What to do when You Can’t Decide on an Ending

Every writer has experienced this from time to time – you’ve been trucking along on your draft and making great progress and now you’re almost finished. You just have to wrap everything up in a neat little package and then type The End.

But you’re just sitting there staring at the screen with no idea how to do that. Thoughts of abandoning this book start popping into your head. So what do you do?

What does your outline tell you to write next?

What’s that? You don’t have an outline?

Never fear! I ran into this issue just a few weeks ago with my current WIP, Saving Wonderland. These days I don’t start a book without at least a loose outline of the beginning, middle, and end. But this was a draft pulled from an old attempt at NaNoWriMo that I hadn’t outlined. I didn’t have an idea where the story was going to go, and when I reached 50,000 words I stopped writing and put it away.

When you just can’t figure out how to end your novel, take a break. Banging your head on the keyboard won’t do you any good. Here are 2 ways you can take an effective break so that you can come back and write your ending with a fresh mind.

Take a complete break

Take 1-2 days away from your novel completely. Don’t think about it. Clean your house. Write a short story completely unrelated to your novel. Go out with friends. Get out in nature. Just be sure you don’t turn your break into an extended hiatus.

Start editing from the beginning

This is what I did with Saving Wonderland. I knew I had several scenes to add and more vidid detail to weave throughout. When I realized I wasn’t going to figure out how to end the story anytime soon, I simply went back to the beginning and began my first round of editing. By the time I got to the end of the story again wrapping it all up neatly was a cinch.

BONUS TIP

If you’ve tried both of the above you can try my method for coming up with an ending during the outlining phase. For this exercise I strongly suggest pulling out your notebook and pen because that will trigger different areas of your brain. Ready? You’re going to brainstorm 3 potential endings.

The first ending will be the most obvious ending, the “happily ever after” that your readers are expecting.

The second ending will be the opposite of what’s expected. Your protagonist fails to complete his quest. The girl doesn’t get to marry the man of her dreams. Will Smith doesn’t save the planet from an alien invasion and we all become slaves to our alien overlords.

Finally, brainstorm an ending that is completely unexpected. Your protagonist fails to complete his quest but discovers that the bad guy he’s been trying to defeat is actually the good guy and he’s been on the wrong side all along. Will Smith saves the planet from an alien invasion but then discovers that in doing so, he also saved an unknown planet from their tyrannical reign. The crazier the better. Let your imagination flow.

Once you have these 3 endings, analyze them to determine which will work best for your story. When you finally write The End, be sure to book your slot in Dream to Draft for your next book so you’ll be sure not to run into this same problem again.

XO,
Jen

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