How to End a Story (with 5 Famous Examples)

How to End a Story (with 5 Famous Examples)

32 Remarkable Comments

 

Have you ever finished a novel?

If yes, then you know that it feels like Christmas, Easter, and the tooth fairy combined.

Yes, there is something incredibly liberating and satisfying about putting the very last words under a story you have been poring over for months or even years. All of the bits and ideas are finally out and on the paper – it’s like the best form of exorcism ever.

You are free at last, and you have something to show for all of your hard work. If you are a boy, you feel like Ghengis Khan, and if you are a girl, like the Queen of England, I guess… (or like Angela Merkel? Let me know).

Ends don’t come easy, because… well… you have to write the entire piece first. I recently published a post about how to start a novel, which was very popular, and I expect this post here to catch a lot less attention.

Why?

Simple math. Lots of people start a novel, but only few writers have the endurance and tenacity to finish one. Google counts 1,900 monthly searches for “how to start a novel,” but only 720 for “how to end a story” (disregard the fact it says ‘novel’ in one and ‘story’ in the other; these are the highest google numbers for beginning/ending a story).

Most people give up on their big plans sooner or later, and that’s true for all areas in life. If you ever had the audacity to finish a novel, or if you will ever have it in the future, you can be very proud of yourself.

The end matters though.

It’s what your readers will take with them from your book. It’s your closing argument and the last thing they read. And it’s what they will remember when they think back to your story in a couple of years, if they remember anything at all.

So you better make your ending count.

Here is the good news: A story ending to remember isn’t even that hard to write. You will now see five typical endings that will leave your reader in delight. Authors use these five endings all the time, and that’s because they work really well.

If all else fails, just use one of these examples as a template for your own story.

In this post, find:

  • 5 very captivating ways to end your story
  • The one story ending that is low key, but very atmospheric
  • How you can connect opening and closing scenes to come a full circle
  • Endings of famous novels to inspire your own endings

Want more closings? Download this:

‘How to End a Story’ PDF

I prepared a neat little PDF for you that summarizes this post. As a bonus, you can find two more famous story ending examples plus their descriptions. Let all of these endings inspire you. Instantly download for free:

Story Closures Download 3D Cover

Let’s take a look at how five reputable authors put their final exclamation marks on their finished pieces.

5 Good Story Endings Examples

1. Take Them by Surprise

(Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None)

Surprise works every single time. That’s because us humans are just curious creatures. You could uncover a surprising fact or give the action a surprising twist. Anyways, your readers will appreciate being astonished; after all, that’s what they are reading stories for.

Your readers will have certain expectations. They depend on the genre, the protagonists, the language, and so on… Be aware of your readers’ expectations. Put yourself in their shoes. Then give them something they don’t expect, but still makes sense for your story.

Maybe the thief turns out to be the narrator’s own husband or even the narrator herself. Maybe the girl doesn’t pick between her two suitors, but instead marries their uncle. Or their plumber.

Agatha Christie, the master of plausible surprise, shows us perfectly how it’s done in And Then There Were None. Ten visitors are trapped on a small island and murdered one by one. As nobody else is on the island, it’s clear one of them must be the murderer… but who?

One suspect after another is snuffed out, until only one person is left alive. It’s now clear she must be the murderer, until… the highly unexpected closure reveals she is not. The novel ranks amongst the bestselling books of all time.

You will have to do without a quote on this one, because publishing the outcome of a murder mystery is just… bad taste; like sticking your finger into somebody else’s ice cream. You will have to find out for yourself.

 

Good Story Endings, Surprise

2. Play on Their Sentiments with an Elegiac Fade Out

(The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera)

Milan Kundera takes a very different approach when he wraps up his The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

Up out of the lampshade, startled by the overhead light, flew a large nocturnal butterfly that began circling the room. The strains of the piano and violin rose up weakly from below.

 

Kundera’s classic novel fades into the distance like a piece of music. The ending doesn’t want to bring suspense, puzzle or get you to think. It’s all about mood. It’s a slow ending.

