How to Write Endings: or how to get the octopus to bed

In the words of Anne Lamott: you have to get the octopus to bed

Last week I wrote about beginnings, this week I want to talk about endings.

Endings are very specific to each person’s own story so I can’t give individualized advice, but the most important thing is that endings must feel satisfying to the reader. ‘Satisfying’ is a very subjective word and it will mean something different to each reader. But here’s a good description: An ending is where tension is relieved because a conflict has come to a peak and everything has changed. The world will look different to the main character and reader now.

Do I need a happy ending?

Not necessarily. One of the defining factor of literary fiction is that there is no happy ending, where as with commercial fiction you must have a happy ending. Literary fiction readers come to expect the ending won’t be a perfectly happy one it just needs to be suitable for the story you’ve set out to tell. One literary fiction ending that was unhappy but stuck with me for a long time was Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss–haunting and unforgettable and quite sad, but suited the story. (If anyone has read it, they’ll know what I’m talking about.) The book wasn’t a happy one so the ending wasn’t either.

However, with romance and other genres readers are expecting a happy ending. Know the tropes of the genre you’re writing in and sum it up with something the reader will enjoy. In a crime novel, we expect that the bad guy will get caught–don’t leave us hanging.

How do I know when the book is done? Continue reading How to Write Endings: or how to get the octopus to bed