Finishing Strong: Preventing Your Story Ending From Falling Flat

October 16, 2019 | 5 min read

Personally, I think there’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a book and being disappointed by the resolution of the story. I especially hate it when the story has been gripping but the ending is a total letdown. I don’t know about you, but when that happens, I feel cheated.

It may be that the resolution is just too unbelievable — the characters are suddenly rescued and everybody lives happily ever after — or some important detail is left unexplained (unless there’s going to be a sequel or the book is part of a series). Sometimes the ending is just too sudden. Whatever the cause of the disappointing ending, you want to be 100% sure you avoid leaving your readers feeling cheated by the ending of your novel.

So, what do you need to avoid if you want an ending that doesn’t fall flat? Keep reading, and I’ll give you some hints.

Mistakes You Need to Avoid

1. Characters Who Suddenly Begin to Act Out of Character

If, throughout the course of your novel, Philip has been mild-mannered, calm, and unflustered no matter what has happened to him, then to have him suddenly, at the climax of the story, become aggressive, panicked, and brash is just going to confuse your readers. Likewise, if Derek has been hotheaded throughout the story, having him become the epitome of calm when faced with disaster is going to seem strange.

If you plan for a character to behave in a certain way in the concluding chapters of the story, you need to foreshadow that behavior. It’s got to seem natural. People don’t just do a 180 in their behavior. Keep your characters in character — consistency is your friend.

2. Shocking Endings That Seem Out of Place

If you’re writing a thriller, having bombs going off in the climax of your story is to be expected (or, at least, wouldn’t seem out of place). If, however, you’re writing a gentle romance set in Amish Country, then explosions in your ending could leave your readers puzzled. I’ve tutored writing students who’ve presented me with those kinds of shocking endings that had me wondering if they’ve mistakenly copied-and-pasted the wrong ending onto their story.

Don’t do it. The climax of your story doesn’t have to be explosions and disasters and characters fighting for their lives. If your story is more gentle in nature, you need a dramatic ending that is character-led or mystery-led rather than adding a shocking ending just for the sake of it. It’s fine to end your story with a whisper, not a bang!

3. Cheating Your Reader With New Information

You get to the end of a book, and the author has neatly tied up all the loose ends. Great. That’s what I like in a standalone book. However, if the loose ends have been tied up with a thread that has literally come out of nowhere, there’s a problem. This happens more often than I care to remember, and it frustrates the life out of me.

For example, your heroine has been on a quest to uncover the truth about her great grandfather. There’s been lots of mysteries and scandals, and puzzles that have seemed impossible to solve. Finally, your heroine arrives at the end of the journey. There are a number of unresolved threads to the story, and you need to wrap things up.

Suddenly, Katya’s phone rang. It was her mother. Sighing at the distraction, she answered the call.

“How are you getting on, honey?” Mom asked.

“There’s nothing here, Mom,” Katya sighed. “I don’t know where else to look.”

“Did you check under the floorboards?” Mom asked. “I’m certain that’s where Grandpa said it would be.”

“What? You didn’t tell me your grandfather had left instructions!” Katya exclaimed.

“I didn’t?” Mom replied. “The letter was in the box I gave you.”

“I thought that was just old photos!” Katya yanked open her backpack and pulled out a battered metal box. There, under piles of faded black and white photographs was an envelope, yellow with age. Katya opened it carefully and pulled out the letter inside. She scanned the pages, nodding at the details that matched what her mother had told her. The last paragraph was unfamiliar, however.

Katya sighed. If only her mother had mentioned these details, the last couple of days need never have happened. She glanced out of the window to where Drew was still laboriously filling in the holes they’d dug.

“I wish you’d told me about the letter, Mom,” she said.

“I presumed you’d look through the box, honey,” Mom retorted.

In this (somewhat predictable) ending, the heroine learns that she’s been carrying around the information she needs to solve the mystery once and for all — but the problem is that this is the first time the box has been mentioned. Naturally, the reader will feel cheated.

4. Deus Ex Machina

Just in case you’re not fluent in Latin (neither am I, of course!), what I mean by deus ex machinais that ancient storytelling trope the Greeks used to love, where the hero is suddenly rescued at the last minute by the gods who swoop in to save him.

Although deus ex machina is an ancient technique, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t turn up in modern fiction. It does. Oh boy, it does. For example, your hero is hanging by his fingertips off a cliff edge when suddenly there’s the sound of a helicopter. His friend/uncle/brother/father/boss is there to save him — but the news that the savior a) owns or has access to a helicopter and b) can fly a helicopter is news to the reader.

