C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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A good ending

If we must expire, most of us aspire to leave this dimension while in our sleep, oblivious to pain and our passing. For books, writers and readers have differing ideas about a good ending. In this post, I’ll tell you how I navigate that fetid swamp to make the happy voyage out to sea.

In my writers’ group meeting, we zoomed over a couple of ideas about what makes a good ending. In a short story, there is some room for ambiguity. Don’t try too much ambiguity with a long novel, though. Bring it in for a three-point landing or more readers will be disappointed that they invested so much time in a narrative that lacks a solid conclusion. For romance, the couple have to get together in the end. If they don’t, it’s not romance, it’s some other genre.

A vocal group of readers insist they hate cliffhangers. However, if you’re writing a series, there’s got to be something there to seduce your readership to continue the journey into the next book. That’s really no different from many dramatic movie or television series. Don’t pay too much attention if a tiny minority of reviewers kick up a fuss about it. However, with cliffhangers, the key is to answer a lot of questions and close loops while still managing to keep the intrigue going. If it’s all a tease for the next book, readers will have a valid complaint. If your sales copy is on point making it clear this is a series, you’ll catch less flack from the kibitzers, snipers, and moaners. Not no flack, but less!

Many readers think they want a happy ending. As a writer and a reader, I don’t care for that strategy if it feels forced. Instead, I recommend writers strive for a satisfying ending. I like a roller coaster, so I avoid hitting a single tone as if the entire orchestra is smacking a triangle all night. For instance, it’s very possible to place irony, or even a belly laugh, amid horrors, as long as you are judicious with the ratio. (One reviewer made me smile with the comment that one of my dark stories was “appropriately hilarious.” Mm-kay. Thank you, I know what you mean.) I write killer crime thrillers and epic apocalyptic novels, but I also look for opportunities to give readers a bit of hope even when events appear bleak.

My three criteria to achieve a satisfying ending:

1. The ending must be logical. Stick to the rules of the world you’ve established.
2. No cheating with deus ex machina or “….and then the child fell out of bed and realized it was all a dream.”
3. The ending should feel inevitable, but only in retrospect. Deliver a surprise.

To achieve these writing goals:

1. Plant seeds along the way and disguise the clues. (This often happens with the second or third draft.)
2. Don’t settle for the obvious ending. It’s the same principle as telling a good joke. If the reader thinks they see that final twist coming, they will be less pleased.
3. Red herrings are allowed, of course, but most elements you introduce should propel the narrative forward. Keep it tight.

If you’ve written a book or two, you know this is all harder than it sounds. Write the story straight in the first draft. By your final draft, it will be closer to the rich tapestry you imagined when you first sat down to dream in pixels and on paper.

Want a prime example? My crime thriller, The Night Man, is free on Amazon for the next 24 hours. Here’s your universal link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan for your complementary badass kickass adventure. This offers lasts until Monday, February 8, 2021, 11:59 PM PST. After that, it’s $4.99, so you know the drill.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. Your mileage may vary, so don’t give me any shit about this. I’m all about helpful suggestions here, not rules and absolutes. You can check out all my fiction on my author website, AllThatChazz.com. And please do. Thank you!

Filed under: writing, writing advice, , , , , , , , ,

5 Responses

  1. acflory says:

    I’ve already read the Night Man and really enjoyed it. I hope lots of readers jump in and grab a copy while it’s free.

    Re endings, I totally agree with “The ending should feel inevitable, but only in retrospect. Deliver a surprise.”

    Ditto cliffhangers. The current story has to reach a resolution, but the overarching story – which is what series are all about – can/should dangle some teasers.

    I do have a question though – do you really write that first draft as a wild thing, or do you mould it as you go? Of course, a lot will depend upon whether you outline first or make it up as you go.

    I don’t often do process posts but I did one on internal monologues and the discussion has been really interesting. Drop in if you feel like joining the discussion:


    • rchazzchute says:

      Or grab a copy when it’s *not* free! 🙂

      Re: process

      This Plague of Days was so huge, I had an outline of three single space pages, one sentence per chapter. Typically, I do not outline. I discover the story as I go. It’s not always a straight line. For my current project, I find myself plunging forward and going back as new details occur to me

      • acflory says:

        Hah! Yes. A little revenue would be nice. 😉

        TPoD was the first of your stories I ever read, and I can well understand the need to outline. I’m a pantster hybrid because my stories tend to be huge as well. At some point my brain simply stops being able to hold it all in so out come the dot points.

        Not sure if you use any dedicated writing software but the one I use is a bit like a project manager. Each chapter is an object and each scene within that chapter is an object too, linked to the chapter. Allows me to move things around very easily [no need to cut and paste etc]. It also has an outline function or, my preference, you can use the chapter and scene ‘titles’ to create a kind of running outline. Not plugging the software, although it is very good, because there are at least 2 that I know of which do the same job.

        Anyway, happy writing. 🙂

      • rchazzchute says:

        Sounds like Scrivener. That’s what I use.

      • acflory says:

        Ah! Scrivener was one of the two. I use StoryBox but from what I’ve seen, the two are very similar in function.

        I have to use Word for my how-to books because of its graphics capabilities [I use lots of screenshots], but I can’t imagine using it for fiction any more. -shudder-

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