP! But, I love #3, it’s the type of ending that gives you chills and keeps you wondering!
      Laura

      Reply
    • Margaret Terry

      I really like #3. That last line of it feels hopeful and redemptive somehow even tho’ I don’t know the story…

      Reply
  9. R.w. Foster

    Ending line, eh? Okay. These are for my Superheroes WIP.

    1) “This is gonna be fun,” she said to the empty room.

    2) “I will be your destruction, Sapphire!”

    3) Dust hung in the air above the crater where his lifeless body lay.

    4) He plummeted through the air before the impact with the ground turned his insides to goo.

    Not sure I’ll go with any of these, though. They seem cheesy. Yes, I’m aware of the irony.

    Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      R.w.,

      I like #1 the best … especially if you’re heading towards a series. It gives the sense that the reader had better go ahead and download the next book. Also, awareness of cheesyness can make fun lines amusing and not cringe-worthy, fwiw.
      Laura

      Reply
      • R.w. Foster

        Thanks. I’m thinking that one is said by another metahuman. No clue yet whether she’d be a hero, or a villian, though.

        Reply
    • Jay Warner

      I like #3, gives me a vivid image and a hint of something more still to come.

      Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      I think 1 is my favorite. It leaves you with room for a sequel, but it’s also very final, which is good if you just want one book.

      Reply
      • R.w. Foster

        Thanks, I appreciate your words. It will be one of a larger series of Superheor novels, and also part of my Multiverse tales.

        Reply
  10. Elise White

    I’m writing a serial zine called “On the Near North Side”. It’s historical fiction following the lives of an African American family through the Great Migration to the present day in Omaha, Nebraska’s Near North Side neighborhood. I am still writing the beginning and have many years to cover before the end of the series, but this is a fun exercise.

    1. This time staring down at the photo of her grandmother, she no longer saw a stranger, but instead saw traces of herself.

    2. She realized no matter how far she moved away from this place, it would always be a part of her identity.

    3. “Isn’t there a lot of crime there?” he asked. She sighed, “Yes, but let me tell you a story…”

    4. They sat together flipping through memories, feeling the warmth that only family can bring.

    Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      Elise, I like No. 3 the best, because it *shows* that your main character has accepted her fate to a certain extent–it shows what you actually say in #2, if that makes sense. I do like the sentimentality of #1, though as well. It depends perhaps on the last aspects of the storyline, I would guess…

      Reply
      • Elise White

        Thanks for the feedback, Laura. I may keep these ending ideas around and see which one fits best with the storyline when I get to the end.

        Reply
    • Jay Warner

      I like #1 and #2, closure, insight, and the promise of something else

      Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      3 and 4 are especially good. I’d like to hear more about this book!

      Reply
  11. Timm Higgins

    Lets see, since I’m not quite sure of how it all ends yet.

    1. Even after the dust settled, I knew this was far from over. The Adeptus Quadratum was still out there.

    2. I woke up to blinding light. Once my eye’s came into focus my stomach dropped. I was chained to a wall, my shirt was gone, I was bleeding and had the headache from hell.

    3. The bagpipes were playing “Amazing Grace” as Fin’s casket draped with a flag of the United States was carried to the grave site by Portlands finest dressed to the nines in their formal uniforms.

    4. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this……..”

    Reply
    • Jay Warner

      Not having read the beginning, yet, I really like #3.

      Reply
      • Timm Higgins

        Thanks! It’s in the running for sure.

        Reply
    • Margaret Terry

      I like the way #1 leaves the reader hanging even tho I don’t know what the Adeptus Quadratum is…

      Reply
      • Timm Higgins

        Roughly translated from Latin to English it means “Doom Box”, but it goes by many names including Metatron’s Cube.

        Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      Wow, these are quite varied, it’s hard to know if we’re in fantasy, the real world, prison or a cemetary. That said, I’m partial to #2. I love when a guy wakes up bloody and doesn’t know where he is–all the better if the reader actuall does.

      Reply
      • Timm Higgins

        It’s Urban Fantasy. I picture a cave or something equally as scary for the setting. 🙂

        Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      2 doesn’t really seem like an ending line, but it’s make for a great one if there’s a sequel after the first book. I like 1 and 4 best.