I’m sure you’ve encountered these kinds of endings in books you’ve read. Try to think of some of the worst you’ve come across and drop them in the comments below!

Will your reader be disappointed if you resort to this technique? You bet they will. So don’t.

Exercises You Need to Practice

The best way to learn how to avoid a dissatisfying ending is to practice. There are two parts to this practical aspect of writing great endings, and I can guarantee you’re already doing one of them. Unless, of course, you’re one of those oddities in the writing world who never reads other people’s novels.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. The first part of the practical exercises is to recognize what’s wrong in story endings that leave you disappointed. Instead of taking straight to GoodReads or Amazon or your blog (or wherever else you write book reviews) to give a scathing denouncement of the book you’ve just finished, spend some time working out whyyou feel let down. Ask yourself:

  • What did the author fail to do?
  • How could the ending have been made better?
  • What is the biggest letdown in the ending?
  • Why doesn’t the ending work?

The second part of the practical exercises is to spend time carefully examining your own endings. Are you guilty of making any of the mistakes outlined above? Could your endings be somehow made more satisfying for your readers? Pick a story ending that you think could be improved and redraft it, eradicating any potentially disappointing aspects and polishing it until even the harshest critic would find it difficult to find fault.

Your Job as a Writer is to Satisfy

Although there are plenty of writers — including (shockingly) some bestselling authors — who didn’t get the memo about a writers’ responsibility to satisfy the reader, it’s an unavoidable fact. Your continued success as a writer depends on it, so don’t make excuses.

Just because [insert name of a bestselling author here, because I don’t want to get sued for defamation of character!] gets away with rubbish endings doesn’t mean you will. They (probably) have a lot of money with which to purchase their place on the bestseller lists, but that’s really not the way to do it.

Learn to write great endings. Your readers deserve that.

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May 24, 2024 8 min read

There’s an age-old debate about the superior version of a story: Is it the book or the movie? Most readers and far too many writers will default to the idea that “the book was better.”

But was it? Was it really?

May 20, 2024 9 min read

Talking to Alex Kazemi doesn’t feel like talking to the guy who wrote 2023’s “most dangerous book of the year,” a book Ellen Hopkins calls “raucous, raunchy, and sure to offend.” And it certainly doesn’t feel like talking to Bret Easton Ellis’s “favorite millennial provocateur.”

It feels like talking to a friend I haven’t caught up with in a while. And my friends just aren’t that cool.

We’re chatting because Kazemi lives a ruthlessly offline lifestyle, a philosophy at the core of Freewrite and which Kazemi sees as necessary to being the best artist he can be. Having garnered a book deal at the tender age of 18, he knows a thing or two about life as an artist.

Kazemi released his first book, Pop Magick, an occult book about how to manifest, in 2020. “Madonna helped me launch that,” he says, casually mentioning one of the biggest pop stars of the twentieth century. “So, yeah, that was insane.”

But it wasn’t until the release of his first novel, New Millennium Boyz, nearly a decade in the making, that things got truly wild.

Kazemi’s unflinching look at Y2K culture and teenage boyhood reads like a horrifying screenplay — or the transcript of a violent AIM conversation between bored, lonely teenagers. Even before publication, the book faced criticism calling it dangerous, prompting the publisher to splash a content warning across the front matter, to Kazemi's extreme annoyance. Conservative American moms later flagged it for book bans, leaving the Canadian author baffled.

Was an honest look at the 90s and early ’aughts really worth all that uproar?

We sat down with Kazemi to discuss the driving force behind his portrayal of this often-glamorized time period, why he felt compelled to present this reality to modern audiences, and how in the world he lives an offline lifestyle in the year 2024.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.


 Mirror selfies without a smartphone

ANNIE COSBY: First things first. Are you a millennial?

ALEX KAZEMI: Yes. I was born in 1994, which means I’m on the cusp. I do not identify with any Zoomer qualities or tendencies at all.

COSBY: In general cultural discourse, millennials tend to get a bad rap – very infantilizing, even though some of us are 40. What's your take?

KAZEMI: I think it's pretty insane because we were dealt a really bad card, with the recession, jobs being lost, the digital age booming… Many of us still have memories of going to Blockbuster and, you know, AOL chat rooms and the early web. But then we watched everything go chronically online and digital through the 2010s. We watched technology and the information age replace a lot of skillsets. So we became a weird bunch, for sure.

