Here’s the problem with doing a PiBoIdMo blog post at the end of the month:
I was going to write about setting. But Tammi did that.
I was going to doodle. But Debbie already did that.
I was going to send you an Inspiration Fairy. But Courtney already sent you one.
I thought about chicken nuggets. But so did Sudipta.
So, what’s left?
Endings! Big, bold, surprising, clever, tender, awww-inspiring endings!
As we ease into the final stretch of PiBoIdMo, like you, I have a list of ideas. Some I’ve even started writing. But none of them have endings. (Yet.)
Many of us experience the first flush of excitement when a new idea tickles us until we have to put words down on paper. We have an idea! A character! A setting! Maybe we even have conflict! But, if you’re like me, you hope that by the time you hit the 700 word mark the ending will just write itself. But here’s the problem with endings that just write themselves. They’re usually flat.
And no wonder. A great ending is as difficult to write as an opening sentence. And as important.
Here’s what’s on an ending’s “to do list”:
- An ending has to resolve the story problem in a satisfying way (no plot points still hanging);
- It has to have the main character solving the conflict by the last page;
- It should either be predictable enough to emotionally resonate with the reader or unpredictable enough to delight;
- If it’s a humorous picture book it needs to deliver the final punch line;
- And, like a fine wine (or peanut butter fluffernutter sandwich), it needs to linger on your reader’s palette long after the meal in consumed.
So let’s think of how we can use page 32 to offer the perfect ending to your story.
Here are some possibilities:
Think beyond the obvious ending and offer the reader a surprise – the opposite of what’s expected. It should still be logical, but it doesn’t have to be inevitable. Emma Dodd does that in “What Pet to Get” as does Cynthia Rylant in “The Old Woman Who Named Things.” Both offer surprise endings but do so in very different ways.
In my picture book OSKAR’S PERFECT PRESENT (2013), Oskar starts his journey looking for the perfect present for his mother. On the first page, he finds it—a perfect rose! But as Oskar makes subsequent trades along his journey home, he is left without a present. On the last page, however, he is reunited with the same rose he traded away at the start of his journey. Circular endings—or those that somehow mirror the opening—are among my favorite endings since they offer closure in an often clever way.
Sometimes a last page is simply the climax of the story, the fulfillment of the character’s desire. In “When Marion Sang”, Pam Munoz Ryan’s book about opera singer Marion Andresen, Marion is denied to sing on many American stages because she was African American. The last page of the story reads, “. . .and Marian sang.” In my picture book THE BUSY LIFE OF ERNESTINE BUCKMEISTER, Ernestine is the queen of over-scheduled set, and she just wants to play. In the end, she does just that and the final words, “And sometimes she just played,” underscore that Ernestine is fulfilled.
And ending can be wordless, relying on a single-spread illustration to close the story. While the ending is wordless, it still needs to be “written” within the visual. This type of ending can be used effectively in both quiet books and humorous books. In a quiet book, the ending visual might be a sunset, an embrace, a child sleeping. In a funny book the last illustration can hint at a visual joke or twist. In my picture book HOLD THAT THOUGHT, MILTON (2012) the final joke is embedded within the illustration which hints that just when the reader thought all was back to normal…it isn’t.
I love working on my endings. It never ceases to amaze me how changing the ending can change the entire feel of the previous pages.
You know when you go to a movie and it finishes? If it’s been a good movie, you want to stay seated in the darkened theater suspended in the magic of the story. You want to draw out the experience just a little longer. A picture book ending should do the same thing for the reader. It should offer the reader that all-important pause (for reflection, a hug, or a giggle) before they close the book.
What kind of endings do you like? What fits best with your story? What kind of ending gives your story a unique slant? Try out alternative endings and see how the mood, the rhythm, the idea of the book changes. And revise until you find your happily ever after…
Linda has spent the past 15 years living in Stockholm, Vienna and now The Netherlands. She lives in a one-windmill town with her husband and 13 year-old daughter and helped to establish the country’s first SCBWI chapter. Her picture book, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister (illustrated by Suzanne Beaky, Flashlight Press), debuted in October and was noted in the ABC Best Books Catalog 2011. Her next two picture books—Hold That Thought, Milton! (illustrated by Ross Collins) and Oskar’s Perfect Present (illustrated by Alison Jay) will be coming out in 2012 and 2013. And when she’s not working on her beginnings, middles and endings, she’s a public information consultant with the United Nations. Visit Linda at: www.lindalodding.com.