Wednesday 11 March 2015

Endings that Stay With You • Natascha Biebow

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a magic ‘ending machine’? You’d write your picture book and then feed it in and POOF! – out pops a spectacular ending!

Endings can be one of the most frustrating and nigglesome aspects of writing picture books. But when you’ve cracked it, a great ending can make the difference between that book that children ask for again and again, and the one they aren’t really fussed about ever reading again.

So, what makes a great ending?

• the main plot problem set up in the opening of the story must be resolved in a satisfactory way – the character’s hopes, wants and needs are met and realized.

• your characters must grow and change by the end of the book – they should have learned something and will be bigger, better people as a result of their journey. So, by implication, will the reader.

readers must feel satisfied and not be left hanging, wondering about unresolved plot points or sub-plots. All loose ends should be tied-up or dealt with.

Here are some examples where the reader can clearly see that the main character has gone on a journey and grown as a result of the action in the story:

What other kinds of endings?

Dark endings: The ending of Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross' Tadpole's Promise is controversial, but true to nature. The caterpillar turns into a butterfly and gets eaten by her true-love, the Tadpole–turned frog. Some grown-ups may wonder: what will children make of this realistic and not at all happy ending?! It is memorable, though – and it works!

From Tadpole's Promise by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

Circular endings: In A bit Lost by Chris Haughton, we see the classic ending that is the story starting all over again, with a slight twist. The story begins with Little Owl falling out of the nest and his quest for his mummy. Finally, reunited with her at last, Mummy invites his rescuers up to the nest, only for Little Owl to fall asleep again . . .
The first and last spreads from A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton

Unexpected endings: In Flora's Flowers by Debi Gliori, there is a delightful surprise in store for young readers who believed in little Flora as she plants a small brick and declares, "I'm growing a small house." Her brothers and sisters all made fun of Flora while the seasons changed from Spring to Autumn and Winter to Spring again, but look what grew!
From Flora's Flowers by Debi Gliori

The Baddie gets eaten up and everyone lives happily ever after: In traditional tales, the baddie often gets his comeuppance at the end of the story and meets a dastardly end, like the Troll in this retelling by Irene Yates of The Three Billy Goats Gruff:

From The Three Billy Goats Gruff, illustrated by Ailie Busby

Twists: sometimes, the ending is a twist that is a delicious visual joke or surprise reveal, as in these two examples:

Or the twist is an unexpected plot turn, as in this example:

P.S. endings: Sometimes, the ending is not quite the end. When Kes' son read Billy's Bucket, he was concerned for the whale, who came out of the bucket onto the street when Billy's dad borrowed his bucket to clean the car without asking. How would the whale survive? So we added a postscript on the back endsheet, in which the whale was safely shoe-horned back into the bucket:

From Billy's Bucket by Kes Gray & Garry Parsons
In another example: when Garry's son read The Dinosaurs are Having a Party by Garreth P Jones, he wondered: wouldn't the baby dinosaur who hatches out of the party bag egg miss his Daddy? Here is the solution on the back endsheet of the book:
From The Dinosaurs are Having a Party
by Garreth P Jones & Garry Parsons

The endings I like best are those that make me laugh or leave me with a warm feeling inside. They bring closure and a kernel of truth about life. Like these two:

What kinds of endings do you like?


Natascha Biebow
Author, Editor and Mentor

Blue Elephant Storyshaping is an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Check out the NEW small-group coaching courses!

Natascha is also the author of Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Regional Advisor (Chair) of SCBWI British Isles.


Patricia Toht said...

Thank you, Natascha, for this wonderful post on endings. I would love an 'ending machine' if you were to build one -- endings are often a challenge for me. My favorite? A fun twist at the end of a book.

Michelle Robinson said...

I loved reading this post, Natascha. I usually find endings write themselves (if my story idea is clear enough), it's often the middles that scupper me - or picking the right viewpoint from the start.

Natascha Biebow said...

Ah, food for another blog post! We could do a trade - you help with the endings and I help with the saggy middles :)

Natascha Biebow said...

Great to hear from you Patty! I like the twist, too, but wish it weren't so tricky to think of these.

Moira Butterfield said...

That 'Not Now Bernard' ending is so interesting. Did he get eaten up? Really? My son and I never could decide. It felt as if it was all in Bernard's head, and we hoped so. Really great.

Natascha Biebow said...

Yes, I guess it's open to interpretation. In any case, there's a monster - real or fictional - in Bernard's place.

Pippa Goodhart said...

I love the ending of Gemma Merino's The Crocodile Who Didn't Like Water. The book starts with a basket of blue eggs in which there is one white one ... which hatches out as the crocodile who doesn't like water, and that's because he isn't a crocodile but a dragon ... and the book ends with a basket of white eggs in which there is one blue one. Nothing is said, and that's the power of it. Just thoughts planted. Brilliant!

Lynne Garner said...

Fab post.

I just love Tadpole's Promise. I read it in the local book shop when it first came out and I actually had what they call a lol moment. I often refer to it when teaching writing as it's just such a fab ending. It's one of those books I wished I'd written.

Unknown said...

This is great thank you Natascha! I love Nadia Shireen's ending to Good Little Wolf when they all get eaten up. Not a happy ending! Would love to know more about unhappy endings...