COSBY: I do find it interesting that people glamorize that period specifically because it was the beginning of everything being online — so everybody's mistakes and drunken pictures are out there.

KAZEMI: Right? And we did it willingly.

COSBY: Oh God, the things I said to strange men in chat rooms.

KAZEMI: Me as well. And it’s so, so dark, because the internet has always been and will always be, even as we're adults and growing older, a mirror of our subconscious vomit. The frequencies we vibrated to when we were coming of age were more about exploration, and that's why there was so much stranger danger. There were so many scary scenarios that kids could get themselves into with the early web because of how unregulated it was, as well.

COSBY: Would you say New Millennium Boyz is a defense of the way we Millennials are? Or is it a commentary on how misremembered that era is?

KAZEMI: It's definitely a commentary. And it's supposed to be historical fiction, educating younger folks and also older generations about how, you know, this beautiful picture that you see of Rachael Leigh Cook from She's All That on TikTok? There was actually a lot of darkness and chaos going around, especially when it comes to very normalized racism, misogyny, and homophobia.



I find it very ironic that this new generation that is so fixated on social justice and evolution and freedom would fetishize the aesthetics of an era of true debauchery and chaos and cruelty — like really — which was mirrored in the art in that period. Look at 2000s teen movies! I just wanted to write a satire of that extreme teen genre, like Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen, Larry Clark's Bully, Spring Breakers...

My second motivation was to really look at boy culture in the post-Columbine era and how this was very much a prescient, predictive time of where we would end up with the alt-right and 4chan and “incels,” and how it's all connected.

And then of course exploring the romanticized aspect of Y2K — going to the mall, people wearing Marilyn Manson shirts, and the aesthetic obsession with it. I wanted to create the book I wanted to see in the world that I didn't feel existed yet.

COSBY: I’ve heard you talk about the misogyny of the “teen girls are bitches” trope. It's like, have you met boys? Have you been a teen boy talking to other teen boys?

KAZEMI: Oh, they're the biggest bitches. They're so cruel. You see the “mean girls” trope in tons of movies, like Jawbreaker, but it’s so strange how we don't ever look at the cruelty teenage boys face. And not just the cruelty but also the misguidedness and the culture that feeds that.

Especially in the 90s and 2000s, boys were so encouraged to be testosterone-driven and hyper-masculine. Woodstock 99 was such a great example of the chaos of too much of something – and it’s being talked about now because of the documentary.

COSBY: New Millennium Boyz really explores this violence inherent to 90s culture for boys, and because of that, it got a content warning, right?

KAZEMI: Yes. During the final cuts of the book, when we were in edits and copy edits, I got the call from my publisher that “So-and-So is not going to stock it without a content warning because they're really worried about how teenagers are going to react to the work and if they're going to reenact the behavior.”

And I was like, this is a cultural critique. It's not anything to be glamorized. I think anyone who reads it would understand that.

COSBY: Do you think we as humans always look back on past time periods with rose-colored glasses, or is there something special about Y2K?

KAZEMI: There's something really freaky about what we're doing with the 90s and 2000s. I don't think we've ever before been in a place, as humans, where corporations like Meta and TikTok can just algorithmically feed into us all the time.

A teenager in the 90s could fetishize the 70s or the 60s, but they could close the book when it was done or finish the movie and turn off the TV. But with Gen Z, and every generation now, we're just inundated every day with memes, photos, videos, and other people’s thoughts.

And I guess this 90s nostalgia is partly because it represents familiarity for people of a certain age, but even for the people who didn't live during that time, it seems to represent a kind of order, a sense of quietness — “Oh, 90210 is on at 9 p.m. and that's all there is.” No choices to make. There weren’t one billion options like kids today have.

COSBY: So you think people are viewing that period as a time of simplicity and unplugging, which we’re all kind of yearning for now?

KAZEMI: Yeah, and you certainly could unplug then, but you can unplug today, too — we're just brainwashed into thinking that we have no choice, that we have no free will. But it's totally not true. You could simulate Y2K if you wanted to! You just have to set a lot of boundaries.

COSBY: Like writing on a Freewrite.

KAZEMI: Yes! That’s why I write offline. Over the years, I’ve had different cool ways to do that. For a lot of my teenage years, I wrote in Apple Notes. Then, I ordered a BlackBerry off eBay and used it as a word processor for a while. I have a dead AlphaSmart here — rest in peace.

I feel like what's so crazy about Freewrite is a lot of people don't know that these products exist, which is a problem.

