This series on beginnings, middles, and endings was partially inspired by an article I wrote about endings for the Highlighter (the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic journal) a couple of years ago. Since I (fortunately!) still agree with what I wrote then, I decided to revisit my thoughts about some common ending pitfalls for this series as well.
When the end of your manuscript is finally in sight, it’s understandable to want to get there as quickly as possible. However, rushing to the finish line can make your story’s ending read abruptly, with plot threads that are resolved too quickly or that are left unaddressed. In general, aim to keep the pace of the ending on par with the rest of the manuscript, rather than compressing conversations or sidestepping obstacles.
That said, if you find yourself unable to focus on smaller details and supporting scenes while drafting, try taking the opposite approach: in your first draft, give yourself the freedom to speed through the ending as quickly as necessary. If you choose this route, make sure to take note of scenes that you plan to expand in future drafts as well as any ideas you’d like to explore further.
Along the same lines, no matter how much your characters have been through over the course of the story, resist the urge to make the ending easy for them or to allow the plot to unfold in the exact way that they expect. Instead, consider how your characters might face an unexpected choice, be forced to adjust their plans, or have to sacrifice one of their goals in order to achieve another. New challenges, surprising revelations, and bittersweet successes can allow your characters to demonstrate the growth they have experienced over the course of the story and will make their ultimate achievements all the more meaningful and satisfying.
If you are planning a series or even writing multiple standalone books, you might be tempted to save plot points or other ideas for future stories. This can result in an ending that leaves readers frustrated by unanswered questions and a general lack of resolution, and can make them less likely to want to read the next book. Instead of attempting to stretch plot points across multiple books, try to focus on what’s best for your current manuscript as much as possible—holding back only information or ideas that don’t strengthen this specific book. When the time comes to focus on future books, those stories will also benefit more from new ideas than from repurposed ideas originally meant for a previous story.
Lastly, your book’s ending is an opportunity to consider what final thoughts or images you’d like to leave with readers. How might readers envision your characters’ futures? Do your characters have new or unfinished goals to work toward? What types of challenges or ongoing obstacles might they face moving forward? Are there enduring themes or questions you’d like readers to ponder after they turn the final page?
Once you’re ready to share your manuscript with others, consider asking a trusted critique partner, writing group, or beta readers for specific feedback about the beginning, middle, and ending. Did the opening intrigue them? Was the middle engaging? Did they find the ending satisfying? Did any scenes or elements feel rushed, slow, unnecessary, or confusing? Were they surprised by the ending or did it largely unfold as they expected it to?
While every stage of the creative process presents its own unique challenges and questions, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of writing “THE END” after your hours of hard work. My hope is that these letters make the writing and revising process a little easier for you along the way.
Your Editor Friend,
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