When writing creative fiction, you usually know from the start how your story will end. A creative nonfiction essay, however, can be trickier to end in a satisfying way. Life is messy, so creative nonfiction can be difficult to conclude. At Writer’s Relief, we know you can’t change the facts, but you can change how you present them. How you ultimately end your creative nonfiction essay will make the difference between an intriguing, engaging read and one that falls flat.
The 5 Best Ways To End Your Creative Nonfiction Essay
The Lesson Learned: Many personal essay writers include a “lesson” in the ending—which makes sense if the natural conclusion to the essay is a new understanding to be shared with the reader. This should be handled carefully: Readers won’t appreciate being preached to. But if your essay is growing toward an organic “lesson learned” moment, then go for it! Just be sure you present it in a way readers can discover for themselves; don’t hand the message to them on a silver platter.
The Lyric Moment: This type of ending often borrows heavily from poetic techniques. While the conclusion is important, you can also use language to offer readers a satisfying ending. Word choice, repetition, alliteration, and even meter all have a heightened significance in a “lyric moment” ending. Use the sounds of language to magnify whatever emotion you are ending with to make it resonate with your readers.
The Open Ending: As we mentioned, life can be messy, and nonfiction sometimes reflects this in ways fiction doesn’t. In life, there isn’t always a tidy ending or resolution. Maybe you realize you still don’t know what the topic of your essay has taught you, or what it means, if anything. That’s okay—that’s life! Sometimes questions go unanswered and stories go unfinished, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The Circle Back: This can be thematic or linguistic, but the general idea is to connect your ending back to the beginning in some way, thus making the essay feel complete even if you don’t have an “answer” or “lesson.” This type of ending works well when the journey in your essay follows less of a straight road and more of a meandering footpath. Remember, it’s perfectly fine in a creative nonfiction essay to eschew the typical plot structure required in fiction—but you don’t want your readers to get lost along the way!
The Abrupt Ending: If your essay has been building momentum from the start and hasn’t slowed down, it may be more impactful and satisfying to end on a sharp note than to slowly crawl back into a quieter conclusion. Use the force you’ve been building—whether it’s emotional or linguistic—and leave your readers right in the thick of what’s happening. Keep in mind that this type of ending must be done well; otherwise, readers may feel shortchanged.
Since you’re not following the traditional story arc of creative fiction, it’s important to trust your intuition when you’re writing the ending of your creative nonfiction essay. What feels right? What feels impactful? What feels like a true ending? You can try a few of the types of endings we’ve talked about here to see which offers the best conclusion. Once you have the best ending for your essay and you’ve polished and proofread your work, be sure to submit it to literary journals for publication! Find out how the experts at Writer’s Relief can help.
Question: Which is your favorite type of ending for a personal essay?