My preference as a reader is to have all the loose ends nicely tied up by the end of a book, like a lovely sunset rounding out a lovely day. I appreciate the sense of completion and being able to walk away from the book and know that the story has concluded.
While it’s definitely a style thing, wrapping up the details of a book by the end of it isn’t the only option of course. Many writers and readers prefer cliff hanger endings or fuzzy endings where the complete fates of the characters remains unknown, allowing the reader to build their own ending.
In my books, I’ve thought about alternative endings and ended up on the side of the tied up sunset where we know all about the characters fates.
There are, of course, challenges to tying up all of the loose ends of a novel before the reader closes the book. It means that all the characters introduced have a purpose and a role to contribute to the ending. The tone of the ending is also important because it factors in to how a reader feels at the end of the novel – is it a happy ending?
Endings are so important, no just for the final chapter but also the final sentence. Hemingway is known to have changed the last sentence of Farewell to Arms almost 50 times.
For my most recent book, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, I also spent a lot of time on the last chapter and the last sentence. I wanted to leave the reader with a happy ending and a sense of hope, so that by the end of the novel they generally felt better about the world. As a writer, one never knows how a reader will feel reading the last chapter and the last sentence. That said, I hope that my readers appreciated the ending.