In last’s week’s post on novel beginnings, I cited Noah Lukeman’s First Five Pages and Les Edgerton’s Hooked. So, what did they do in their final lines? They sent us back to our drawing boards (aka writing tools.) 

     Lukeman:  “Ask yourself what you would do if you knew you would never be published. Would you still write? If you are truly writing for the art of it, the answer will be yes. And then, every word is a victory. 

     Edgerton:      “Play the game forward. I’ll be looking for you on the bookshelves.”

 These are what might be seen as “optimistic” or happy endings. They leave the reader satisfied, pleased and glad that s/he read the work.

 Glen C. Strathy on his blog: How to Write a Book Now offers up an analysis of endings, suggesting they begin at the beginning with the writer’s choice of story goal and outcome:

“Based on these two choices – outcome and judgment, the four possible endings of any novel plot are as follows.

1. Comedy (happy ending): the protagonist achieves the goal or solves the problem, and his success turns out to be a good thing.

2. Tragedy: the protagonist fails to achieve the goal, and his failure is a bad thing.

3. Tragi-comedy (Personal Triumph): the protagonist fails to achieve the goal, but his failure turns out to be a good thing.

4. Comi-tragedy (Personal Tragedy): the protagonist achieves his goal, but his success turns out to be a bad thing.”

Other writers, other analyses:

Linda Lindsey via Sheryl Tuttle’s blog: Hope and Faith, May 26, 2009:

  1. Explicit-all is answered
  2. Implicit-rests on interpretation
  3. Twist-new revelation
  4. Tie-back-tied to clues planted in the beginning
  5. Unresolved-main conflicts left unanswered
  6. Longview-tells the future of the characters

In combing the works of my favored, traditional writing teachers (Natalie Goldberg, Oakley Hall, John Gardner, etc) I found little that covered endings. Okay, stronger than “little.” I found nothing. Is that because they expect that endings take care of themselves if the writer has done their job? Quite likely. To follow Strathy’s paradigm, it seems transparent that the ending will take care of itself when the writer follows the goals of the novel as developed through plot, character, story arc, etc.

Looking at the novelists I referred to last time, there are some illuminating endings:

 Harper Lee, in To Kill a Mockingbird comes full circle when the book ends with Jem’s broken arm:

     “He(Atticus) turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the   morning.”

Atticus, the dutiful citizen/lawyer is ever the dutiful father burdened in the belief he brought on Jem’s injury in going after racist/child abuser Ewell, whose end comes at the hands of an uncommon hero.

In Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the story that started with references to “rivulet marks” as the drought builds concludes with a major flood of the migrant campground, taking lives and belongings. Seeking refuge in a barn, the Joads find the starving man whose life is saved by Rose of Sharon when she offers her milk-giving breast after the stillbirth of her child. It is an ending that stirred controversy from 1939 to this day.  Even the author had his doubts:

            John Steinbeck, Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath, page 90  had this to say:

            “My mind doesn’t want to work—hates to work in fact, but I’ll make it. I’m on my very last chapter now. The very last….the last scene that has been ready so long. I don’t know. I only hope it is some good. I have very grave doubts sometimes.”

 Then, there’s Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian whose poetic repetitive style was noted in last week’s beginnings. In the final paragraph (pre-Epilogue,) the judge dances the dance of death or is it life? A threesome of repetitive words provides the beat, the cadence of a heart throbbing to hear itself:

            “He never sleeps. He says he will never die.” ..and so he dances on.

 It’s your call to categorize these endings by whatever standard appeals to you. Mine: they end as they began, full of promise.

 Sonoma County writers take notice:Saturday, March 12, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Join Guy Biederman and Ken Rodgers for a one-day writing seminar, “Endings.” Suggested fee is $75.To enroll, contact Guy Biederman at guyb@sonic.net or 707-292-9040 707-292-9040, or Ken Rodgers at ken@kennethrodgers.com


Filed under Opinion, Writing


  1. This post on endings helps me to clarify the options, including what I just did on a recent submission to my MFA workshop: unresolved. It’s a tricky one, leaving an ambiguous ending with unanswered questions. You have to do it with authority so as not to leave the reader with the impression that you don’t know the ending yourself, or left it hanging from laziness or lack of time. Funny, I just posted on my blog some exercises (and my writing samples) from my program, including writing opening paragraphs that grab attention.

  2. Hi, Nicole,
    I’m glad you found the post helpful. In my mss. BY GRACE, I left the romance aspect unresolved and had a grand time doing so…while fully resolving the conflict within the story.
    Thanks for visiting,

  3. Jo Lauer

    Now I’m nervous. I’m committed to the ending of my just finished novel–I think. No really, I am. Sort of. I look forward to more comments.


  4. Interesting post, Arletta. SO much emphasis gets placed on the opening words, sentences, paragraphs… and almost none on the ending! Lots to think about here.

  5. Jo Lauer

    Hi–Jo Lauer, member of Redwood Writers. Just finished a cozy mystery (sitting with my editor at the moment). WHEN it’s published, I’ll let everyone know how I came to the ending.

  6. Arletta, I so appreciate your thoughtfulness. No real need for the deletes as all publicity seems to be good publicity in one way or another. Thanks.

    • Oohps! This is my week for confusing comments and replies. I have to hope that in all my confusion I’ve retained interest in the content of the blog…. Jo plans a humdinger of an ending for her novel and that’s all I’ll say for now!

  7. Excellent, Arletta! This post is so helpful.

  8. Thank you, Robin. I’m glad that you found it helpful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s