Last week I talked about beginnings, so this week it makes sense that I talk about endings. There are a number of ways you should NOT end your book. I’m going to run through a few of them and make recommendations for good alternatives as I do so. Now, usually, I write my blog post based on where I am in my own writing process or what I’m dealing with a client. This week is a little different—I’m talking about what Pru Warren and I discussed on our podcast. So, if you’d like an audio version of this along with a little banter, tune into that episode which will be coming out on April 1 (sorry it’s so far into the future, we’ve managed to get quite ahead of ourselves in our recordings).

Ways NOT to end your book:

#1: The Cliffhanger!

I cannot tell you how annoyed you will make your readers if you end your book on a cliffhanger without giving them a heads up about it in the book description! Yes! I’m using a lot of exclamation points! Why? Because EVERYONE HATES A CLIFFHANGER unless you know it’s coming!!!

There is nothing worse than reading a story, becoming invested in the characters, and looking forward to seeing them achieve their goal only to have the book end without that last bit. We need some sort of satisfaction at the end of a book. We need some sort of denouement.

Now, that doesn’t mean that your character has to achieve his goal. You could be writing a tragedy. But then you have to still have some sort of conclusion where you let the reader know what happens instead. Show them failing. Show how that affects the person. Show something!

Not having an ending is not acceptable!

#2: It was all a dream

Okay, this one is just stupid. You set up a situation, you make your reader care about the characters, worry about whether they’re going to achieve their goal or not, and then… it was all a dream? Really??? No. Just don’t do it.

#3: Deus Ex Machina

This is Latin for “God from the machine”. It’s a plot device used by the ancient Greeks who would end their plays with a god coming down from the “heavens” (via machine or whatever) to solve all the conflicts in the story. At the worst part of the story (the black moment, as many like to call it) when all is lost for our hero a god comes along and gets the hero out of the bad situation with a snap of her fingers and everyone lives happily ever after. B-O-R-I-N-G!

Come on! The whole point of having a hero is that they’ve got to get themselves out of the stickiest situations. That’s what makes them a HERO. If they are saved by some happenstance or feat of magic that no one knew existed, they’re not really a hero. Do not do this to them! Give them their moment to figure things out for themselves and get out of that terrible situation. I know it can be difficult (for the author as much as for the character), but go with it. Work at it. Make it happen. Do not rely on some miracle to occur to make everything all right.

#4: Sudden Love

If you’re writing an enemies-to-lovers romance (or any romance really) where the hero and heroine (or hero and hero/heroine and heroine/alien and human/etc) don’t really like each other through the entire book or are only friends/acquaintances don’t have them suddenly, at the end of the book, they realize they are madly in love with each other. It just doesn’t work that way. Love takes time to grow. It takes time to settle into your bones and your heart. Romance readers want those gooey scenes where the two protagonists gaze stupidly into each others’ eyes, make kissy noises at each other, and tell each other how wonderful the other person is. It’s part of the romance. It’s expected. Even if you believe in love-at-first-sight, this end of the book isn’t the moment for that to happen (especially since the two protagonists should have known each other throughout the book).

Give the reader some good stuff. Give them moments to savor. People don’t fall in love in an instant, don’t end your book that way.

#5: Wait, what? It’s over? (The too-quick ending)

I have been accused of this in a few of my books. I will end my romance with the hero proposing to the heroine (or committing to them) and… that’s it. There’s nothing more. We’ve got our happily-ever-after, right? What more do you want? I tie off all of the strings into a neat little bow and say “the end”. Oh, wait… you want that parade at the end, don’t you? You want those slaps on the back and congratulations? Huh… Well, uh, okay…

Yes, in my earliest novels I don’t have any of that feel-good, last victory lap sort of thing at the end of my books, but you should! I have learned my lesson! (After many readers complained—loudly—in their Amazon reviews.) Readers want that last feel-good moment after everything else has been solved and wrapped up in a pretty package. You can have the proposal and then wrap up the internal conflict or you can show your characters living their happy life. You can also—as you show your protagonists living their happy life—provide a little teaser or a hint of what’s to come in the next book. That’s not only allowed, it’s a great idea. 😊 Just don’t end your book suddenly and without warning. Give your reader a moment to bask in the happiness (or sadness or satisfaction, however your book ends).

So, there you have it, five ways NOT to end your book. And if you’ll notice, I am not just suddenly ending my blog post with number five. I’m giving you a moment to digest what you just read, and maybe I’ll quickly wrap things up with a bit of a teaser in that there are, of course, many other ways you should not end a book, and many ways you should, but perhaps that’s for a future blog post. 😉