Today we're talking about all the ways you could screw up the ending of your book. The end of the novel is typically referred to as the resolution. It occurs after the climax and falling action and it's the moment when all or at least some of the conflicts are resolved, as the name suggests. While the resolution is often the shortest and simplest plot point in the novel, it's still really easy to fuck up. And writers do exactly that all the time.
I'm breaking down the ten mistakes writers make when crafting their resolutions so you can save yourself from a slew of one-star reviews. This topic was requested by one of my patrons over on Patreon, Phoenix. Phoenix wanted to know what makes a great ending versus a terrible one. And fortunately, I have read a whole lot of both. You've come to the right place. Now, it's time to break down the ten biggest mistakes writers make when crafting their resolutions.
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Number 1: Merging It With the Climax
The climax is the most intense moment of your novel when conflict comes to a head, and it occurs toward the end of your novel. Emphasis on toward. The climax does not serve as the resolution. Sure there will be some questions answered, but it doesn't mean the conflict is fully resolved. After the climax, you have the falling action and resolution. I like to see the climax as the explosion, and the falling action as the dust settling. The falling action is typically brief, maybe a scene or two. The characters are usually regrouping and trying to make sense of the climax. And the resolution is when we as the reader see that the conflict is resolved. Maybe the couple is happily in love, the Queen has regained her throne, or the lost astronaut has finally returned to Earth. If you end your book at the climax, it’s going to feel jarring and unfinished. You have one more chapter to write, so do it.
Number 2: Providing No Resolution
The resolution is to leave your readers feeling satisfied, and you achieve that by one, not dishonoring the genre (we’ll talk about that more later). And two, resolving the conflicts of your plot.
“But Jennaaa! Don’t I wanna leave a little mystery at the end?”
I mean, not usually. Are there some genres that are suited for an open-ended resolution? Sure, but they're in the minority. Typically readers are expecting answers and this is the place to deliver them. It's also important to remember your subplots. Are they resolved by the end of your book? You don't have to resolve all of your subplots in the last chapter. In fact, a lot of times that's impossible to do. But they should be resolved at some point within the novel. Now’s the time to do exactly that. Because if you leave your plot or subplots hanging, readers will definitely be able to tell.
Number 3: Providing Too Much Resolution
This point is specifically applicable to books within a series. If you're writing a standalone the conflict needs to be resolved in the resolution, full stop. But if you're writing a series, doing this will discourage readers from picking up the next book. Why continue reading? The story's over.
This is why when it comes to a series, cliffhangers are your friend. A cliffhanger is a plot device that ends a scene suddenly with no resolution. That sounds like a counterproductive tactic for writing the end of your book. But if you're writing a mid-series story, you don't want everything resolved. Sure, there should be some element of resolution, but there should also be a conflict or issue left unresolved so that you can tackle it in the next book of the series.
While the typical resolution leaves the reader feeling satisfied, a cliffhanger ending will leave the reader eager for more. You want that. You want readers to anticipate the next installment. Again, try to pair some sense of resolution with a lingering issue. For example, the prince was able to reclaim his kingdom, but the princess was captured along the way. You wouldn't wanna do this with a standalone or the last book in a series, but with a mid-series book it works.
Number 4: Introducing an Entirely New Cast of Characters
The resolution is designed to resolve the plot. It’s an ending, not a beginning. Thus introducing an entirely new cast of characters at the end of the book doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There is one exception to the rule, but it comes with caveats, and that's once again if you're writing a mid-series book. If you're writing book one of a series, it's possible to introduce a new character in the resolution, provided they play a really important role in book two. But a new character is not the same thing as a new cast. Introducing a large number of characters at once is overwhelming to the reader, especially because they don't have a lot of time to get invested in them. You know, since the book is over. You could potentially introduce a new character when using the cliffhanger format but try to keep the newbies to a minimum. Otherwise, it’s not going to feel like an ending at all.
Number 5: Dragging It Out
Have you ever read a resolution that took up 40% of the novel? I have. As we already covered, the resolution is often the shortest plot point in a book. In fact, typically the falling action and resolution are one chapter in total. And a short one, at that.
If you're dragging out the resolution for multiple chapters, you’re either not fully understanding the purpose of a resolution, or you’re being self-indulgent. Sometimes writers are tempted to drag out the resolution because they want to show the main character’s life after the plot has finished. This is particularly common if you want to showcase a happily ever after. It’s fine to include a slice-of-life snippet at the end of the book, but this is usually the job of an epilogue. And epilogues tend to be brief, I’m talking just a few pages. Once the conflict is resolved, the plot is over. And when the plot is over, there’s no more story. If there’s no more story, there's nothing left for you to write, so move on.
