If you ask most authors for advice (including me), you’re likely to be told sometime about a narrative hook. That’d be a captivating yet appropriate scene placed at the start of the book to maximize reader interest. In other words, something that draws the reader in and forces them to read on.
Admittedly, this is harder to do than what I’m going to ramble on about today. Getting a successful narrative hook isn’t too hard (depends on the reader, and the reader’s mood) but is something many writers still struggle with, even experienced ones. But how you write your narrative openings and closes has a ton to do with sequels and prequels, which we’ll discuss as length later.
Regardless, you were probably told how to start a book, but weren’t given too much information on how to end it. But I’m here to tell you that one’s just as important as the other–and just as hard to pull off if you want to do it right, and this applies whether or not you want to make a sequel.
I’m not standing for fluff today, so let’s jump straight into the main course: how do you end a book correctly? I’ve discussed this before, but never how to create a “anti narrative hook”. And I don’t mean how to bring your story to an end; that happens naturally. You need to edit your ending to be as satisfying as humanly possible.
First, take a look at your plot threads. Are all of them resolved? If not, you need to go back and deal with them: promises need to be fulfilled, villains need to be dealt with, children need to be reunited with their parents, and so on. The goal is to finally end the novel in a tidy fashion, so that the reader can no longer say “hey, what happened to X?”
There’s two divergent paths from this method if you wish to leave some plot threads unresolved. The first is inability: at the end of most of my books, the characters are in no position to hunt down remaining villains. So I stick a mention in there just to satisfy the reader, and hint that I’ll come back to it in a future novel. That’s just how I roll, but don’t feel pressured to squeeze every problem into the final conflict if you think it might be cramped. But you better be pretty darn sure you at least mentioned the remaining issues/enemies/unresolved plot threads and made clear intention to chase them down before ending the novel.
The second is a cliffhanger. Mark my words: people will notice lazy cliffhangers. Ending the story abruptly while the reader still has unanswered questions is an incredibly ill-informed choice–that is, if you don’t do it right. A lot of people hate cliffhangers for precisely this reason. A cliffhanger is a legitimate end to a story, not an easy way out.
The best cliffhangers leave you agonizingly close to the truth; not in a desperate kind of way, but gradually building up to an answer that is promised to come in a second novel. Yeah, that’s right: if you make the ending of your book a cliffhanger, then you’re legally obligated to make a sequel that answers all the questions.
But a cliffhanger doesn’t leave the story on a lurch: it feels deliberate. Planned. The cliffhanger leaves you right in the middle of a confrontation, exactly where the tension is at it’s highest, when the certainty of victory could not be more tainted. It evokes an extreme sense of what will happen next? and if it doesn’t, your cliffhanger is either improperly placed or sloppily made.
So why is your ending so important? Sure, you know why the beginning is so important: without the narrative hook, no one will want to read the book beyond the first few pages (unless they really, really think it’s going to be better later on). But the ending? Heck, if you’re opening’s solid, the reader’s going to get to the end regardless of what happens.
It’s important in a far more meta sense. In the end, the book was written by a writer at a keyboard, and if you want the reader to respect you for it, you have to make the end good. An unsatisfying ending leaves a bad taste in our mouths, tainting the memory of whatever good story the reader has experienced. It decreases the chances of them coming back to read a sequel, and may even discourage them from reading your other books. If you care about your standing as a writer, you’ll pay as much attention to your narrative close as you do to your narrative hook.
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!