Writing “The End”

No, I’m not finished the book, the one that was overdue and the one I was going to finish before RWA. I gave it a good try but finally had to email my editor at midnight the day before going to RWA that I wasn’t going to make it. I also realized during the conference that I’d made a misstep in the plot so I had to go back and fix that. Then I received the copy edits for Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady (Dec 2009)…So I’m just now back to writing the last 50 pages of the book. With luck, I will turn it in on Friday.

I’ve been thinking about what makes for a satisfying ending of a book. In Romance, of course, it is the Happily-Ever-After. I guarantee that will be a part of my ending. I see the ending of the book as starting with the “Black Moment,” the moment in the plot when it seems like the hero and heroine will never wind up together. The end, of course, is when the hero and heroine are together and nothing can tear them apart again.

Besides this happy ending, what else is important?

1. The ending should tie up loose ends. Subplots need resolving. Story questions need to be answered. This doesn’t mean that everything works out fine. In real life not everything works our perfectly so I like to leave some things imperfect. I think that makes the ending more memorable.

2. The hero and heroine should bring about their own happy ending. This is not the time for the friend to solve their problems for them. The hero and heroine have to figure it out and take action.

3. The ending should not be rushed. It has to be developed at a pace consistent with the rest of the book. I think this is hard to do. At this point in the writing process, most of us just want it to be over.

4. The ending should be logical and foreshadowed. This is not the time for a Deus Ex Machina to show up, the person or event created by the author to pop up and solve the ending, even though there was no inkling of this at the beginning of the book. The reader should be able to look back and realize the elements for the happy ending were in the plot all along.

5. Not an essential, but something I like to strive for is a parallel to the beginning of the book. I like to try to recreate that first scene in the ending.

What do you think is essential for a good story ending? What mistakes have you seen made?

I have absolutely nothing new on my website, but there is still time to enter the new contest.

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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Jane Austen
13 years ago

I think I’ve already said what I don’t like, but I will say it again:

1) Make sure you have the contract for the next book before you leave your ending hanging. If there’s no second book people might get cranky.

2) If you have a prologue have an epilogue. There’s this one author I adore and in every other book she did a prologue and an epilogue. Then in one she just did a prologue and I really wanted an epilogue for the book. I wrote my own, but it’s just not the same.

3) Don’t let the reader rewrite your original ending. I have read a series where the two main characters get together and break up and then in the last one the main male lead is a jerk and the female lead runs off with her best friend. I really think this came from the readers saying they thought best friend was a good guy. Me, I liked the best friend as the best friend and thought the male lead was good for the female lead.

4) Don’t cost your main character a HEA because you want to prove a point about society. This would be Maisie Dobbs, which I believe we’ve discussed before.

Elena Greene
13 years ago

I don’t need to have all plot threads resolved, but if there’s something that is pointing towards a later book (secondary character who’s going to have his/her own story) I like it honored somehow in the writing. Maybe I like the author to reassure me that there will be a follow-up. 🙂

As to epilogues, I think it’s a fine balance. Sometimes they are overkill, sometimes necessary. If the main conflict resolves in a dark sort of scene, such as h/h escaping death at hands of the villain, I like some sort of happier scene to follow. Or if there’s still some issue that seems to be hanging in the balance that could use some closure. OTOH I don’t need an epilogue just to know the couple procreated, though if it’s short it won’t bother me too much.

13 years ago

Oh I love the ones you list!

The only difference for me is about the happy ending. I don’t need to have everything spelled out, with pregnancy or christening or the like in the epilogue or last chapter; for me, it’s enough if by the last chapter I can believe these two people have enough of a bond, enough trust and enough love for each other, that they can weather the inevitable storms that life throws at you over time.

Here’s wishing you smooth sailing with the book this week!

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Jane Austen, I’m so glad you like epilogues. I don’t always have a prologue (I do in this book) but I do have epilogues. I like seeing my characters settled and happy.

Elena! I am just so glad to see you comment here (meaning you have some time for yourself!)I don’t mind that you don’t need epilogues.

azteclady, you are another on the epilogue-no side, seems like. As a reader, I don’t mind too much if there isn’t one, but I do like to write them.

Thanks for wishing me luck!

Elena Greene
13 years ago

Diane, I hope I didn’t come across as anti-epilogue. Two of my Regencies have an epilogue. I just don’t think every romance needs one.

13 years ago

Like Elena, I don’t need all the threads tied neatly at the end, as long as the major threads are. I hate, hate, hate it when the HEA comes in the last one or two pages. I want a chance to enjoy and savor the rightness of the couple being together. You’ve taken 348 pages to explain why they shouldn’t be together, why they can’t be together, why they aren’t together, and then 2 measly pages to say, oh, I guess it will work out after all. What is up with that? Is that the author can’t stand to see their couple happy? If so, then why are they writing romance… hmm… clearly a sore spot with me. 🙂 I’ve rarely met an epilogue I didn’t like. Are they all necessary? No, but it does mean I get to enjoy the happiness a little bit longer. I’ll take all I can get.

