Monday, November 22, 2010

The Right Ending

Every writer has a smile on their face when they reach the end of a manuscript. I'm always surprised (and a tad disappointed) that there aren't spontaneous parades. Reaching the end is great, but then your inner-editor starts to niggle "Is it the right ending?"

Here are some questions I always ask before I snarl "Yes," at my inner-editor. Please remember, I write mysteries so many of these questions are genre-specific.

1. Is the timeline correct?

2. Have all the red herrings been revealed as such?

3. Is this resolution (i.e. the identity of the killer) stretching the boundaries of believability?

4. Is the final step to uncovering the killer's identity believable?

5. Have the sub-plots been resolved?

6. Does the ending come too abruptly?

7. Should the ending actually be 20 pages earlier, because nothing happens there?

And always...

8. If I was reading this book for the first time, would I want to read another book by this author?

If the answer to #8 is "No" then I've got a whole new set of questions.

How do you know your ending is the right one?


  1. I'm not fond of writing endings. That's why I gave up on short stories, I think! But you're right. Your opening paragraphs sells the book, your last paragraph sells the next book.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. Elspeth - Those are really excellent questions! I think #8 is of paramount importance, too, and it's one of the main ones that I ask myself. I also ask myself: are the characters' reactions at the end believable? It's closely related to your #3, but to me, slightly different. I always want to make sure that the characters (including the murderer) behave the way you'd expect a person to behave if s/he found out a loved one was a killer. Or if s/he'd been caught as a murderer, etc...

  3. Terry; That's so true! I've never found the endings easier to write in a full length story than in a short story.

    Margot; You make a very good point. Every character's reaction should be 'in character'.

  4. I have to always, ALWAYS re-check my timeline because I'm prone to losing or adding days along the way. Two Tuesdays? Zero Mondays? No problem!

    Great checklist!

  5. Carol; I don't have problem with days; I have problems with hours - oh look. three different things happening to the same characters at the same time in three different locations! There's a big curse word in the air.

  6. I hope my early readers and editors will let me know if I hit the mark on the ending, which I think is just as important as the beginning. However, I also think answering the questions on your list should be done before turning it over to others to read.

  7. I love writing the endings. I like big expansive mystical (but not magical) endings where you aren't exactly sure why it is finished but you feel satisfied. I've only written one ending of a mystery novel and it wasn't like that though - it was kind of warm and you got to find out what happened to everyone and it was round - yeah, round - it ended in the same room as the first chapter and so it was round. all your questions are good but I especially want to stay focussed on the sub-plots being nicely done up. hmmmm...

  8. Oh, gosh. I *hate* endings! I'd rather write 200 beginnings than a single ending. I've come to terms with my problem for the last couple of books I've finished (I end them the way I started them...dialogue), but they still give me fits if I allow myself to obsess over them...

  9. Jane; I do try my best to answer all the questions correctly before I put the manuscript before other eyes. Sometimes I'm right...

    Jan; I really like that idea of an ending being round - I'll think of it next time.

    Elizabeth; Beginnings are easier, aren't they? I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who finds them tough.

  10. I don't ever know that. I still wish I'd come up with a different ending for my first mystery...too late now.


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