Try to make your reader really feel the power of the moment, be it terrifying, happy, sad, or sentimental.

Think of little symbols, like the butterfly above; with Kundera, it might stand for lightness, repeating the theme in the novel’s title. You could zoom in on a tapping finger or a dew drop, or zoom out to show wooded hills or a rural mansion. Landscapes and weather make very memorable finishing moments (“…and great shaggy flakes of snow began to fall.”).

Leave the reader with a unique vibe, and she will appreciate it. Sometimes, it’s all your closure needs.

3. Throw Them a Punchline

(Animal Farm, George Orwell)

With this one, you have to be careful. Do you know that situation when Uncle Albert at the holiday lunch table makes a big fuss about his upcoming joke, but the punchline is almost non-existent? You don’t want to be like that. You could tell a joke or describe surprising action, but make it count.

Your punchline doesn’t have to be funny. It could be an action or a simple observation. In any case, it should connect to the story topic, even if it’s just a symbolic hint. Otherwise it will be up in the air and look arbitrary.

George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is one big parable on how totalitarian systems arise and thrive. It’s told in an animal world. Look at the clever, indirect, but also poignant note Orwell ends on:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

 

4. Leave Open Questions and Create Suspense

(Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell)

If you want to tickle your reader with suspense, cue an open ending: Ok, the Apaches are defeated, but will they be back again? Got it, the starship has escaped the pudding-like aliens, but will it ever make its way home to planet earth?

These kind of endings will keep your readers on their toes and make them long for more. But be aware that they can also be very unsatisfying. After all, your reader bought your book so he can hear from you what happened. “Just imagine the rest yourself,” can be a little unsatisfactory. But if you have delivered a great deal of action beforehand and if the question is rather vague, it might be worth it.

Let’s showcase another one of the most successful novels of all time, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. It ends with Scarlett O’Hara longing to be together with Rhett Butler again – but can she? Also pay attention to the nice rhythm that keeps these phrases flowing:

I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.

 

Open ending 

5. Repeat the Theme of the Opening Scene

(American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis)

Whatever your story is about, it probably circles around one specific topic: Be it the struggles of love, the rewards of honesty, or whatever else. It’s what keeps your readers breathless throughout the story. Now give them one last reminder of what they came for, one condensed moment of your topic, a big final exclamation mark!

You have many options to repeat your main theme in the closure. Think of people, actions, details.

Maybe your story is about the importance of friendship, and you wrap up with one friend putting a patch on the other friend’s abrasion.

Or you end on one friend smilingly watching the other friend’s bag while she is away.

Or a close up on the yin and yang badge on that very bag. It might be very simple, but it automatically gains meaning because it’s the last part.

Bret Easton Ellis’ nihilistic novel American Psycho starts by describing a graffiti with the text Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

The novel fittingly ends with a nihilistic paragraph as well. Large parts of the following text read arbitrary in content and form. In the end the very last words of the novel spell it out clearly: NOT AN EXIT.

[…]this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so, well, yup, uh…” and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry’s is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes’ color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.

 

You can end your stories in an infinite number of ways, but these five closings will intrigue your readers, no matter what.

They will evoke joy, melancholy, surprise and other powerful feelings in your audience, and your readers will remember how they felt about your story for a long, long time to come.

That’s it, five endings. If you want two more famous endings analyzed, download the PDF:

‘Good Story Endings’ PDF

Download the free 2-page summary sheet for this post, and use it as inspiration whenever you are looking for your own perfect ending. Contains the five examples of this post summarized, plus two more endings in detail.

Definitely download this, so you don’t miss out on the last two examples!

Story Closures Download 3D Cover

And now the only thing left is…

Your Writing Prompt

Write an ending to one of the following prompts; write it out in the comments below. Two or three sentences are enough.

