You’ve taken your readers on a journey of hundreds of pages. Now, you want them to feel that the time they spent with your story was worthwhile. You want to give them the perfect ending.
The perfect ending has the following attributes:
- Gives the reader a sense of completion by resolving the primary story question. Did Kirk and Katia fall in love? Did Agent Stoval stop the terrorists in time? Did Jeremiah succeed in keeping his life of isolation?
- Reflects the theme of your story and conveys the worldview that you want the reader take away from your story. If you believe that love really does conquer all, you would show the hero overcome his greatest obstacle to be with the woman of his dreams. If you believe that life is cruel and arbitrary, you can have an unfortunate mishap defeat the hero with her goal almost in her grasp.
Keep in mind that the perfect ending isn’t necessarily a happy ending. Readers can tell when a “Hollywood” ending has been tacked on because it doesn’t fit the story as a whole. If a protagonist struggles with drug addiction and winds up dying from it despite everyone’s efforts to help him, this ending would be appropriate because (a.) it resolves the primary story question (will the protagonist beat his drug addiction), and (b.) it reflects the theme of the story (drug addictions are hard to beat and can be ultimately destructive).
Although it isn’t necessary to tie up all loose ends in a story, you must resolve the important ones. Otherwise, readers feel cheated because they are unsure whether the story ended or not. Even if you are planning a sequel or series, you must solve the primary question for that particular story. The hero must defeat villain A and end the diabolical scheme he tries to carry out in your book, even if that villain will escape to attack again in a future installment.
When you satisfy readers desire for resolution and make them feel that reading your story was time well spent, they will want to read your next work. That is a happy ending.