Even if you’re not there yet, visualising the ending of your book and actually writing it can give you a target to aim for and help you get across the finish line. In her chapter on sentences in Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose discusses the use of rhythm and cadence to signal to a reader that the story is ending:
Again, it’s helpful to consider the parallels to music, the way that, at the end of a symphony, the tempo slows down and the chords become more sustained or dramatic, with overtones that reverberate and echo after the musicians have stopped playing. Try opening your favourite books and reading the endings aloud. Chances are you’ll find yourself reading more slowly and more softly, as the sentences themselves telegraph the arrival of a grand or muted finale.
Here are three of my favourite endings:
He woke lying on his side. Above the window blind was a line of daylight, the colour of smoke. He could feel her warmth against him and then she stirred and he felt her breath on the skin between his shoulderblades and then her lips moved against his
spine, and then she pressed them to him and she kissed. The world opened, the day began, he felt that he was alive again, forgiven. (Peter Temple, The Broken Shore)
At last the three companions turned away, and never looking back again they rode slowly homewards; and they spoke no word to one another until they came back to the Shire, but each had great comfort in his friends on the long grey road.
At last they rode over the downs and took the East road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland; and already they
were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Eleanor upon his lap.
He drew a deep breath. “Well, I’m back,” he said. (Tolkien, Lord of The Rings)
He put the telescope down with a hollow feeling. Too late, too late. Every day he sat here, watching, waiting, while dusk gathered in the valley, scanning the trees and silent rocks. Until it was fully dark he could not make himself put the glass
down and turn away.
He could not say why he had to go on sitting here. Only he knew that the one thing that brought him a measure of
peace was to peer through the telescope. Even after the cliffs had reached the moment at sunset where they blazed gold, even after the dusk left them glowing secretively with an after light that seemed to come from inside the rocks themselves: even then he sat on, watching, into the dark. (Kate Grenville, The Secret River)
In The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogeler suggests that a story should end in one of four ways – a full stop, an exclamation mark, a question mark or an ellipsis. He goes on to say … a good story, like a good journey, leaves us with an Elixir that changes us, makes us more aware, more alive, more human, more whole, more a part of everything that is.
An ending with a strong image is one that will stay with the reader forever.
What’s your favourite story ending?