Five Ways to End Your Novel by Laurel Osterkamp
Let’s welcome back Laurel Osterkamp as she shares with us “Five Ways to End Your Novel.” Enjoy!
Last month, I wrote about what not to do when writing the ending of your novel. Today, my topic is on what you should do before typing “The End.”
Endings should be emotional. They should surprise the reader, yet also seem inevitable.
I believe that finding the “right” ending to your novel is innate, something you must feel, rather than think too hard about — and perhaps that isn’t something that can be taught. That said, there are some strategies you can use. Effective endings might feature closure, finality, a twist, irony, or hope.
I have examples below. Be warned: there are spoilers ahead!
An Ending That Features Closure
Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much is True.
Final Lines: “I am not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods of my own, and my family’s, and my country’s past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things. This much, at least, I’ve figured out. I know this much is true.”
Here, Wally Lamb gave the reader a neat ending that ties together loose ends and provides answers to lingering questions.
It’s an epic, intense novel, adding layer upon layer, making the reader wonder how everything could possibly be resolved.
Yet the final passage skillfully alludes to several themes from throughout the novel while also referencing its title. And, wow! The beauty of those words packed such an emotional punch.
An Ending that Features Finality
Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca
Final Lines: “The road to Manderley lay ahead. There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.”
Endings that feature finality focus on the idea that life is unpredictable and nothing lasts forever.
This type of ending seems very poetic to me.
For instance, in Rebecca, the unnamed narrator almost gets her happy ending. And yet, even if all the twisted lies don’t bother her, nothing is okay.
The path home is plunged in darkness as Manderly burns to the ground. The imagery of blood and of ashes blowing is powerful and unsettling.
The reader knows that while there’s no going back, our main characters will never truly leave their past behind.
An Ending With a Twist
E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars
Final Lines: “My full name is Cadence Sinclair Eastman.
I suffer migraines. I do not suffer fools.
I like a twist of meaning.
A twist ending includes a surprise revelation or dramatic twist that turns the entire plot on its head.
In We Were Liars, the major twist comes towards the end of the novel, but not on the final pages. However, the final lines of the novel, repeats of ones stated in chapter two, also present an additional twist.
Cady likes a “twist of meaning” but the reader doesn’t understand what she means by that until the end.
We also know that when she says “I endure” she means she’ll survive on every level — physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Given the circumstances, it’s the happiest ending possible, although also still tragic. This novel’s conclusion was truly gutting, and for a long time I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Endings That Feature Irony
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl
Final Lines: “I really, truly wish he hadn’t said that. I keep thinking about it. I can’t stop.
I don’t have anything else to add. I just wanted to make sure I had the last word. I think I’ve earned that.”
Irony is when appearance contrasts with reality, thus the ending of Gone Girl is ironic in every way.
Amy thinks she’s “won” by nearly framing her adulterous husband Nick for killing her.
The world sees a happy, beautiful couple about to have a baby. The truth is they hate each other.
Nick is only nice to Amy “Because every morning you have to wake up and be you.”
Amy realizes her victory is empty, and yet she still sees herself as the wronged party, worthy of the “last word” — which is also the novel’s final line.
And Ending That Features Hope
Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner
Final Lines: “It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make ANYTHING all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.”
Endings that feature hope aren’t necessarily happy, but they suggest that happiness is within reach.
In The Kite Runner, our main character Amir is still desperately hoping for redemption, as he’s taken the young Sohrab into his care.
Sohrab barely speaks and never smiles. But there’s a flicker of something when Amir offers to chase a kite for him.
“For you, a thousand times over,” Amir says.
I read this book before it was a movie, but I could practically hear the soundtrack swelling as I pictured Amir chasing the kite, and seeing Sohrab’s ghost of a smile.
While I suggest waiting until you are “in the zone” before writing the end of your novel, so you can “feel” an organic conclusion that packs a punch, that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead.
Have the major plot points figured out, and decide if your ending will feature closure, finality, a twist, irony, or hope.
About the Author
Laurel Osterkamp is from Minneapolis, where she teaches and writes like it’s going out of style. Her short fiction has been featured in Tangled Locks Literary Journal, Bright Flash Literary Journal, and Metawoker Lit, among other places. Her latest novel Favorite Daughters was recently released by Black Rose Writing. (Click here to see the novel on Amazon.)