Posted by: nancycurteman | June 16, 2011

How to End a Mystery Novel

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How do we end a mystery novel? Simple question. When the story is finished, stop writing. This is true, but it’s a bit more complex. First, we need to define end. It’s easy to confuse end with climax. The end of the story is what comes after the climax. The end is a page or brief chapter that simply alludes to how characters have changed and states what will or will not happen to those characters after the reader finishes the book.  Nothing else happens in the story after the end.

Now that we have an understanding of what we mean by end, we can talk about what an ending looks like and elaborate on its position and function in the novel.

Let’s first consider position. End the mystery novel after all the action is over. Any plot or sub-plot questions should have been answered before the end. Never introduce new conflict at this point.

Let’s look at the function of the end segment of a mystery novel. The primary function of the end is to wrap-up the story.  It must include a few words about what the characters will do after the last page. The ending will provide closure for the characters in terms of their inner conflicts and may include a very brief explanation of a couple of loose strings related to plot elements. That’s it.

What should the end look like? First, it must be consistent with the rest of the novel. For example, it’s unlikely an impoverished family will suddenly become rich for whatever reason or the Mafia will become a charitable organization. In general, characters will operate within their basic value systems, but their views, behaviors and attitudes will undergo some modification. Arrogant or unyielding or greedy characters will remain so, although they may have moments in which they can subdue those basic tendencies and act differently.  The ending will reinforce the themes of the book—crime does not pay, people are basically good, love conquers all. Perhaps most important, the ending will demonstrate that the protagonist’s world will return to normal after the disruption caused by the climax—the librarian returns to her library, the school principal opens the school term on time, the knitting club resumes knitting.

The end of a mystery novel must be short and concise, and must not introduce any new problems for the protagonist to solve.

More writing tips:

How to Open a Mystery Novel

What is Story Structure?

Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel

7 Story Structure Weaknesses That Collapse Your Mystery Novel



  1. I enjoy the conclusory chapter to get a peek at how the characters will move forward now that the mystery is solved.

    Thanks, NC!


  2. These clean-up moments used to be pretty much a requirement, but as we see these days, the habit is being dropped in favor of abrupt endings. The monster is killed, the child is saved, the money is found… boom. The end. This is especially true in episodic works, these days, and has eased its way into Television.

    It used to be you could always count on a sort of a palette cleanser. In lighter works, it would always be the mains sitting around in a kitchen or office, and sharing a laugh.

    Personally, I find it satisfying to discover that the teenager wouldn’t be arrested, that the teacher was headed for a better-paying job, that the old couple got to see their kids, after all.

    Are we not, after all, talking about what the French call denouement?


  3. […] How to End a Mystery Novel […]


  4. […] How to End a Mystery Novel […]


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