Fundamentals of creative writing: endings

Fundamentals of creative writing: story endings. Part of free crash course from Ruth Wade.

A story is a chain of cause and effect, with the end being the final link in that chain.

A good ending is satisfying for the reader. It leaves them something – be that a sense of being entertained, gaining insight into life and the human condition, or solving a puzzle or riddle.

The secret of a good ending is to finish on a note which touches some chord in the reader’s head which you, as author, have already placed there.

You might not know the ending when you begin your story but there are several ways you can prepare yourself for discovering it and making it successful:

  • Decide where you are going. You might not know exactly how things will end up but at least set your characters off in the right direction.
  • Dump your characters into trouble at the beginning and then let them fight their way out for the duration of the story. The end comes when they have resolved the situation to the best of their ability.
  • Use index cards to highlight key events in your story’s main pathway. Shuffle them around. See which way works best. Introduce new ones as they occur to you. You now have a structure from beginning to end.
  • Write the end first (Margaret Mitchell did this with Gone with the Wind) then you can work back from the climax and make sure you build up effectively to it.

You can find more on the skills & craft of writing:

narrative & voice
revision & rewriting
the novel
short stories

What some other writers have to say about story endings:

The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning. That’s genius.
Sam Shepherd

My greatest trouble is getting the curtain up and down.
T. S. Eliot

I’ve always felt that when a book ended there was something I didn’t see, and usually when I remark the discovery it’s too late to do anything about it.
James Baldwin

I hate endings. Just detest them. Beginnings are definitely the most exciting, middles are perplexing, and endings are a disaster.
Sam Shepherd

If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last lines, my last paragraph, my last page first, and then I go back and work towards it. I know where I am going. I know what my goal is.
Katherine Anne Porter

See also quotes on writing craft, general writing quotes, and tough love words of wisdom. In addition, you might find inspiration amongst the thoughts on creativity.