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Is Writing “The End” a Bad Idea?—A Reader’s Question

September 17, 2014 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified September 17, 2014

In an article on manuscript formatting, a reader asked about including The End at the end of a manuscript that would be submitted to agents or publishers. I gave reasons for my answer there, but I thought the topic should be addressed in an article of its own.

The question—

I’ve had other editors/authors/instructors say that your manuscript needs more work if you have to put “The End” at the end. They should be able to tell the story is over. Your opinion?

My answer (embellished, of course)—

I’ve heard the same comment. And while I agree in part—last lines should resonate and clearly identify the end of all the plot threads in a novel, they should be a satisfactory conclusion to the characters’ adventures—sometimes a final zinger could follow what seems to be the ending, maybe a line or two that opens a story for a sequel or that points to the next book in a series or that creates a hint of ambiguity. Such a line could easily get lost at the top of an otherwise blank page, leaving readers to think the story ended at the bottom of the previous page.

I’m for anything that makes the read clear for readers, and readers include agents and editors at publishing houses. You include a chapter title on the first page of the story so readers know it’s the first page—why not include a visual marker to show that the last page is indeed the final page?

If, however, you find an agent or editor who’s said you don’t need to include the end, don’t include those words in your submission to him or her. Always check websites and submission guidelines for anyone you’re submitting to and submit according to their guidelines. They have reasons for what they want to see and the format they want you to use—it’s to your benefit to include only what they ask for and nothing that they specifically don’t want.

So don’t include the end for agents or editors who have specifically noted that they don’t want or need the visual marker for the end of a manuscript. But for the rest? Go ahead and show them where your story ends.

Let me suggest reasons to tell your manuscript’s readers where the end is.

For all of a writer’s efforts, some manuscripts don’t yet have a complete or satisfying ending when they reach agent or publisher, and agent or publisher may not be able to tell whether or not she’s reached the end. Yes, she can guess. But why should she have to? And, if agent or editor or anyone else reads that far and loves the story, they aren’t going to ding the writer simply because he finishes his manuscript with the end.

Also, those who offer advice about not including a visual confirmation of the end may be assuming that all readers will be reading a manuscript from beginning to end and thus should be able to tell they’ve reached the story’s conclusion. But what of those who might be looking through the pages searching for something and not actually reading?

If I’ve got a stack of pages in front of me (I read from hard copy), and I want to identify the last page, I expect to see something there to identify that page. I can’t be sure I’ve printed every page or pulled all the pages from my printer; I want proof there’s no more story beyond the final period on that last piece of paper.

Or I may want to compare the opening pages with the final ones. Again, it’s easier to find the last page when I see the words the end. I may also want to compare the last page of every chapter, see what they have in common. Again, I want to be able to do this easily. In this case I’m relying on a visual, not the meaning of the words.

The same would be true if I read from a monitor or screen—show me the ending in a visual way; don’t make me guess where it is. And don’t make me have to read the full manuscript to identify that end.

I sometimes read a few chapters at the opening of a manuscript and then skip to the end to see how the writer has linked these two parts of the story. I don’t want to wonder if I’m missing something. I want to see how the last line compares to the first, how the last paragraph compares to the first paragraph. Knowing exactly where the story ends is helpful and not a hindrance.

And what of stories with multiple endings? If a story is complex and deals with several issues, the end may also be complex. A reader could easily stop after what seems to be the ending, only to find more text dealing with other story issues. This would be rare, admittedly, but a writer definitely wouldn’t want an agent or publisher or editor to miss the final pages.

Could you use a number sign at the end (#), the same symbol used for scene breaks? You could. But you run the risk of the agent or editor assuming that it is a scene break and that more text will follow. Do use the number sign (or even a group of three of them—###) for submissions to those who’ve specifically asked writers to not include the words the end.

Just as you do with the words the end, center the number sign(s) on a line of their own following the final words of the story.

Readers should have no doubt they’re reading or looking at the final page of the manuscript. Help them out with the visual no matter how they reach that final page or what they intend to use it for.

________________________

That’s it, a short bit of advice for your submissions. Don’t include the end for agents or editors (and professors and teachers) who don’t want it. For everyone else, include the words. Identify your final page and last words with a visual understandable to all.

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7 Responses to “Is Writing “The End” a Bad Idea?—A Reader’s Question”

  1. I prefer to use “The End” in my ebooks. If a reader is reading the back matter, and swiping backward, which I do myself, I don’t want them to accidentally come across the last page in the book and read it. Too many times, when I’m reading back matter in an ebook, I don’t know where the end of the story is, or if it could be the end of an excerpt from another book.

  2. Writing “The End” seems juvenile to me. It’s a meaningless convention that has overstayed its time. If it’s not obvious to the reader you’ve missed something in the story.

    • Yvonne, you’re not alone; I think the reader who asked the question had heard the same kind of thing.

      But I do see useful purposes for including “The End.” Just as chapter titles and scene breaks are markers, so are those two words on the final page. Especially for a manuscript whose pages can get mixed up.

  3. I’m late to the discussion, but a quick comment on putting The End in published books (especially ebooks): The first page of end matter can be the most powerful marketing tool an author can wield. I always advise my clients not to include The End so that readers _are_ inclined to turn the page to see if there’s more story to follow. It almost guarantees that readers will see that first page of end matter, whereas if a reader comes to The End, they may close the book right there.

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