One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard about how to throw a party is knowing how to end it well.
As the host, you not only want your party guests to have a great time you also want them to come back again. While everyone knows first impressions are important, when it comes to parties final impressions are the ones that can make or break your guest’s opinion of your party’s success.
End your party on the right note and everyone leaves feeling good and wanting more. But if you let the party go on too long things start to drag, your guests begin get restless, and soon they’ll be checking their watches and eyeing the door. The last thing you want is for your guest’s last memory of your party to be the awkward feeling that comes from wondering how they can politely slip out to find their coat when no one is looking.
So what do you do?
End the party while your guests are still having fun.
This may seem counter-intuitive at first. After all, you’ve worked really hard to plan your event. You’ve invested lots of time and effort scheduling the date, planning the activities, coordinating the menu, selecting the music, addressing the invitations, maybe even folding the napkins! You’ve put a lot of yourself into the party. Calling it quits before you’ve done everything you had planned means some part of all your hard work would be wasted. Right?
Well, even though you know your party isn’t all about you it’s understandable you might want to keep things going until you’re sure everyone tried everything you have to offer. The truth is, whatever your intentions, if you let the party go on too long, milking it for all it’s worth, your guests will notice. After a while, they’ll begin to lose interest. Then, even if they had a great time, their fun memories will begin to fade as the party’s energy slowly grinds to a halt. Where was that coat closet, again?
As a writer, you can apply this same technique for ending a party to ending your book.
You’ve invested lots of time and effort crafting vivid characters, plotting (or pantsing) the storyline, creating conflict, raising the stakes, coordinating the relevant subplots, maybe even polishing your prose! You’ve put a lot of yourself into your book. Ending your story before you’ve tacked on all the details you imagined about happens to each of your characters in the coming weeks or months would mean some part of all your hard work would be wasted. Right?
Are you seeing the pattern here?
Once you’ve written the climax and your falling action has brought you to a meaningful resolution, the plot arc of the particular story you set out to tell is essentially over. At this point, the reader is ready for the ending, not more story. Drag your readers along while you do anything more than tie up a few loose ends to shut down the story and you run the risk they’ll begin to think of your book like that party that just wouldn’t die.
It’s a delicate balance.
The right amount of closure rewards your reader’s commitment to the 250+ pages they’ve invested in your book and at the same time gives them the freedom to carry on the story in their own imagination. If you make sure you’ve delivered a satisfying ending then you can trust your reader’s final impressions will keep them coming back for more.
Like maybe to your next book!