Creating a satisfying, compelling, believable ending to your story that winds every subplot and character arc snugly into the main plot is no easy task.
When ending your story…
Was there an ultimate confrontation between the antagonist and protagonist? There should be. This is mandatory.
Is the conflict resolved? In the hero’s favor or the villain’s favor?
What character transformations occurred? After all that has happened in your story, your main character shouldn’t be the same from the beginning to the end. Show how they have transformed, what they have learned, and how their life will now be different.
What were the costs of the final outcome of your story? (What did the protagonist lose in order to reach their plot’s conclusion?)
Is every question and plot point answered? Don’t leave gaping plot holes in your story. If the book begins with Sammy wondering who his real father is, but the main plot is actually about him falling in love, don’t forget to conclude in some way his search for his true father.
Is the conclusion logical? Even if you’re writing a story flooded with magic and fantasy, your reader should be able to shut the book with some sense of satisfaction that your story has ended realistically. Your protagonist didn’t win “just because.” Don’t cheat and decide that everything worked out fine and everyone lived happily ever after, because you couldn’t come up with anything better. Use plot twists and surprises, but don’t leave your readers scratching their heads at the end of your story and saying, “Um, what?”
Is your reader both surprised and satisfied? Going off of a logical conclusion, adding plot twists is fantastic, but you want them to leave the book with a sense of satisfaction about the resolution to your story. Read this.
Was the end “hard won”? Make sure it was difficult for your main character to reach their goal. There should be a moment of despair or absolute frustration in your novel, where your protagonist is almost defeated.
Can your reader catch their breath? Don’t end right at the break of the climax. Imagine if The Lord of the Rings ended right when Frodo destroyed the ring. Give your reader a few more pages, at least, to wrap up the entirety of the story and say farewell to characters they’ve come to love.
Is the ending long enough? Don’t sum everything up in a few short paragraphs to end the story. That’s as bad as info-dumping your character’s entire backstory into the first paragraph of your book. Your readers have been waiting eagerly for your story to wrap up, for the climbing tension to be resolved. Treat them with your ending.
Is your ending too long? Don’t allow the cheesy self-reflection drag on for too long, or you’ll have your reader finishing the book with eye rolls. You want the ending to impact your audience, not pound a message into them.
Did the book actually end? No matter if you’re writing a sequel (or a trilogy), your story needs to have a beginning, middle, and an end. Think about each Harry Potter book and each Hunger Games book. Your reader will have put however many hours of their lives wondering about what will happen to your characters. For a series, you may need to leave on a cliff hanger, but answer at least some of the questions. Resolve your story, even if you leave readers wanting more.