Writing with Style 1: How to Write an Ending

Tonight I take a break from my mock-epistolary style with a different type of blog post. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I get a lot of questions from fellow writers who’ve read my books and have asked something like, “How’d you keep the pace moving so fast,” or “Where’d you come up with the idea to use … as a symbol for …” or “how do you keep the writing so clean or so tight?” Originally, I thought it was enough to address these types of questions with my bi-weekly, Letters on Literary Devices. But it appears that most folks prefer serious answers over sarcasm, and I figure, eh, what the hell, I’ll give sincerity a shot.

th (4)

For those of you who follow along with each post, you probably remember last’s week’s Letter on Literary Devices where I discussed a bizarre new way to conceptualize the development of a book ending. If you didn’t read it, check it out: The Predictability Spectrum. In that, I shamelessly compared foreshadowing the ending of a book to different variations of fecal excretions (Shit, that sounded like hyperbole). In this, I’d like to expand on the ideas expressed in that post with a slightly more serious approach and hopefully some decent tips for all you folks working on an ending for a book.

Here it goes:

One of the greatest challenges a writer faces in closing a book deals with the following questions: How explicit should I be? How much should I explain? How much should I leave open for interpretation?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a single answer here. Fortunately, I do have some important considerations that could help lead you to a decision.

Consideration 1: Are you writing Genre fiction? Readers expect certain types of endings for certain types of genres. So if you’re writing a mystery, a thriller, or a romance; you’re going to want some twists and turns in your ending. You won’t want to give to much away by means of foreshadowing, but you will want an ending that wraps up neatly. No room for interpretation needed.

Other genres bring other expectations. It’s important to know the expectation, so that you can either choose to follow it or choose to cleverly break the rules.

Consideration 2: Is your book literary? If it is, good. You have a lot of freedom. Although you can’t ignore convention entirely, you have a lot of options. The one thing to avoid is laziness. Whatever you do, don’t just end it because you don’t know how to end it. Don’t just make everything work out fine or kill everyone off for no reason (Unless you’re writing a farce). There should be reason behind an ending. (Unless you’re trying to make some homage to modernism. In that case, good luck to you).


Consideration 3: Should the ending be suspenseful? That’s easy. The answer is yes. However, there’s more than one way to create suspense. You don’t have to end the book with a shootout to keep the readers attention. If you’ve done a good job developing your protagonist, your readers will want to know what’s going to happen to him or her. By simply building suspense up to the moment where the conflict resolves, you set yourself up for a decent ending. This can be done in a number of ways. Personally, I try to make the main conflict multi-dimensional. I like it to affect more than one character; I like it to involve some type of decision; I like to foreshadow its resolution symbolically; I like to use a lot of repetition of images or actions; I like there to be a moment of recognition (Aristotle called it anagnorisis) where the protagonist or antagonist realizes and even verbalizes his inescapable fate.  And these are just the things I can think of as I’m sitting here. There’s tons of ways to build suspense towards an ending. Get creative and don’t be afraid to ask readers whether or not the ending held their attention.

Consideration 4: Did you develop any major symbols or recurring motifs throughout your novel? If you didn’t, it might not be a bad idea to go back and add a few. That’s one of the things I always do during the first round of revision. Often, an ending can be hinted at through a symbolic event or passage earlier in the novel. In the book I just finished writing, the major symbol was the image of a hawk struck by a speeding truck. There was also a set of dancing eyeballs and a puddle of stagnant river water and this song that kept playing on the radio: Always the same, / Don’t you never change…”. There was more but I don’t want to give away the potential title. The point is this: to end the novel I allowed these symbols and images and motifs to converge towards an inevitable, believable conclusion. There weren’t twists and turns per se, but that’s ok. The symbols contradicted each other suggesting more than one possible ending. And that’s what creates suspense. It’s not about foreshadowing a single ending. Its about foreshadowing several possible endings. That’s why adding symbolism can be so powerful. Inherently, symbols allow for interpretation.


Consideration 5: Should the ending be explained, hinted at, or left totally open? Personally, I like ambiguity in endings. But that doesn’t work for every book. I have four published novels now. The first ended in a tell-all. Here’s what readers said about it: “the ending is fitting” , “Throughout the story there are twists and turns, which keep you guessing right up to the very plausible and fitting end.” And that’s the type of feedback this type of ending is likely to receive. My third book was left open-ended. Check out what folks said about that one: … Yep, that’s right. No one commented on the ending. After that I decided to do a tell all with my fourth book. Check out what one reader had to say: Probably the most brilliant way to tie up loose ends in a series ever” The point here should be clear: readers remember the tell all ending. But that doesn’t necessarily make it better. It just makes it more memorable.


Well, that’s it for now. Hope this was helpful. If it was, and you liked this post, help me out by hitting that like button below. If you’d like to read more posts by me, feel free to click the follow button on the side of this screen. Want to check out my books. Just click this link: BOOKS. As always, thanks for reading and have a good day.





About Eric James-Olson

Eric James-Olson writes novels and short stories. Currently, he's working on a coming-of-age novel set in the Panhandle of West-Virginia. Check out the "Novels by Eric James-Olson" tab above for the titles of his other books. In addition to writing, James-Olson is a high school English teacher, an amateur woodworker, and an outdoor enthusiast. He lives with his wife and daughter in West Virginia. View all posts by Eric James-Olson

One response to “Writing with Style 1: How to Write an Ending

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: