Happily ever after – writing the perfect book endings

EndingsThe wonderful writing blog Writers in the storm tackled a topic very close to writers’ hearts in ‘Six ways to know you’ve written the perfect ending”.

It seems many authors are concentrated on the exciting beginning.  Apparently our attention spans are so short today that a book has to reach out, grab you by the throat and reel you in by the first few paragraphs.

Sometimes, as a reader, I fall for this. But you know what inevitably happens? The book tends to peter out in the last stretch, and wraps up with an ending that leaves me one sorely frustrated reader.

That doesn’t mean the ending has to be of the happy ever after variety, but it does mean that the ending makes sense to your readers, and that it doesn’t feel as if the writer is just rushing along to finish up the novel after he or she has lost interest in the project.

Some aspects of this make this excellent list. This post talks about having a circular ending, so that your ending comes full circle with your beginning. This can be a nice touch.

The post also suggests that while the ending should not be predictable, after the book is done and the reader has reflected on it, it should seem inevitable. This is another excellent point. If something feels ‘off’ about an ending, as a reader it continues to bother me and I keep rethinking why the ending makes no sense. As a writer, I think this is the last thing you want your readers to do. An ending does not have to be happily ever after, but it does have to ‘make sense’ to the reader.

So, readers and writers, what is your take on endings? Do you need happy endings? Do you prefer open endings? Has an ending ever killed a book for you, after you’d invested time and energy in it?


  1. Nicola Layouni on October 17, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Ah, the landing! My least favorite part of the flight… writerly speaking, of course.
    It’s a real balancing act, isn’t it? Two books in and I’m still not sure I’ve got the hang of them. On one hand, I don’t want to ‘spoon feed’ my readers the ending, but leaving too many tiny threads dangling is another major no-no.
    I thought I’d ended book two at the most logical point, but now I’ve been guilted into writing a sequel because so many people are wanting to know what happens to some of the secondary characters… what happens to the MC’s etc.
    Verdict? More coloring required. Back to Erde I go. 🙂

    • kimberlysullivan on October 18, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Hi Nicola! I love this comment… so you’re writing part 3, eh? Personally, I’m glad you’re returning to planet Erde. If it makes you feel better, I just returned from a writing conference where all the self-published authors said that sequels are the best way to break out… and that big followings often start about book 5 or so. So maybe you’ll be taking up a second residence on Erde, my dear?

    • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) on October 18, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      The good news is that you hooked your readers! I love that you have gotten such a response – a sign of great storytelling.

      • Nicola Layouni on October 18, 2014 at 3:44 pm

        Thank you. 🙂 I do have a few one/two star reviews (who doesn’t?), but the majority of feedback so far has been positive. It’s really heartening to know that people want to spend more time with my people in their world. Hope I don’t disappoint them! 🙂

        Have a great weekend!

      • kimberlysullivan on October 18, 2014 at 9:11 pm

        I agree with Janet – if your readers are begging for more, how can an author complain? As someone who critiqued an earlier draft, I can honestly say I can understand how readers were asking for more. I was (oddly and inconsistently, I know) cheering on both the romantic hero and the villian, who Nicola created in an amazing way. Looking forward to book 3 – and beyond???

  2. 4blogssake on October 17, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    recently read Gone Girl which has been on #1Best Seller since 1972. (ok, i’m exaggerating.) so exciting and then whammo- not just bad ending – but bad “last third of the book.” and now a major motion pic with ben affleck? i don’t get it.

    • kimberlysullivan on October 18, 2014 at 10:27 am

      Hi Terianne! Laughed with your 1972 quip. : ) I felt exactly the same with ‘Gone Girl’. It had me going for the first two-thirds, which I loved, and completely fell apart for me in the last third. Although I did give the book to my husband, and had a great time when he started in ‘Oh, I should have a wife like Amy.’, then felt pretty stupid for his comment at book’s end. I like to remind him of that. : )

  3. ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) on October 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    I really enjoy books that circle back in their endings. Some of those are the most satisfying and from a writerly perspective, I feel like this demonstrates an author who had a strong plan going into the project, too.

    I prefer a satisfying ending, but overall, I just need it to be logical. If I’m reading a book where everything is painful (and I’ve read a couple of those recently) – ie: everything that a character is experiencing is hard or sad or tying my emotions in knots, then I think I need a satisfying ending, for things to turn out okay because if things don’t turn out okay, I’m not sure it’s logical. Logical for life, maybe, but not for a story.

    In my much younger writing days, I used to be horrible with endings – all about the petering out. Somewhere along the way, I somehow figured it out, though (I think? I hope?) Even if an ending doesn’t circle back, it seems to me if, as writers, we remember our beginning, it will certainly help influence our logical and hopefully satisfying endings.

    • kimberlysullivan on October 18, 2014 at 9:15 pm

      Great comment, Janet. I think it’s true that ‘learning endings’ are part of the craft. For me, too, if I find myself coming back to how improbable an ending is long after I read the story, there’s a real problem. As writers, we need to make sure that our readers close the final pages of the book, convinced the ending was inevitable (even if it wasn’t what they imagined it would have been).

  4. evelyneholingue on October 26, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    I read the post you are linking to and agree with many points, if not all. Things can be a little bit different whether we write for children or adults. In children’s literature it is expected to tie loose ends and bring a satisfying ending that brings hope. For YA it can be a little darker or even sad.
    I love endings that somehow match the beginning, especially when little clues have been left through the story.
    In the end, I think the best are when enough emotions leave us wanting for more, or make us feel for the characters. And also a little envious of the writer for her/his ability to leave us on a great note.
    This summer I read Last Night on Twisted Road by John Irving. Through his main character, he tells us of his own writing process. He always starts with the ending and go up all the way to the first sentence. He says that he rarely changes his last sentence. I thought is was wonderful. Thanks, Kimberly, for another good post.

Leave a Comment