  1. Cecile has been travelling the entire world in search for her biological father, only to in the end discover that he works at the post office in her village.
  1. Harry is troubled by a gambling addiction and has piled up a frightening amount of debt that threatens to destroy his life. After giving all of his possessions to the poorhouse and cutting up every credit card, he can suddenly walk freely amongst the casino tables; his addiction is gone.
  1. Lilly wants to be a painter, but her husband is constantly telling her that she has no talent, will never get anywhere, and should stop molesting the brushes. At the end of the story, she breaks free mentally, paints something beautiful, and finds deep confidence in her abilities.
  1. Pick an ending of any of your own stories, or make one up on the spot.

I’m curious to see how you guys are approaching these endings. Let me know: What’s your favorite type of ending; as a writer as well as a reader? Do you need a happy end?

You can find many, many writing prompts on the writing prompts page. Pick one and practice writing just the ending for it.

You Have Reached the End of the Post

Finishing your novel is something special, and you have several options for putting that final exclamation mark under your baby, before you release it into the wild.

Listen to your story: What does it need? A silent or a loud ending, an open or a closed finish? These ideas came from you, so you know the answer. Trust yourself. Your gut instinct will tell you.

Once you set that final period, celebrate! You pushed through it, you created something original and beautiful, something dramatic, fantastic or exciting, and nobody can ever take that away from you.

You made it, my writer friend… and now it’s time to be very proud of yourself!

 

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32 Comments

  1. Chris

    Interesting, Alex… You suggest that:  “Ends don’t come easy, because… well… you have to write the entire piece first.”

    This isn’t entirely true. I usually get around a third to half way through a book before I get an idea about where the plot is leading… I’m a ‘pantser’, not a planner. When I start a novel, like my readers, I haven’t a clue what’s going to happen, or what I might find between the pages (other than the one or more themes I intend to weave my story around.). If I find myself needing to keep turning pages to see what’s happening next, hopefully my readers will do the same.

    Once I get an idea for the ending, I’ll write it… or at least a first draft of it… then I’ll steer the separate threads of the story towards it. Hopefully I’ll twist a little tension into those threads as I go, which can be released at the climax as a surprise to the reader and a satisfactory ending to the plot.

    But my ‘satisfactory ending’ is never the end of the book. I’ll always have one last twist, or sting in the tail, on either the final page, or as a last short chapter (if it takes place at the same time as the ending, or immediately following it).

    Occasionally, my final twist will be in an epilogue, taking place some while after the main narrative has ended reasonably satisfactorily… sometimes months or even years later… to add yet another unexpected topping to the whole confection.

    (I’ve also on a couple of occasions, repeated one or other of these endings as the prelude to a following novel in the series.)

    1. Alex
      Alex

      That’s an interesting approach, it’s like you are closing in on the middle from both ends. And you write multi-layered too; no easy solutions, but twists and surprises. Me likey.

      1. Chris

        I hadn’t thought about it as closing in on the middle from both ends… I hadn’t really thought about it at all. It’s just how I write, but I guess you’re right, I do frequently return to earlier chapters throughout the writing process, to add scenes, details, clues, and even characters to foreshadow later events that I hadn’t dreamed of at those early stages. (I also tend to edit myself as I go… leaving my final editing as a much easier job, and even reducing the work my editor has to do, though he often comes up with some good ideas for polishing the plot, or for honing the accuracy of any ‘facts’ by checking with his own contacts – He’s a writer too, and like us all, has a ‘little black book’ of useful experts).

        I always start with several (well at least two) scenes I’ve previously written for ‘a new book’… each around one of themes I want to include – For example, in the last book published (Disrespected), I had ideas about hi-jacking a bus. I also wanted to feature ‘honour crime’, and identity theft/fraud, as well as opening with ’the big reveal’ about whether a popular regular character was now being mourned, or had survived the ending of the previous book in the series. I wrote scenes for all these ideas before I started writing the novel. 

        When I started on the book itself, I put these scenes into some kind of order as the first chapter, to introduce the characters and these seemingly disparate themes to the reader (this is my usual practice).

