“The perfect ending should take the reader slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right to him…. It is like the curtain line in a theatrical comedy. We are in the middle of a scene (we think) when suddenly one of the actors says something funny, or outrageous, or epigrammatic, and the lights go out. We are momentarily startled to find the scene over, and then delighted by the aptness of how it ended.”
William Zinsser, On Writing Well
Just recently, I was talking to my sister Steph about a novel that I’d read and loved until about the final third. At that point, the story seemed to fall apart — it was as if the author wasn’t quite sure how to weave together the threads of her tale and so she ended with a whimper instead of a bang. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had the same thing happen,” Steph responded.
It’s so disappointing when that a writer just fizzles out, isn’t it? As our boy William says, there’s an “aptness” to a good ending that just makes it seem perfect and inevitable. But crafting that kind of ending can be maddeningly difficult. Here are a few tips from On Writing Well that may help:
• You should give about the same amount of thought to your last sentence as you do to your first — they’re equally important.
• A powerful last sentence or paragraph can add enormous impact to everything that’s gone before it. Aim for something that “sends the reader on his way quickly and with a provocative thought to take along.”
• Go for surprise — for something fresh and unexpected. An ending that delights, intrigues, and lingers long after readers finish the story is bound to be memorable — and pack a true emotional punch.
Let’s keep these ideas in mind as we craft endings that keep our readers engaged and entertained. Write on!