Why You Should Write More Than One Ending to Your Book

Why You Should Write More Than One Ending to Your Book

Movie directors often film alternate endings. After previewing a film to select audiences, they sometimes discover that the originally planned ending doesn’t quite work, for whatever reason. Despite the fact that the movie was, to all intents and purposes, finished, they reopen shooting and create a new ending, one which will hopefully resonate with viewers better than the original. Sometimes writers need to do the same thing.

Few writers will disagree that the most difficult parts of any story are the beginning and the ending. The beginning is vital, since it’s often the deciding factor in whether or not someone reads your book. But the ending is arguably even more important, since it determines whether your story sticks with someone past that first read. Good endings are hard to come by, and few writers manage them perfectly. An ending needs to do all of the following:

1. Resonate with the reader emotionally.

2. Tie off the loose ends.

3. Sum up the theme.

4. Strike the reader as entirely unexpected.

5. Strike the reader as the inevitable conclusion of all your plot threads.

6. Avoid triteness or glibness.

7. Leave the reader hungry for just a little bit more (either a sequel or just a second read through).

In short, endings are complicated. With so much involved in the denouement of our novels—and so much riding on it—it’s hardly likely we’ll get it right the first time. Or the second or third time, for that matter. By the time we’ve written 100,000 words, it’s tempting to throw the climax together, slap on a closing scene, and type “the end” with a grand flourish. But doing so isn’t likely to satisfy your readers.

I never begin a novel without knowing how I want it end. If I don’t know where I’m going, I’m not likely to get there. And yet, I almost always have to write three or four endings before I find the correct one. Stories—even intricately outlined ones—evolve as we create them. The nuanced ending we have in mind now might no longer be appropriate once we reach it. So what’s a writer to do?

Plan for More Than One Ending

Despite the temptations to have done with this manuscript you’ve been laboring over for so long and to find the validation in typing those two little words “the end,” don’t give in. Prepare yourself for a lengthy process. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and immediately find the right ending, but not usually.

Even if You Think It’s Perfect, Consider Another Ending

Take a moment to consider how an alternate ending mind affect the story. Maybe the first ending you write is adequate, but would something slightly different make it even more powerful? Don’t hesitate to write several endings, even if you feel the first one meets the requirements. You might discover some valuable surprises.

Run the Ending by Test Audiences

Learn a lesson from the moviemaking big shots and run your story by a test reader or two. Don’t ask them to pay special attention to the ending, but when they finish, drill them on their emotional and intellectual reaction to the closing. Did your ending satisfy all seven of the points mentioned above?

Set the Ending Aside Until You’ve Gained Objectivity

By the time we reach the end of our journey through a story, we’ve usually lost all objectivity. The very fact that we finished a novel is enough to cast a rosy tint over the whole project. Therefore, it’s always wise to shove the manuscript into the back of the closet for a while and give yourself a chance to gain some distance from it. Later, you can come back to it with fresh eyes and hopefully see what the ending may be lacking.

In many ways, endings are one of the most fun parts of the process. By then, all the puzzle pieces are available to play with, you know your characters inside out, and you’ve got a pile of 100 pages or more to prove that you can do this. So enjoy yourself. If more than one ending is necessary, have fun playing with the options and taking advantage of the opportunity to enjoy your story world just a little bit longer.

Why You Should Write More Than One Ending to Your Book

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. robert easterbrook says

    So would you agree that it’s possible to place beginnings and endings on a scale of 1 to 10? Or some other nominal scale like very bad to really good? Subjective, as they are.

    I’ve read books that have achieved the New York Times best sellers list but have beginnings and endings that have left me puzzled and confused.

    So how did they achieve this exalted status, do you think? Or do you think I simply didn’t get the beginnings and endings as they were perceived by the New York Times reviewers and the author?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Beginnings and endings are objective insofar as the question is a matter of how well they fit each other–and the story that takes place in between. If they fit, they work and they’re good. If they leave loose ends or jar readers with their lack of continuity, then I think we can say those endings are objectively “bad.”

  2. I’m glad I found this piece. This is something I am dealing with at the moment. The ending I had planned doesn’t seem to fit. However, I do not know what else to do. I am going ahead and forcing myself to continue writing, hoping that a golden egg will fall into my lap and I will understand at the last moment the correct way to finish my story.
    But, what if that doesn’t happen? What if I cannot think of an alternate ending? What do I do then?
    I want to finish my book desperately and am nearly to the point of doing exactly what I shouldn’t do and writing a killer cliffhanger and then saying ‘the end’. I don’t want this book to be a series, I just want to write as a stand-alone. So writing the ending in such a way will only avoid the climax/resolution that I am having trouble writing. I really don’t feel what I wanted to do completely fits, and am absolutely lost as to how to find and ending that does fit. (And yes, I’ve been having this issue for over a week now…)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Honestly? At this point, go ahead and write that cliffhanger. Slap a “the end” on it, and give yourself permission to walk away for a little while. Sounds like maybe you’re getting burned out and need a break. Sometimes when you give your brain a little space, the answers come to you all on their own.

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