Susan Wilbanks
13 years ago

My pet peeve? Lame final conflicts. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been about 75% of the way through a romance, and it feels like all the conflicts are resolved and the couple is in love, and I groan because I see there are still 50 or 100 pages left. Inevitably there’s a Big Misunderstanding out of nowhere, or the heroine is kidnapped even though there was little previous indication that the hero had a Mortal Enemy, or something along those lines.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that I hate it with the Black Moment feels forced. If you’re going to have one final threat, it needs to be foreshadowed and organic to the story–or I’m going to skim or skip the last 100 pages and close the book with a bad taste in my mouth.

As for epilogues, for me it depends on the story. In one of my manuscripts, an important secondary character is in a bad place at the end of the last chapter, so I put in a “10 years later” epilogue to assure readers that everything eventually turned out OK for her too. But if there aren’t any major unresolved questions, I don’t need the epilogue.

Jane Austen
13 years ago

I don’t need an epilogue, but I do like them. I guess a little of my OCD feels that if you have a prologue you should have an epilogue to even it out…especially when all the other books by this author have a prologue and an epilogue.

The book I’m talking about is The Nanny by Melissa Nathan and while things wrapped up and you knew what was going to happen in the end I guess I wanted a reinforcement of what happened. Like the female lead was going to university while still nannying part time and her boyfriend who she got together with at the end of the book was going to open a music store and the secondary characters were starting new things as well. I guess I just wanted just a scene with Josh picking Jo up from Uni and taking her to his shop where the secondary characters were hanging out in the back coffee shop just as a nice wrap up. Maybe it’s just me, but I really really really wanted that with this book. Not just an ending where Josh and Jo finally kiss. I wanted more.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Elena, I knew you weren’t anti-epilogue!

Judy and Susan, some of those elements you talked about are what I meant by a rushed ending. Endings are hard!! I have some sympathy for the rush, because it is so much easier to do. THere’s nothing like a perfect ending, though. One that makes you sigh.

Jane, maybe you are not OCD. Maybe you just prefer symmetry!

I do hate to come to the end and say, “That’s it?????” but I also hate to stop reading even though there are 10 pages to go (especially when those 10 pages are merely a bedroom scene)because for me the story has ended and the rest is just boring.

Writing is hard!!!

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

I wrote an epilogue in my last ms. b/c I had a really good idea of how to do it, in the form of an interview with the hero. I had a cliffhanger at the end of chapter 8 that I didn’t resolve because I knew the hero was too shy and honorable to explain unless questions were asked by an authority figure (me).I don’t know if the editor will let me keep it but I thought it an interesting way to end a book.

The endings I like best are ones where the reader knows something the characters don’t and not all of the characters have the same definition of the resolution. Kate Atkinson (I’m always saying how good she is; who else has read her?) does this really well.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

For romances, I just like the ending to resolve whatever (outstanding) conflicts the h/h have, and being convinced that they are on their way to a long, healthy relationship! (epilogue or not) For mysteries, I like the villain caught and punished. For literary fiction–just something that suits the theme of the book. :))

13 years ago

If truth be told, I never notice whether a book has both a prologue and an epilogue so clearly this is one of the few areas where my OCD doesn’t kick in. I don’t mind epilogues, but like everything else, they need to be organic to the story and serve a purpose other than to detail the number of progeny the H/H have. Saccharine is not a good taste to leave in the reader’s mouth.

As Ms Austen says, “Don’t cost your main character a HEA because you want to prove a point about society. This would be Maisie Dobbs, which I believe we’ve discussed before.” Totally agree. I don’t want to see the fine authorial hand manipulating the characters rather than the characters’ personalities dictating their choices — if I sense a puppet master pulling strings, it pulls me out of the story and makes me question the entire enterprise.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Acck! Leave it to Janet to come up with a very clever epilogue!

Good definitions of different genre endings, Amanda!

Susan/DC, you came up with the crucial thing about epilogues – they have to be more than how many progeny! And Janet made me realize that I sometimes use epilogues to tie up the subplots.

Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

taking copious notes here, ladies. All of this is good information to have. My Mom read my first manuscript and said she loved it (she has to, she’s my Mom!) BUT she wanted an epilogue to have one more visit with Addy and Marcus. So I definitely wrote an epilogue to The Raven’s Heart and will probably write one for The Deceit of Desire. I too can’t stand a book that spends the last 50 pages or so on a “big misunderstanding” nor do I want a contrived ending to wrap things up.