The Do’s and Don’ts of Novel Endings

Author Tips, Tricks and Last Ditch Tactics

Tonja Vallin
Jun 18 · 3 min read

Writing a novel is not easy, but authoring a unique and fitting ending is even harder. It’s important to take all the time you need to get your novel ending just right!

When I was writing my first novel, Cancer Free Emily, I rewrote the last chapter about six times. When I finally nailed it, I began to cry. I knew I had a winner. So here are few simple tricks to get it right and keep from doing it wrong.

DO — Find a way to surprise the reader. Don’t be so predictable. I realize it’s a screenplay and not a book but think of plots like My Best Friend’s Wedding. The lead character has been plotting ways to win her boyfriend back. But she doesn’t land her dream man in the end does she! Instead, she’s swept off the dance floor by her best friend who professes….

“There may not be love, there may not be sex, but by God…there will be dancing.”

DO — Find ways to take small details that seem insignificant and tie them to the ending. I love the way The Six Sense was able to replay all the scenes where Bruce Willis’ character interacts with his wife. It’s only then in the flashback scene that you realize that he’s been dead the whole time. Now that’s an ending with a punch.

I also love all the details that come crashing together for a great ending. There are many books that flash forward and backwards in time and it’s magic when it all comes together in one glorious ending. To read an example of this done masterfully, read The Clockmakers Daughter by Kate Morton. She’s absolutely a master of writing endings that rock!

DON’T — Introduce new characters in the last chapter or develop complicated subplots. Trying to introduce new characters in the last chapter will only tick your readers off. It’s like the Carol King song, “It’s too late. Baby now it’s too late.” Your readers will not have a strong connection to new characters because they realize there’s only a few pages left. Just don’t do it. Three second pause for emphasis. Ever.

DO — Resolve the main conflict. Great plots are usually built on conflict. You don’t want to leave the reader hanging as to what happens. Most people want the ending fairly spelled out so they have some sense of closure.

DON’T — Cut corners on the ending. Make sure to set the scene, explain how your main character is feeling. The most important and interesting dialogue needs to happen in the final chapter to keep the reader turning the page.

We’ve all been there, we are reading this fantastic novel and then within the last three pages, it’s takes an unexpected twist and leaves us smiling, crying or both. You want to make sure your novel ending is the best it can possibly be so keep writing and when you start to laugh or cry after the final read, you’ll know. You just nailed your ending!

Tonja is the author of two novels, Cancer Free Emily and Miracle at Paradise Bridge and a frequent contributor to Medium.

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Tonja Vallin

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The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +479K people. Follow to join our community.