One way to end a narrative is to look to the future. When J.K. Rolling ended her final Harry Potter book, she skipped forward 20 years to show a new generation of students—Harry’s, Ron’s and Hermione’s kids—heading off to Hogwarts School. This ending of the series reminds readers of the beginning of the series when Harry, Ron and Hermione first headed to Hogwarts. The author takes us full circle, back to the beginning, but not the same beginning.
Even if your story is only a few pages long, you could look to the future. The character could wake up hours after your story seems to end and think back—with fright? with happiness?—at what happened earlier in your story. Or if a dramatic rescue happens near the end of the story, you could jump forward an hour or two to let the characters describe how they feel, or to show them sleeping safely.
Another way to end a narrative is to stay in the present time of the stories but have a final scenes which leave the reader with an important emotion. That emotion could come from a single image, the last image of the story. Maybe your babysitter has worked really hard to care for a cranky toddler. The babysitter leaves, exhausted and thinking she will never return. But as she looks back, she sees the toddler looking out the window, smiling and waving.
Still another way to end is with action, as if, on to the next adventure. Superman stories often end this way, with Superman solving a problem, and then flying off. We assume he is off to solve another problem, but his real reason for leaving is that the story is done, and the writer needs to find a way to end it.
I have had some students end their stories with cliff-hangers, scenes where something awful happens, and we, the readers, of course want to know how the disaster is resolved. But all we read is “To be continued.” This is really not an ending but a way of pausing when a student is tired or out of ideas. Don’t use this kind of ending or your audience will be disappointed.
If you have used dialog in your narrative, then ending with dialog (or the thoughts of a character) makes sense. But the dialog should not be preachy or try to tie up loose ends. Instead, use dialog to create a mood. That mood becomes the lasting impression which the reader has.
Do you need to explain everything at the end? No. If the details are not important, let the reader guess at them. That’s part of the fun for the reader.
Think about what mood or question you want your audience to dwell on as they finish your narrative. Then figure out a good way to convey that idea. If you do, your ending will be satisfying.