        From then on, it’s a case of developing each of these parallel threads to see where they lead me, while all the time thinking about what kind of end game would suit all of them, and how these themes could somehow be connected.

        When an idea for the end dawns on me… I write it. – Though as it turned out, in ‘Disrespected’, another continuing theme developed, following my unexpectedly (to me) deciding to have a character murdered for surprise effect, which determined having yet another conclusion followed by another surprise twist in the tail.

        1. Alex
          Alex

          Interesting to hear how it works for you specifically. You have definitely found the process that works best for you; a mixture between planning and going with your gut. Good writing, Chris!

  2. Chris

    Your writing prompt… Something sprang immediately into my cruel and devious mind for the first scenario: 
    Cecile has been travelling the entire world in search for her biological father, only to in the end discover that he works at the post office in her village.

    * * * 

    Still dozy from the drugs, Cecile turned to look at the smiling doctor.

    “I’ve some good news for you, Cecile…” He began, “We’ve found a matching donor.”

    She smiled thinly, “Really?… A good match?”

    The doctor nodded, “Very good, my dear… A close family member has come forward.” He could see the surprise on her face.

    “But I’ve got no living family… at least, none I’m aware of.” She explained. “The only unknown quantity was my biological father… but I’ve been trying to find him all my adult life, to no avail.” She shrugged, “He clearly doesn’t want to be found… If he’s even still alive…” She stopped mid sentence, puzzled by the expression on her consultant’s face.

    “Following the appeals, your father has come forward and has tested positive… We’re scheduling the operations for later in the week, so you need to get some rest.” He smiled, “Try to get some sleep.”

    As the surgeon walked away, Cecile realised that sleep was the last thing she’d be able to get. She had too much buzzing around in her head. She reached for the TV remote and turned the set on to catch the evening news broadcast.

    A sombre looking reporter appeared, in front of a backdrop of carnage and the flashing lights of emergency services vehicles.

    “Police and firefighters say there is little hope of any survivors of this afternoon’s bombing atrocity. As yet, no motives are known, and no terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility. This is the third Post Office bombing this year. It’s suspected that the same organisation are behind all of them… This is Michael Thompson, BBC News, Dorset.”

    Cecile frowned as the screen returned to the newscaster in the studio. There was something about the scene that looked eerily familiar. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the consultant hurrying towards her with a serious look on his face.

  3. Pamela DG

    Cecile walked to the Post Office in her hometown. Her journey had led to this. All the spit in all the DNA samples in the world led her back to the five square blocks of her childhood. She remembered walking up the steps to post her first letter; the postman was serious as he carefully weighed the one-page letter knowing just how important this letter to Santa Claus was to the six-year-old. He carefully affixed the stamp with extra care. “You know Santa keeps track of how neat everything is in his letters,” he had said with a kind twinkle in his eye.

    Cecile returned to the present and screwed up her courage. She ran up the stairs opening the glass door that exposed her old P. O. Box. At the counter stood the kind old man she remembered. He turned toward her, “You know, don’t you.”

    All she could do was nod as her tears spilled onto her cheeks.

    He opened the swinging door that separated him from his daughter. “My name is Ralph; I don’t expect you to call me Dad.”

    She walked the few steps that separated them stopping just one step away from him. “I’ve been around the world looking for you.”

    Ralph took the final step toward her and brought her into a hug. “All that matters now is you are here now.”

    Cecile sighed and relaxed into the hug. It felt like home.

    1. Alex
      Alex

      Definitely a very emotional ending, and one readers will remember.

      Details matter too; I’m referring to something like “I don’t expect you to call me Dad.” It’s a bit ambiguous too, we can guess it’s because he doesn’t want to demand anything, but it could be other reasons too.

      I like how Chris and you made completely different stories and endings out of the same prompt.

          1. Pamela DG

            Ah, constructive criticism is not meant to be negative. It’s expected to be helpful. Maybe it’s an Americanism. Feedback may have been a better word. Your suggestion is helpful. Since this is an ending, I was relying on a backstory that the reader doesn’t know. I see the error in that. See you later, Friend.

          2. Pamela DG

            Here is the less ambiguous version. I hope I don’t drown you in details. Cecile walked to the Post Office in her hometown. Her journey had led to this. All the spit in all the DNA samples in the world led her back to the five square blocks of her childhood. She remembered walking up the steps to post her first letter; the postman was serious as he carefully weighed the one-page letter knowing just how important this letter to Santa Claus was to the six-year-old. He carefully affixed the stamp with extra care. “You know Santa keeps track of how neat everything is in his letters,” he had said with a kind twinkle in his eye.

            Cecile returned to the present and screwed up her courage. She ran up the stairs opening the glass door that exposed her old P. O. Box. At the counter stood the kind man she remembered. His hair was no longer the strawberry red it used to be; it had faded to white. He turned toward her, “You know, don’t you?”

            All she could do was nod as her tears spilled onto her cheeks.

            He opened the swinging door that separated him from his daughter; he started babbling everything he wanted her to know, “I took the DNA test hoping you’d find me. My name is Ralph; I don’t expect you to call me Dad. Mr. Chandler was an excellent father to you. I loved your mother so much, when she died my heart broke. You have her aqua eyes. Every time I saw you carrying your letters I remembered her. I had lost my job and couldn’t afford to take care of you. It was for the best I put you up for adoption. When I got the job here, I was thrilled that I could watch you grow up. But I couldn’t tell you. Do you forgive me?”

            “Yes, of course, I do,” she smiled the tears running down her face dropping onto her favorite silk blouse, “The records were sealed until I reached my majority. Mom and Pop told me I was adopted a while ago. They also told me I had a guardian angel looking over me. I think they figured out that you were my father. Your hair used to be my color,” Cecile paused to think, “Were you the one who answered the Santa Claus letters?”

            Ralph nodded, “Your parents let me do that for you. They allowed me to get the dog for you when they said you were responsible for it. It took me a month to find the right dog. You opened the door and looked at the big wicker basket. Then the puppy barked, and you squealed. I never saw you so happy. I was across the street. I had a story ready if you happened to see me,” he laughed at the memory.

            “Scamp is an old dog now,” She walked the few steps that separated them stopping just one step away from him. “I’ve been around the world looking for you.”

            Ralph took the final step toward her and brought her into a hug. “All that matters now is you are here now.”

            Cecile sighed and relaxed into the hug. It felt like home.

          3. Alex
            Alex

            Replying to your comment below and your second version: No error in the first version at all. I actually liked it better, because it leaves some mystery and behind-the-scenes emotion in the text. The first version worked really well.

            Re-writing scenes is an excellent exercise to improve your writing though.

        1. Chris

          As I read it, the ambiguity was in that wonderful line: “My name is Ralph; I don’t expect you to call me Dad.”

          It was that very ambiguity that worked so well, in the way it showed his uncertainty about how she would react to his deception (even by default) and whether her tears were of relief or sadness and disappointment… at least, that’s how I understood it.

          If anything, your ‘less ambiguous’ version doesn’t work as well. It leaves less for the reader to wonder about, or interpret for themselves. Readers like to feel involved.

          1. Pamela DG

            Okay, I’m still learning. Thanks. Finding the balance between details and reader involvement is not an easy one. I wasn’t satisfied with that middle part so I didn’t completely trust my instincts.

  4. Alice Fleury

    #2
    Spilled bourbon and stale perfume permeated the casino’s air. Harry let out a sigh, straightened his shoulders and weaved passed the poker tables. A shiny token gleamed on the carpet. The ching, ching, of the slot machines sang in his ear. He kissed it, tossed it over his shoulder and walked out into the bright sun of the Vegas Strip.

    1. Chris

      I love those last two sentences, reminding us that to addicts, gambling isn’t just an evening or night time entertainment. Up until then, it could so easily be a closed casino, after the public have left.

      1. Alice Fleury

        Thank you. I, myself, stay away from slots, not because I’m addicted to gambling, but because I get really ticked off when I play those machines. I’m no fun on the casino floor. Ha.

        1. Chris

          I’m just the same, Alice. Gambling for fun has no interest to me (real life is enough of a gamble), though I have used an illicit gambling club/casino as a background to a story – my short novella, ‘Payback’- “Does that make me a bad person?” … The second prequel/taster to my ‘Lena’s Friends’ series (click on my name at the head of the post for my page). There’s a different kind of ‘fun on the casino floor’ when Lena and her friends are involved… but with some sinister undertones, and dark secrets.

          Your last two sentences, however, work so well. The first to show the casino is open and operating… The second to remind the reader that to hardened gamblers, there are no days and nights, and very little sunshine.

  5. Sherryl

    How many times had I stood there, waiting for the crowd to clear so that I could have a few minutes to talk to Aunt Kate? Pick up the mail. Talk to Kate. Off to work.

    Kate, my other mother, the one I could get decent advice from, the one who always got me.

    Granny told me that if anyone could tell me about my father, it would be Kate.

    But I’d been afraid to ask. That was one thing about Kate. You didn’t want to piss her off, and my mother was a subject sure to piss Kate off.

    After Mum died, after the expenses, and the settling of the estate, and bullying Frank into giving me time off work; after following in her footsteps around the world following the details in her diary, I found myself back home again. The end of her journey with two-year-old me in tow. All the adventures, and the promise that John would be waiting.

    John? John fucking who?

    I know. I know how ridiculous it was to travel around the world when I could have asked Kate. I admit it. I was half-afraid that it would turn out to be John Wallace or one of the three John Smiths in the village. How unbearably prosaic. I had this image of myself, an image that didn’t include a farmer, a mechanic, an unemployed drunk, or worst of all, an accountant.

    Hell, I probably could have asked around the village and found out. I could have. It wasn’t a secret. But, of course, people didn’t say things to children, and I imagine that after a while, people supposed I knew. Like when Lily Mathers talked about Bess Hamby’s suicide and it turned out her daughter hadn’t known. God, what a fiasco that was.

    And John. Mum’s John. That was a story no-one was talking about around Mum. Or me. John who promised to wait, but didn’t promise not to change.

    It occurs to me that Mum imagined she’d cured John. Cured him of his notions.

    As if sex and its consequences was a cure for anything.

    There. I’ve approached it.

    Kate.

    Because on some level, I always knew.

    I have her eyes.

    1. Alex
      Alex

      Clap, clap, clap… That’s awesome, Sherryl! A complete mini-story with twists and turns and a “Take them by surprise” ending. It drew me in, and I had to smirk several times.

      This is my favorite part: “I was half-afraid that it would turn out to be John Wallace or one of the three John Smiths in the village. How unbearably prosaic. I had this image of myself, an image that didn’t include a farmer, a mechanic, an unemployed drunk, or worst of all, an accountant.”

      And of course the ending, where the story twists and turns again like a snake on a country road. Nice!

  6. Alice Fleury

    Sorry, my doorbell rang, the dogs barked and I hit send before saying thank you. I never miss your blog posts. I don’t comment very often. This is great info. I can’t wait for your series about procrastination and writer’s block. I hope Bosco is feeling better.

  7. Christine E. Robinson

    Alex, I’ll have another look at the end already written to make sure it’s the best one. I’ve written the beginning too, and now for the agonizing middle. Maybe if I write chapters from the end and chapters from the beginning I’ll have the middle covered. Thanks for some great ending ideas. Happy Bosco is better. Christine 

      1. alphabetstory

        This could be the beginning of a story. “If only there was no middle, and my stories could just consist of a big beginning and epic ending.” The middle is the scary part where I have to lay all my secrets bare.

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