Friday, February 18, 2011

Effective Endings

Week of February 13—From Beginning to End
Friday, February 18—Effective Endings

THE END. That’s the way incoming fourth graders let you know a story is over. I always say, “You don’t have to tell me it’s the end. I’ll know it’s the end if you write a good ending.” Then with great ceremony and flourish, I write THE END on a piece of paper, wad it up, and through it in the rubbish bin. (That’s what we call the trash can in writing class. We always try to use the best vocabulary possible!) From that day forward we don't write THE END at the end of our stories.

When I heard Richard Peck speak at our SCBWI, Florida, Winter Meeting in 2010, he said that all of his writing success was based on what he learned in freshmen composition: Say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you said. This concept of introducing your story by telling what is going to happen, telling the story, and then summarizing or retelling the story at the end is a great way for all of us to write. If it worked for Richard Peck, who are we to argue?

At that same meeting I heard novelist Kathleen Duey say that you know you’re finished with a novel when, like a rollercoaster, it glides to a definite stop . . . and doesn’t keep rolling on.

Have you ever been to a movie, theatrical performance, or concert and felt the ending of the show long before it actually came to an end? It’s not a good feeling. I know I’ve watched movies that had three or four endings. You finally want to scream, “Let me out of here!” I want the endings I write to come at the right moment, to be natural, and to flow with my story as Richard Peck and Kathleen Duey described.

In his book, Reviser’s Toolbox, Barry Lane writes:

            ‘Don’t write endings, find them,’ novelist Thomas Williams used to say.
            Endings grow from beginnings and reveal themselves through clues within
            the story, characters or ideas.

            From: Revisers’ Toolbox, by Barry Lane, page 39

There are countless ways to end a book. But I’ve discovered a few picture book endings that are worth noting.

            Just as you would imagine, a circular ending brings you right back to where the story began.

Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk
The Barn Owls by Tony Johnston and Deborah Kogan Ray

Kids love a surprise ending (and adults probably do, too). When a book takes you where you didn’t expect to go, that makes the trip all the more exciting and fun.

Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray
Night Noises by Mem Fox
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg and Judy Love

Be v-e-r-y careful here. Most editors and agents are not looking for books that moralize or teach an adult lesson. But if a character (and the reader) naturally learn something as they travel through the arc of a story you probably have skillfully crafted a great ending.

Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
Roberto the Insect Architect by Nina Laden
Pig Sty by Mark Teague

WARNING! WARNING! DANGER! DANGER! Don’t be sentimental and maudlin in your writing. A warm-fuzzy ending grows out of the need of the characters, setting, or situation and matches perfectly with everything else in the story.

Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser
Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester L. Laminack and Chris Soentpiet

Many authors combine two or more of the endings mentioned above to end their books.

Circular and Surprise:
The Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend

Do your endings flow out of you without planning? Do they miraculously appear on pape? Unless, you are more skilled and gifted than me (and that is surely possible) then you may be settling for an ending instead of crafting an ending. I’m throwing down the gauntlet—let’s write endings that are memorable and noteworthy. Who’s with me?! YES! I see that hand!

It’s Your Turn!
1. You’ve already made your plan based on what you’ve read today, haven’t you? You’ve already thought of a couple of picture books to look over just to see how the author ended them. Or, you thought of a new way to structure the ending of something you’re writing. Well, go do it! I’ll see you next week.


Yifat Fishman said...

Hi Rob!
Was here...and enjoyed the posts on beginning and ending.
Also, sweet pictures from your Wonka writing factory which looks like FUN!


Rob Sanders said...

Thanks, Yifat! So glad you're following along! And, yes, Wonka Writing Factory, has been a blast!