While not always written on the last page of a manuscript, the words ‘the end’ are implied when an author reaches the final sentence of a story. This can be one of the most satisfying parts of the process, the point where a punctuation mark acts like the fade out of the last scene in a movie, followed by an end credit card and a dramatic swell of music. Completing any draft of a writing project feels like a major accomplishment. Finishing the final draft can be magical when the author believes they’ve done the absolute best work possible for that point in their career.
Though I don’t often print copies of my works these days, I can well remember the stack of paper filled with fresh new words sitting atop my desk, the corners a little dog-eared from being shuffled and squared. I once loved the act of sliding a completed manuscript and a cover letter into a large envelope addressed to a far-away editor and taking my new baby off to be weighed and stamped before going out into the world. Sending an electronic file doesn’t have quite the same feeling of ceremony, but is still an exciting time that incites an exhilarating feeling of both joy and terror in a writer.
Reaching the end of a story doesn’t always instill the same feelings in a reader, though. When written well, many characters become good friends, so leaving them can be a painful process. A reader often wants to know what happens next. Where did the character end up? Are they happy? Why did they make the decisions they did? The withdrawal of finishing a good book can leave a reader with a hangover that takes days, weeks, or even longer to get past. Those are the types of books people go back to again and again when they need comfort. They are the books with broken spines and dirty pages from being read over and over again.
Those are the books that both writers and readers want.
When reaching the end point in any story you may be writing don’t just think about the satisfaction you may be feeling, but consider whether the finished product will leave your readers crying out for more. Remember books you’ve read that you didn’t want to put down and what made the endings so memorable. Do you think your story has similar elements? If not, you may want to revisit where you’ve left your characters. Don’t become so drunk on the feeling of having finished the task you’ve found so maddening for however long you’ve worked on it that you aren’t willing to revisit that ending.
If your book were a movie would the reader be sitting in the theater watching the end credits in stunned silence? Would they be chatting with their companions about how much they enjoyed the story? Or would they be so enthralled they wanted to re-watch the movie right away?
Ask a few people aside from your family or friends to read your story and ask how they feel about the ending. Use their responses as a gauge as to whether or not your story is one that people will latch onto the way so many have to books like the Harry Potter series. As someone who has read the books many times, attended midnight book releases and movie showings, and continues to want to read and watch them over and over, I consider them a good example of the type of writing many people want to read. The books are not only about magic, they are magic, and I felt a deep sense of loss when I reached the end point of both the books and movies.
Those are the feelings you want to inspire.
Fade to black…dramatic music swells…