How to Write that Last Chapter: 8 Tips for Ending your Book

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From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Here we are reaching the end of another year. Some of us have reached our writing goals, and some even “won” NaNoWriMo. But a lot of us haven’t. You may have had trouble getting to that last chapter of the novel, even though you wrote the requisite 50K words. Writing a lot of words is hard, but writing a satisfying last chapter is harder.

I’m hoping these tips can help.

1) A Last Chapter is Dictated by Genre

Conventions in fiction endings tend to spring from the two classic forms of fiction: comedy and tragedy.

A comedy usually concludes with a party or a feast — often a wedding. A tragedy usually ends with death — then a resolution of some kind.

Jane Austen’s Emma ends with a wedding:

“But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.”

And A Tale of Two Cities ends with the doomed Sidney Carton going to his execution:

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Here are Some Expectations of a Last Chapter by Genre

Romance requires that Happy Ever After (HEA) ending in the last chapter, preferably with a wedding or a betrothal. If it’s a more contemporary Happy-for-Now ending, there might be a gathering for toasting friends, or a happy couple kissing and fade to black…

Mystery: You don’t need to get Hercule Poirot to assemble all the suspects and dramatically reveal the murderer, but you need a modern equivalent that concludes with the discovery of the murderer. Then the detective and friends retire to a pub or cafe to tie up the subplots over a pint or a plate of scones — a form of the classic comedy “feast” ending.

As in the last line of the Hound of the Baskervilles

“Might I trouble you then to be ready in half an hour, and we can stop at Marcini’s for a little dinner on the way?”

Literary Fiction: You get to do whatever you like with your final chapter if you’re a literary author. But I advise not doing something that will make your reader feel cheated or angry. If you kill off a major character, make sure readers are prepared for it.

Thrillers need to end with the world not getting blown up by the evil mastermind.

Domestic Suspense: You want a twist, but it needs to be an “ah-ha” moment, not a “WTF?”

Epic Fantasy often ends with a detached historical overview, and other fantasies — especially MG or YA — will end with the protagonist safely home from the adventure, but perhaps a bit wistful, hoping for more adventures in the future. Here’s the last line of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

“And that is the very end of the adventures of the wardrobe. But if the Professor was right, it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia.”

2) Ending a Novel Is Way Tougher Than Starting One.

One of the most memorable scenes in the film The Wonder Boys is when Grady Tripp, the supposedly “blocked” writer, reveals his terrible secret: a closet full of thousands of pages of his work in progress. He’s not blocked: he simply can’t get the novel to end.

I can relate. I had a book like that. It grew and grew and never seemed to come to a climax or a conclusion. That’s because my novel was a series of episodes. They didn’t build to a climax or a resolution. I was writing something closer to a series of scripts for for a long-running sitcom than a novel.

So I know first hand that final chapter can be tougher to write than the first. (Not that first chapters are easy: see my post on writing your first chapter.)

But you want to do it right. That’s how you keep your readers. Not by leaving them hanging, but by satisfying them.

As Mickey Spillane said. “The first page sells this book. The last page sells your next book.”

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris