In this highly practical guest post, copywriter Alex Limberg shows us seven ways to create great endings - with examples from famous authors who did just that.
The feeling your ending evokes will stay with the reader long after they have finished your story.
So you'd better make it an exciting, moving closure, and one to remember.
Your last words are the climax of your writing. And isn’t reading a great story with a weak closure - a dead end - like eating a steak without sauce? The centerpiece might still be great, but it’s a lot less satisfying.
Now how do you create that powerful ending to remember? Hasn’t it all been done before?
Yes and no.
True, certain types of ending come up time and again, but when you apply them to your own story, they become unique. And there is a reason they have been used time and again – they carry a lot of impact.
So no need for you to reinvent the wheel.
We have brought together for you seven types of closures (archetypes, if you will) that work astonishingly well. Famous authors have used them, and we will show you their examples.
Apply these closures to your own stories and wow your readers!
Also, because I know it’s not easy to create intriguing endings, beginnings, or any other part of your story for that matter, you can download my free e-book about “44 Key Questions” to test your story and make every part of it intriguing and awesome.
Try these seven closures on your stories and they will work wonders:
1. Get Them by Surprise
Surprise works every single time. That’s because us humans are curious creatures. You could uncover a surprising fact or give the action a surprising twist. Anyways, your readers will appreciate being astonished. That’s what they are reading stories for, after all.
Your readers will have certain expectations. They depend on the genre, the protagonists, the language, and so on… Be aware of your readers’ expectations. Put yourself in their shoes. Then give them something they don’t expect, but that still makes sense for your story.
Maybe the thief turns out to be the narrator’s own husband or even the narrator herself. Maybe the girl doesn’t pick between her two suitors, but instead marries their uncle. Or plumber.
Agatha Christie, the master of plausible surprise, shows us perfectly how it’s done in And Then There Were None. Ten visitors are trapped on a small island and murdered one by one. As nobody else is on the island, it’s clear one of them must be the murderer… but who?The novel ranks amongst the bestselling books of all time.
One suspect after another is snuffed, until only one person is left alive. It’s now clear she must be the murderer, until… the highly unexpected closure reveals she is not.
2. Play Their Mood with an Elegiac Fade Out
Milan Kundera takes a very different approach when he wraps up his The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
"Up out of the lampshade, startled by the overhead light, flew a large nocturnal butterfly that began circling the room. The strains of the piano and violin rose up weakly from below."Kundera’s classic novel fades into the distance like a piece of music. The ending doesn’t want to bring suspense, puzzle or get you to think. It’s all about mood. It’s a slow ending.
Try to make your reader really feel the power of the moment, be it terrified, happy, sad, or sentimental.
Think of little symbols, like the butterfly above; with Kundera, it might stand for lightness, repeating the theme in the novel’s title. You could zoom in on a tapping finger or a dew drop, or zoom out to show wooded hills or a rural mansion.
Landscapes and weather make very memorable finishing moments (“…and great shaggy flakes of snow began to fall”).
Leave the reader with a unique vibe, and she will appreciate it. Sometimes, it’s all your closure needs.
3. Throw Them a Punchline
With this one, you have to be careful. Do you know that situation when Uncle Albert at the holiday lunch table makes a big fuss about his upcoming joke, but the punchline is almost non-existent?
You don’t want to be like that. You could tell a joke or describe surprising action, but make it count.
Your punchline doesn’t have to be funny. It could be an action or a simple observation. In any case, it should connect to the stories topic, even if it’s just a symbolic hint. Otherwise it will be up in the air and look arbitrary.
George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is one big parable on how totalitarian systems arise and thrive. It’s told in an animal world. Look at the clever, indirect and also depicting note Orwell ends on:
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”4. Create Suspense by Leaving Open Questions
If you want to tickle your reader with suspense, cue an open ending: Ok, the Apaches are defeated, but will they be back again? The starship has escaped the pudding-like aliens, but will it ever make its way home to planet earth?
