Finding the End of a Novel: Should We Just Throw Our Characters Out the Window?

How do you know how to end your novel? Do you have the end in sight before even sitting down to write the beginning? Or do you find your way there by writing to it? Do all the scenes you write inform your end so you can’t end your story without putting down each scene that came before it? Or does your end surprise you? Can your idea even be a true, real idea if it doesn’t have a tightly tied end? Is a story not a real story if it dissipates into nothing because you can’t think—don’t yet know—how to end it?

For the first novel I ever wrote, one you will never read called Bardo, in a way it didn’t have a true end. Its end could have been pushed out year after year, the characters growing older and older, and this is just one of the reasons why that novel failed. Its story wasn’t a story. It was just characters living a life, and books don’t get fatter and longer with age. They end, so you can close them and move on to the next book.

For the second novel I ever wrote, another one you will never read called An Irresistible Pull of Gravity, it knew its end from the very start. In fact I wrote the final scene very early on and spent all my years of working on that book writing toward that final scene. It was so vivid in my mind, I couldn’t imagine any other place for that story to stop. And yet, somehow, maybe being so rigid with that end point made me lose my story in the middle. Because that’s where so much of the book got lost.

Technically the third novel I started is Imaginary Girls, but a fourth novel snuck its way in because I got the opportunity to write it. I didn’t have a chance to angst over its ending since I had not so many months to write the whole thing. That’s Dani Noir. It ended where it ended, where I guess it only could have ended.

Back to Imaginary Girls, it found its end before the full manuscript was written, as I wrote a synopsis first. That shape helped me write to an end point that, though it did change from the synopsis, still has the feeling I imagined in its final moment so long ago. The mood and the scene was set from the beginning, even if the content in the scene changed after the book was written.

I am right now trying to end something new in my mind. Trying to find that magical final note before it’s written. Last night, after working all day, I collapsed on the couch to watch a movie. The story in this movie had developed into deep, troublesome waters, the characters all tangled up in each other and then, suddenly, the end came when one of the main characters let herself fall out of a window and died. That was it. The movie quickly tied up after that. I mean, the antagonist threw herself out the window, so I guess there wasn’t much more to be done with the story. This could be the end to everything I write from now on when I can’t think of an end: Deep, complex family drama… then someone falls out the window. Fantastical adventures up the mountaintop… then someone falls out the window. Haunted, chilling events that fold you up into their mystery… until someone falls out the window.

If only it were so easy as pushing someone out a window and typing THE END at the bottom of the page.

Still searching for my end… It will help me greatly if I know how a book ends before I begin the bulk of writing it. Even if it changes, it helps form the shape and keeps me in line. How do you find your end?

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18 responses to “Finding the End of a Novel: Should We Just Throw Our Characters Out the Window?”

  1. I’ve only written one novel so I can’t offer a wide range of experience, but what clinched it for me was when I changed genres. The first version (literary) was open-ended and could have gone on as you describe, till the characters were old. Then a thunderbolt hit me and I realised I was writing crime fiction. There the end was more clearly defined: a denouement between my protagonist and the baddie, followed by some (but not too much) explication.


    • Charlotte, You know what? That’s really helpful. If I think about _what kind_ of novel I’m working on, that may just inform the end point. I feel a little thunderbolt now, too! Thank you.

      (And I can’t wait to read your novel!)


  2. Instead of someone falling out of the window, how about someone going in the pond? Sorry, I couldn’t resist this.


    • There _will_ be a novel in which one of the characters “goes in the pond” at the end! I promise. And then we will all crack up and try to act it out in the backyard 😉


  3. I always think endings like that are cheap, personally. Of course, sometimes that’s appropriate. But most of the people I wish would fall out of a window never do. They end up falling in love or some shit.


    I try to do this with my endings. I try to take the easy way out. But I really believe that each story has it’s own ending. And for some reason, I can feel when one isn’t right.


    • I didn’t like the way the movie ended, that’s for sure. It felt tacked on.

      I have a feeling when an ending isn’t right too… I only wish finding my way to the right one came easier. *sigh*


  4. So far, I’ve always had the ending in mind before I start the novel. When I think of an ending that gives me goosebumps, that’s when I fell like I’ve got a story worth writing.


  5. I REALLY struggled with finding my ending on my current wip. I had written something else, but it was overly complicated and feeling a little Law & Order, which wasn’t the book’s genre at all.

    I knew how I wanted the book to end. As you say, I knew the feeling I wanted. But I wasn’t sure what needed to specifically happen. For me, going back to the beginning of the novel solved my problem. I made my end a direct answer (almost a reflection) of what happens in the beginning.

    Very tempting to just have the mc jump out the window, though. =)


    • I emailed you so I don’t spoil it for anyone else reading.

      I thought it was a very gripping, tightly wound movie… until the end.


  6. Interesting topic. Thanks for sharing how the endings were written for your books.

    Defenestrating characters is a great way to end a novel (or at least it would make it easier). I have three ideas for projects right now. One which has had multiple starts and now has a new direction (but I’m not sure of the ending) and two which are new, but have clear cut story lines and endings. As much as I love the characters of the old novel, I kind of want to ditch it to work on one of the new projects because there is a clear path. It seems like each story has it’s own method of getting to the end.

    Hope you find the ending to your book soon!


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