5 ways to end a novel and start a fight

Screenshot from Planet of the Apes ending
Category: Reading

A note about spoilers: the only real spoilers are for things that I’m almost certain everyone will have read or seen, such as Jane Eyre. For other books I have been careful not to give away the details of an ending.

Endings, in a way, are often just the beginning. The beginning of a tidal wave of anger and indignation funnelled through the internet: sometimes the focus is the ending of a literary trilogy, sometimes it’s a TV series and sometimes it’s a picture book, rather unexpectedly. Equally, some endings seem to elicit almost unanimous agreement about their general excellence (please don’t tell me the ending to Breaking Bad, all I’ve heard is that it is AWESOME).

Kevin Brooks’ ending to The Bunker Diary has recently led to outrage about its winning the Carnegie Medal. And just remember the endings that have left half of us seething and the other half utterly satisfied: The Witches, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have all attracted their share of criticism. 

Endings are more than just happy and sad. Here are some archetypes:

The Unresolved Ending

There’s a big part of me that wants to see it all wrapped up, letting me passively absorb a neat conclusion like a big dumb sponge.

Infuriating or emancipating? I know I should embrace unanswered questions. It should fascinate me to think about whether a character will be able to overcome unresolved conflicts. But really, there’s a big part of me that wants to see it all wrapped up, letting me passively absorb a neat conclusion like a big dumb sponge. Actually, I don’t mean that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with caring about characters enough to want to know how things turned out for them.

The Abrupt Ending

Wait, what? Like travelling expecting a vista and then arriving at an opaque brick wall, this one is usually a bit hard to handle. No Country for Old Men provokes the ire of some people I’ve met (I actually think the ending captures the spirit of the book rather nicely). Huckleberry Finn is often accused of an ending like this, where a major change of tone occurs for no good reason. The abrupt ending is far more common in short stories, where it has a more legitimate place: Raymond Carver's endings are a case in point. His stories are often simply moments in time, barely incidents, and so a comfortably paced ending doesn't serve the spirit of these stories. 

The Cop Out Ending

There are often forces at work which nudge a writer towards this type of ending. Sometimes children’s fiction publishers will request that an ending is changed from bleak to hopeful because they perceive it to be unpalatable to potential readers. This is presumptuous: many teens I’ve spoken to would prefer an appropriately bleak ending to a contrived happy one.

In the classics, the biggest offender is Jane Eyre. An ending which could have been brave, gritty and groundbreaking is obliterated by the convenient removal of Rochester’s wife. It’s like a Batman comic where the Joker willingly throws himself under a bus.

The Indecipherable Ending

I am still wondering what happened at the end of Cosmopolis by Don Delillo.

This one only applies to me because I’m a little slow, probably. I am still wondering what happened at the end of Cosmopolis by Don Delillo. I should probably just watch the film.

The ‘Everybody’s Dead’ Ending

Everyone is dead, pretty much. One person has been spared so they can deliver a mournful closing line. This is really just Hamlet, and a certain TV series doing the rounds just now, and that hasn’t even finished yet.

So what makes a good ending for you? Which endings would you recommend to get people talking/fist fighting? Careful with the spoilers – we’re just looking for an indication that an ending will inspire debate, not the details of the ending itself. There might still be some people out there who haven’t seen The Sixth Sense.

Some of our own suggestions

Some endings to get you and your friends talking:


Room by Emma Donoghue

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver


How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

The Savages by Matt Whyman

More Than This by Patrick Ness


Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Picture books

All I Said Was by Michael Morpurgo and Ross Collins

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen


If you like these books and want to read more endings that pack a punch, take a look at our book list of 5 great endings. Or why not check out 5 suggested endings for Game of Thrones?