I have a confession. I hate it when a book closes with an open ending—or a “non-ending” as I sometimes think of them. You know what I’m taking about, those books where the major plotlines are never resolved, where the book just sort of stops without giving you any solid answers or the author leaves it up to the reader to decide what happens next or to connect the dots without providing any firm leads for doing so. Such endings always feel like a bit of a cop-out to me, like the author wrote a story but didn’t bother to come up with an ending. It always leaves me feeling cheated. This is my personal taste, of course, and I’m sure there are others out there that would argue this is a perfectly valid way to end a book. I just prefer books with solid endings, I guess.
Endings are pretty important. The entire book leads up to this point, and the last thing you want to do is disappoint your readers or make them think, “What? I read 300 hundred pages for that?!”
So, some tips about endings:
- There should actually be an ending, at least in my opinion. The story shouldn’t just stop without resolving the major conflict(s) that arose during the course of the book. The ending should offer answers and resolution. Even if the author has a sequel planned or anticipates the book being the first in a series, the major loose ends should still be tied up. You never know—your publisher could decline to publish a sequel, cancel your contact for a series, even go out of business entirely. We hope none of these things happen, of course, but this is a crazy business. One of my friends was once reading a book series, and sadly, the author died before it was ever finished. It’s never a safe bet to leave your readers hanging too much.
- The main character should be the one who brings about this resolution. This seems to throw a lot of newbie writers for a loop. The story shouldn’t resolve due to a lucky coincidence or a character that materializes out of nowhere to solve everyone’s problems. In children’s lit, it certainly shouldn’t be an adult such as a handy parent or teacher who swoops in to save the day. You want an active main character who influences the people and situations around them—and yes, that means coming up with the solutions to their own problems. The best endings will force your main character to grow or change in some way.
- And it always helps when the ending isn’t too predictable—or too moral. If you have to throw the moral in the reader’s face (“see, boys and girls, why it’s so important to eat your vegetables,” etc.), you haven’t done a good enough job making it clear in the course of the book. There’s always something a little insulting about someone trying to hammer a message into you. Trust your audience to work out the morals on their own.
How do you feel about open endings? What are your best tips for endings?