      Reply
      • Timm Higgins

        I plan on a doing just that. Right now I have enough source material for 3 to 4 books.

        But you’re right, for a one off that line would never work the more I read it.

        Reply
  12. George McNeese

    Here are some endings to a short story I’m currently writing.

    “I don’t think I’ll ever drink again,” Axel slurred. “At least, not until my next birthday.”

    “How did I get here?”

    Lara tapped the cab as it drove off. She walked back to the bar. “Happy birthday, Axel.”

    Axel turned to Lara, starry-eyed. “I don’t suppose I can get some kind of designated discount on my tab, huh?”

    Reply
    • Jay Warner

      I can tell Axel has a certain sarcasm to his character!

      Reply
    • catmorrell

      All are profound and very visual. Now the challenge makes sense. Thanks for simplifying this for me.

      Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      Well, I love things that come “full circle,” so-to-speak. So, if you have Axel teasing Lara about discounts earlier on in the short story, I feel that the last ending is perfect.

      Reply
  13. catmorrell

    1) The morning sun highlighted the twin foals. “What are we going to name them?”

    Annabeth did not hesitate. “Hope and Faith.”

    2) Annabeth kneeled in the soft straw, hands extended to touch both fillies. “Hope and Faith”, she whispered.

    3) Annabeth wrapped her arms around Apache’s warm neck. “You did good old girl. I want to name them Hope and Faith. What do you think?”

    Apache softly whickered her approval.

    *****
    I have to turn the computer over to my daughter so only got through three. LOL.

    Reply
    • Laura Dennis

      I love the third one, it gives “voice” to the mommy-horse, and involves all four in the scene. What type of work-in-progress is this?

      Reply
      • catmorrell

        Thank you. I am writing a story loosely based on when my twenty three year old father moved his recently widowed mother and four younger siblings from Kansas to Oregon during the dust bowl. Lots of drama and lots of joy. I loved the stories he told. However, my characters took on a life of their own and this has become 50% fiction. Audience is my grandkids. Trying to target the pre-teens.

        Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      Ooh, I love horse stories! 3 is my favorite.

      Reply
      • Catherine Morrell

        Thank you. I love horse stories too. Misty of Chincoteague spoke to me early on. I cried through Black Beauty. Apache is not the main character, but she is critical to the family’s healing. I have written whole chapters from her perspective because she keeps demanding attention and I need to know where this is going.

        Reply
    • Margaret Terry

      I like #3 best because the question tells me there was a strong relationship with the horse and leaves me with a sense of a future…

      Reply
      • Catherine Morrell

        Thank you. This is really encouraging to move forward with Apache’s portion of the story.

        Reply
    • Scott Merk

      I like 3 as well.
      I would add and please take this as simply my humble opinion:
      Do you think that you could reword that last line?
      I read it and got stuck on the “whickered…approval”
      While this is telling I wonder if it would have more emotional impact if you simply described Apache embracing Annabeth somehow…leaving the reader to be more engaged and infer the approval.

      3 is a more powerful ending and I think you could tweek it into something wonderful and memorable.
      Just a thought.

      Reply
      • catmorrell

        Good idea. It goes along with the “show” not “tell” advice. I will work on this. Thank you.

        Reply
  14. themagicviolinist

    “It was the end, or possibly the beginning, of something fantastical, something I would never forget.”

    “Never forget the Three D’s: Dare to dream, Desire to be different, and Don’t forget to be you.”

    “I learned a very valuable lesson that year: Never use a gas station restroom if it can be avoided.”

    “The air smelled like spring: full of promise and new beginnings.”

    I’m going to try and use all four of these in my next few books. Which one was your favorite?

    Reply
    • Margaret Terry

      I liked the last one best for an ending – it’s hopeful but also feels like an end to something. #3 is provocative and makes me want to know what happened at the gas station, but without knowing your story, I think lessons are one of those things better left to the reader to decide!

      Reply
      • themagicviolinist

        Thanks for the feedback! 😀 The last one is one of my favorites, too.

        Reply
    • Dunstan Ayodele Stober

      I think I prefer the 3 Ds

      Reply

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