Number 6: Explicitly Stating Your Themes
Many stories feature some kind of message or theme the author is trying to convey, and the resolution is the perfect time to bring this message home. However, never forget that themes are meant to be understated. They’re ideas that pervade the story, not explicitly stated opinions. If you’re very blatant with your message, particularly in the resolution, it’s going to come off as preaching. As if you’re trying to get the reader to agree with you. People don’t like that shit.
“But Jennaaa! What if some of them don’t get the theme?”
I hate to break it to you, but a lot of readers aren’t gonna get the theme, because a lot of readers don’t understand themes in the first place. Not everyone reads to analyze and evaluate, some people read solely for entertainment, and they're gonna take your writing at face value. Release the need to have all of your readers digest books in the exact same manner ’cause it ain’t gonna happen. Keep your theme subtle, as it should be, and trust that the right readers will get it.
Number 7: Convenience
It’s important for your resolution to be clear and concise. But it’s not a good thing for your resolution to be overly convenient. Yes, the conflict needs to be resolved, but not too easily or coincidentally. Obvious examples of convenient resolutions are “It was all a dream,” or “The answer was inside you all along.” These are storytelling crutches that give the writer an easy out to wash their hands clean of the plot, and it’s super annoying to read.
Convenient resolutions negate the entire purpose of the plot. Why did your characters go through all that trouble over a conflict that could have been resolved on page one? Or a conflict that really wasn’t a conflict in the first place? The struggle of the rising action and climax starts to feel unnecessary if the resolution is too convenient. Yes, you want your ducks in a row by the end, but if your characters went through the ringer, it needs to have been worth it.
Number 8: Dishonoring the Genre
Every gene has rules, and sometimes these rules are specific to the resolution. If you’re going to write in that specific genre, that means you have to honor its rules. Now some writers thrive on breaking the rules, and sometimes that's a good thing. This is not one of those times.
When readers pick up a book from a particular genre, that label is a promise. You are telling your readers, “This is exactly what you can expect from my book.” If you break the rules, you are breaking that promise, and once you break the promise, your readers will never trust you again.
The best examples of genres that have resolution rules are murder mysteries and romance. A murder mystery follows, you guessed it, a murder, and the main character is trying to solve it. It's required that by the end of the novel, the mystery is solved. Usually, the murderer is revealed in the climax, and the resolution answers all remaining questions. The romance genre requires a happily ever after, or a happy for now. This means that by the resolution of your novel, your main ship needs to be happy, together, and in love. Usually, they get together during the climax, and the end is a glimpse at their happy life. Dishonor these genre rules and readers will riot. They are buying these books for these particular rules, so you gotta stay true to them.
Number 9: The Plot Twist
A plot twist is an unexpected change in the direction or outcome of a plot. And the most common place to find a plot twist is the climax. However, it’s not unheard of to find a plot twist in the resolution. Something happens right at the end, and it flips the entire story on its head.
The problem is that not every genre is suitable for a twist ending, and some writers haven’t gotten that memo. For example, the horror genre, or any novel that heavily features horror elements, is a prime place to have a twist ending. In fact, I can’t think of a single horror novel I’ve read that didn’t have a twist ending. But including a twist ending in a romance is going to feel out of place. Remember, readers are expecting a happily ever after. Thus, this is yet again one of those situations where it pays to understand your genre well. A plot twist at the end of the wrong story can ruin the reading experience for your audience.
Number 10: Stopping Completely
It takes a hell of a lot of determination to finish the first draft of a manuscript. It takes even more determination to embark on the second draft, the third draft, and the fourth. If you are committed enough to get to that ending, don’t lose your resolve now. You’ve gotten over that first major hurdle, what a shame it would be if you threw it all away just because the next hurdle is intimidating. Fuck intimidation! You wrote a fucking book! Don’t do yourself the disservice of stopping after writing the resolution. Roll up your sleeves, clench your butt cheeks, and get back to work.
So that's all I've got for you today!
Have you made any of these mistakes in your manuscript? Then whip out the red pen because it's time for a whole lot of rewrites. You'll thank me later.
Thanks again to Phoenix for requesting today’s topic. If you’d like the chance to have a video dedicated to you, or if you want access to tons of other awards, check me out on Patreon. We have an exclusive writing group, you get early access to my videos, and there are monthly livestreams. It’s awesome! I’ve got it linked below.
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