These kind of endings will keep your readers on their toes and make them long for more. But be aware that they can also be very unsatisfying. After all, your reader bought your book so he can hear from you what happened.
“Just imagine the rest yourself,” can be a little unsatisfactory. But if you have delivered a great deal of action beforehand and the question remains intriguingly vague, it might be worth it.
Let’s showcase another one of the most successful novels of all time, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. It ends with Scarlett O'Hara longing to be together with Rhett Butler again – but can she? Also pay attention to the nice rhythm that keeps these phrases flowing:
“I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”5. Repeat the Theme of the Opening Scene and Intrigue Them
Whatever your story is about, it probably circles around one specific topic: Be it the struggles of love, the rewards of honesty, or whatever else. It’s what keeps your readers breathless throughout the story.
Now give them one last reminder of what they came for, one condensed moment of your topic, a big final exclamation mark!
You have many options to repeat your main theme in the closure. Think of people, actions, details.
Maybe your story is about the importance of friendship, and you wrap up with one friend putting a patch on the other friend’s abrasion. Or you end on one friend smilingly watching the other friend’s bag while she is away. (Demonstrations of friendship.)
Or you close up on the yin and yang badge on that very bag. (A symbol of friendship.)
It might be very simple, but it automatically gains meaning because it’s the last part.
Bret Easton Ellis’ nihilistic novel American Psycho starts by describing a graffiti with the text “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”
The novel fittingly ends with a nihilistic paragraph as well. Large parts of the text seem arbitrary in content and form. But in the end the very last words of the novel spell it out clearly: NOT AN EXIT.
“[…] this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so, well, yup, uh…" and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry's is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes' color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.”6. Make Their Brains Hum With a Smart Truism
In stories, we are looking for truth. It could be truth about ourselves or about the world we live in, but we want to leave the story a little wiser than when we got into it. As a motif of closure, you can serve your readers one final nugget of wisdom that is well connected to your story’s topic.
Where do you get that much wisdom from, you ask?
You are probably a literate and smart person, so take advantage of yourself. What were you thinking lately about childhood? About aging? About success? For sure your story and its theme have kept you on your toes for some time, because they come from some place deep inside of you….
Go look around at that place. Take your time. There's wisdom in it.
Arthur Golden ends his Memoires of a Geisha like this:
"Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper."7. Leave an Intriguing Trace of Ambiguity
Finally, like in real life, if nothing else helps – confuse them! You could have an ending that points in two opposite directions. It will get your readers to think and as a bonus will make you look smart, because readers tend to doubt themselves before they doubt printed work…
Unfair, but effective, isn’t it?
Simply sow two different traces of breadcrumbs for your readers to follow.
For example, in a ghost story, the scary description of the man without a head suggests the farm is haunted by an apparition. But in that last paragraph, the old man is uncontrollably punching the barn door, so maybe he has gone insane and it is all just in his head…?J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls is a play and not a novel, but its ending confuses us very effectively. The piece is about an inspector uncovering the practices of several people that led to a girl’s suicide.
After the inspector disappears, the police station tells the people there is no inspector of that name. But just as the party is ready to shrug it all off as a surrealistic nightmare ('there never was a suicide'), a call comes in, telling them police are on their way to question them about... a suicide.
The end is unforgettable.
Are you ready to make your stories unforgettable? Which one of these closures do you like best as a writer? Does one of them play right into your idea of storytelling? When you read, do you prefer a different one? Tell us in the comments, and let’s find our winners!
Alex Limberg is the founder of ‘Ride the Pen,’ a creative writing blog that dissects famous authors (their works, not bodies). Make your beginnings, endings, and any other thinkable part of your story unforgettable with his free e-book ‘44 Key Questions’ to test your story.
Alex has worked as a copywriter in advertising and has also been active in the movie industry.
This was originally posted on http://www.writers-village.org/writing-award-blog/7-great-ways-to-close-a-story-and-how-famous-authors-did-it-