In most nonfiction books, your climax will come almost at the end of the manuscript, when you call the reader to action and send them out to apply what they’ve learned from you.
What is there to say after that?
Usually, not much. You want the reader to go out and do something, so you don’t want to keep them anchored to your book until they lose their momentum.
You’ll want a couple paragraphs, or maybe a short afterword, to sum everything up and give the reader a feeling of completion. How do you start that little segment?
You recap what the reader read in the book. Yes, really. You just summarize the main points and tell the reader what they read. They may only vaguely remember what you said in chapter two, but a few words to remind them can bring it all back into their active memory and help ensure that they retain that information once they close the book.
Don’t spend too long on this. You should be able to recap the big picture ideas of the book in one paragraph. If you go on much longer than that, readers will get bored and skip the summary.
After that recap, tell the reader what they learned, remind them of the call to action, and then send them out to do it. If your book contains more than one or two pages following its call to action, you may want to shorten your ending to preserve the book’s momentum.
That’s it. Short, direct, and efficient.
Writers, you have less than 5,000 words to go before finishing your book, if you’re following our word count goals. You’re almost there! Keep it up!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: Calico Joe by John Grisham
You’ve written your climax, and now you’re winding down to the ending. How do you start wrapping things up so your reader leaves the book satisfied?
There are three types of endings to novels and narrative nonfiction:
1. The Five-Act Play
After the climax, the characters spend a great deal of time cleaning up the mess made by the plot. They settle their differences with each other. They deal with the political fallout from the villain’s schemes. They solve the secondary mysteries. They talk at length about what happened and what it means for the future. This leads to a structure much like a Shakespearean five-act play, where acts four and five are simply the aftermath (or falling action) of the climax in act three. This doesn’t mean the falling action takes up half the book, just that it occupies a significant amount of space.
This structure works well in epic genres such as high fantasy or political thrillers, or stories where the protagonist undergoes a major change as a result of the story and must deal with the results of that change.
It does not work well for stories where the climax resolves all or most of the story’s tension, such as romances that climax with a wedding, or legal thrillers that climax with a verdict. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make this ending structure work in those genres, just that it’s harder and less likely to fit.
If you’re writing this type of ending, you’ve probably already started it, either with a discussion of the significance of the climax, or with the characters heading off to do their next task. These endings tend to flow pretty easily, as the author has a list in mind of what needs to get done, and sends the characters off to do it.
Make sure as you write this type of ending that you don’t start building up the drama too drastically. The climax has occurred, and the reader won’t be as willing to invest in a second round of “oh no, what’s going to happen?” just yet. You can have mini subplots with mini climaxes, but if something majorly emotionally impactful is going to happen, it should do so before or during the climax.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly
The TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Any video game that shows you a montage of what happened to every single character
2. The End
This type of book has nothing more to say once it climaxes. The entire point of the book was the dramatic story, so once that resolves, the book is ready to take its leave. These books will typically wrap up with a few pages, or maybe one chapter following the climax, and then end.
This structure works well for books where the central conflict holds the entire story together, such as mysteries, romances, and anything where the whole story revolves around a two-character rivalry and climaxes with the final confrontation.
It does not work well for stories with large casts or multiple unanswered questions. The reader wants to know what happened to everyone and everything, so if you need time to deal with all of that, this ending structure is probably not for you.
To start this kind of ending, give the characters a moment to breathe and recover from the climax. Let them reflect on what has happened to them and how they and their world have changed as a result. Then allow them to move off to the next stage of their lives, and bring the book to a close.
The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
The Chamber by John Grisham
The TV show Star Trek: Voyager
Every superhero movie
3. The One More Thing
This type of book resolves most of its hanging threads with the climax, but might leave one or two things to wrap up later. It might be a romantic subplot, a question about a character’s backstory, or a secondary mystery. The ending of the book deals with the climactic fallout, but also resolves these sub-stories.
This structure works well for just about any genre, and is probably the one that you will use in your book.
To start this kind of ending, let the characters recover from the climax for a bit before moving on to the next thing. Give them space to reflect and think about the significance of what they’ve experienced. Once they’ve had enough time to process their experiences, then move on to the “one more thing” you want to address. This gives the reader time to appreciate the main story arc and ride the high from that experience into the subplot resolution.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Changes by Jim Butcher
The TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation
Most books with a main plot and a romantic subplot
If you’re not sure how to determine which ending structure is right for you, leave a comment and I’ll help you figure it out. Keep it up, writers! You’re almost done!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: White Fang by Jack London