How to End a Story and Keep Readers Engaged

Bearded man sitting on a coach reading a book with his dog

Every story has an ending, but what makes that ending as engaging as the rest of the tale? Here are a few ways to end your story that will leave readers ready to start it all over again.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The ending of your story holds a lot of weight. Think about it: you’re reading a mystery novel that has you on the edge of your seat. You finally get to the end and it… totally falls flat. How does that make you feel about the time you spent reading the book?

Books are an investment of time, a leisurely activity, and a way to escape what real life might be throwing at us. As an author, the story structure and ending of your story matter. You want to ensure that the story’s central conflict is resolved in a way that feels powerful and complete for the reader.

You’ll also want to make sure that you’re not rushing details for the sake of an ending. When creating a character, give them the space to end on a strong note, too. And most importantly, make the ending resolve the storyline in a way that best serves the work.

6 types of story endings

This might sound like a lot to take in, but don’t worry: I’ve broken down each type of story ending so you can decide which will make your story feel complete. Below you’ll find the six different ways that every story ends.

Resolved ending

In a resolved ending, nothing is left to the reader’s imagination. The loose ends are tied up, the mysteries are solved, and the questions are answered. This doesn’t mean that it’s a happy ending, but ultimately, there is no room for interpretation or wondering, “what’s next?”

One example of a resolved ending is Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. In the end, the reader is left with no questions, no wondering, and the characters, quite literally, live happily ever after.

Unresolved ending

An unresolved ending leaves the reader trying to interpret what happened or wanting more. This type of ending is especially popular within a book series, such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. You turn the last page of one book and the cliffhanger immediately prepares you to jump into the next. It’s a great type of ending for a book series.

While unresolved endings might not work for many novels, they can keep the reader thinking about your story long after they’ve put down the book, depending on the nature of the story and your character development.

Expanded ending

When you think of an expanded ending, you might think of an epilogue that shifts you forward in time and perhaps provides an alternative perspective. It could make the reader feel something entirely different about the story as a whole.

An expanded ending does just what it implies: it expands on the story — perhaps in a way that places the reader into the future. The end still feels complete, but now the reader can see it in light of events that occur after. We see this type of ending in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Giving the reader information beyond that of the story itself can help answer lingering questions the reader has without disrupting the flow of the story.

Unexpected ending

An unexpected ending of a story is (you guessed it!) unexpected. It’s an ending the reader wouldn’t have anticipated and one that might throw them for a loop. Think Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing.

six months to publishingThis type of ending can be lots of fun to read — and write — but beware, it can make or break the story. A reader might be frustrated if the ending totally blindsides them in a way that seems impossible. However, if your reader can look back at your story and see how the ending was actually hinted at or baked in in an unassuming way, it can add excitement and completeness. That’s one of the beautiful things about creative writing.

Ambiguous ending

Like an unresolved ending, the ambiguous ending doesn’t tie everything up neatly. However, unlike an unresolved ending, the ambiguous ending truly leaves the end of the story to the reader’s interpretation. There is no clear resolution, which leaves the reader having to grapple with a host of possibilities for the actions and activities that come next.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a perfect example of an ambiguous ending. We’re left unsure what happens to the main character, June Osborne, though we know she makes it out of Gilead (which served as the entire plot), leaving us with enough information to decide for ourselves what might happen next.

Tied ending

With this type of ending, the story ends right where it begins. It brings the story arc full circle and often has the main character starting right where they began. To make this interesting, you’ll want to ensure there is a distinct point to this ending — and indeed, to the story itself.

For example, in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, the main character, Santiago, ends his journey right where he started. The point of this ending is that the treasure Santiago sought was right underneath him the entire time. Because the story is sprinkled with lessons, this tied ending is a significant way to end while still making the journey of the book enlightening and worth experiencing.

4 tips to writing a great story ending

Now that the different types of story endings have been laid out, here are a few ways to put them to use and create a truly powerful ending to your book.

  1. Give your readers closure. This doesn’t mean you need to tie up your ending with a neat bow, but giving your readers some sense of closure makes it much more satisfying. Even if you’re writing a book within a series, the story within the covers of your book should have some defined sense of a beginning and end.
  2. Don’t leave plot holes. This is more of a structural tip, but make sure there aren’t any holes in the plot that will take readers out of the story. For example, if you introduce a character and they disappear without explanation, the reader will end the book feeling confused and even a bit disappointed.
  3. Give yourself options. When writing your story outline, consider different endings and see what works best. You can even do a mini writing experiment and try each of the different endings discussed here. Even if you’ve already decided a certain ending won’t work, you might change your mind once it’s written on the page.
  4. Make your readers feel something. Great endings leave the reader feeling some type of emotion. Happy, sad, or somewhere in between, you’ll want to leave the reader feeling an emotional connection to the story and characters, even after it ends.

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