COSBY: It's also super polarizing. Without even trying it, some people are like, “What is this hipster thing?” Meanwhile, we get so many messages from new users saying, “What is this magic? I'm actually writing for the first time in years!” It's really interesting to see people's reactions. Tech is such a weirdly touchy subject.

KAZEMI: And a Freewrite is way better than a typewriter. I'm not fucking doing the ribbon, there's no time for that.

COSBY: Some people do though, right? Aren’t you friends with Matty Healy?

KAZEMI: Yes, yes. I told him about Freewrite. I love his songwriting. I love the 1975's lyrics. I love him as a literary mind.

COSBY: Alex. [heavy pause] Is he the one being referenced in the song?

KAZEMI: [rolls eyes] Honestly, I'm not really interested in all the gossip. I don't think great artists should be reduced to that.

COSBY: OK, that's fair. I think they're both great storytellers, too. And it would be so hard to live a creative life under that kind of microscope. On that note, your offline approach to life goes beyond writing, right? How does that work?

KAZEMI: Well, it definitely includes a lot of conscious boundaries that annoy a lot of people.

I’ve had a flip phone for a few years now, and I have a landline. When it comes to the internet and iMessage and emails, I try to do regulated “office hours” of screen time.

It's a very privileged position to be in, because a lot of people have to be on call all the time for work. But being disconnected definitely gives me more time for my mind to be free and creative and to write more.

COSBY: And this annoys people?

KAZEMI: Yeah, it drives everyone insane. It's a huge boundary I put in my life. People have to go through loopholes to contact me. But it's the only way that I can have a life as an artist and as a writer.

All of this technology can be a tool. There's nothing inherently bad with the tools that exist on the Internet. It's just the compulsivity and the addictive mentality we have with it that creates this chaos for us as writers and artists.

COSBY: You've mentioned being on Tumblr before, back in the day — are you on social media now?

KAZEMI: No, I'm not. Sometimes I have to look at it on friends' phones to get a person's email or something like that, but no, I don't have social media. It's so scary, the pressure of having to perform or turn my most personally valuable things into currency — to monetize it. It just feels weird. I'm not into it. I'm not into it.

And when you're online so much, you're like, “I don't have to be doing this. Why am I doing this?” That's where that punishing feeling of addiction comes in. A lot of us, when we are in those spirals, we don't even really even want to be there. There isn't a sense of agency or control.

It's a loss of control.

And I think that submission of when you are looking at other people's work, what they’re doing, and you're scrolling, scrolling, it just creates a huge sense of inadequacy and darkness.

COSBY: It's interesting to me because time goes so much faster when I’m scrolling — and I feel the same way when I get really into something I'm writing.

KAZEMI: Like a flow state.

COSBY: Exactly! It’s complete absorption. But scrolling doesn’t make me feel good after, the way creating does.

KAZEMI: It’s like a black market, counterfeit flow state. A heroin flow state.

So I guess the question is: How can we induce positive, offline flow states?

COSBY: Isn't that the question. How do you do it?

KAZEMI: I find that just setting boundaries is so important. You have free will over your boundaries. This idea that we have no sense of agency and have to give all of our energy and life force to these corporations zapping us is just so crazy and unfair.

But when you bring up these things to certain people, they can't even fathom living without their online habits.

COSBY: Yeah, it has to be a conscious choice.

KAZEMI: You have to ask yourself:

"OK, am I going to just sublimate myself to be a consumer of everyone else's content? Or am I going to be a creator and produce?”

COSBY: Most of us know which one we want to be.

KAZEMI: You have to know which one you want to be.

COSBY: Any last words for the creators out there?

KAZEMI: For creators and artists and writers who are overwhelmed by information overload and the prospect of putting your work out there, just know there is an audience for your work. Just stay focused and don't be discouraged. You’ll find your place in the weird world.


Annie Cosby is the Marketing Manager at Freewrite, a former fiction editor, and the author of seven books — and counting. Her work deals with Celtic mythology and has twice won the YA Indie Author Project in Missouri. See what she's writing on Freewrite.

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It’s no secret that Taylor Swift is one of the biggest players in music right now. (Maybe one of the biggest ever.) As a lyricist, she’s enthralled audiences worldwide, but did you know she’s also woven a subtle tapestry of literary references throughout her discography?

Whether you love her or hate her (we’re talking to you, dads, Brads, and Chads) you’ll be impressed with these hidden literary references in Swift’s songs…