(This post was inspired by a recent post on Magical Words about book endings.)
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard when throwing a party is to end it while the guests are still having fun. This may seem counter-intuitive, but in truth it makes a lot of sense. If people leave the party feeling good they’ll want to come back again next time. If you milk the party until its all fun is gone, concerned your guests will miss out on something if you don’t, their last experience won’t be of fun at all. It will be of that awkwardness that comes from trying to figure out how to politely get their coats and slip away when no one’s looking because they’ve had enough. Probably not quite the lasting impression you were hoping for when you planned the party to begin with.
The same can be said with your book.
Once you’ve written the climax and the drama has peaked, the plot is essentially over even while the characters, though perhaps maybe not all of them, live on. Assuming you’ve completed telling the story you set out to tell, all that remains in the writing is the important task of deftly, but seamlessly, shutting down the story (without dragging it out) and tying up any loose ends. Once that final “peak” has passed, the reader is ready for closure, not more story. It’s a delicate balance. The right amount of closure gives readers the freedom to carry on the story in their imagination if they’d like, yet it also satisfies those readers who’ve enjoyed the ride but are ready to move on to something else.
Like maybe your next book!