Writing Powerful Endings

By Laura Backes

The first few lines of any story are the most important, and often the most difficult words you'll write. The next most challenging piece of writing is the ending. Once you draw your readers in and take them through your story, you'll need to leave them with a satisfying conclusion. Here, then, are some tips for writing powerful endings:

Fiction picture books: The story in a picture book must come to a natural, logical conclusion. The action should end at a definitive moment, with no plot points left hanging. The reader needs to be satisfied with the way the story ends; the main character (with whom the reader is identifying) must solve the conflict by the last page. The conclusion cannot be implied or left open; readers shouldn't have to choose between several possible outcomes.

Some authors try to sum up the message of the book in the last paragraph. If your story is well written, the reader will know what the character learned without your having to blatantly spell it out. Once the action is over and the conflict is resolved, the story ends. Anything beyond that point dilutes the impact of all that's gone before.

Chapters must feel complete in themselves. Some of the best authors limit their chapters to one scene or event, starting a new chapter with the next scene. A powerful way to end a chapter is at a climatic moment in the middle of a scene. This causes the reader to want to turn the page and see what happens next. The most effective chapters end in the same way they begin: with action or dialogue.

Novels, like picture books, must have a complete ending. Your character faces a problem or conflict during the course of the book, and once that problem is resolved, the story ends quickly. Many beginning authors add a final chapter that shows how life returned to normal after the story took place; this is unnecessary information that takes away from the impact of the story's resolution.

Any subplots must be tied up before or at the same moment as the conclusion of the main story. The last chapter focuses on the main character and his actions. Show how the character has grown or changed in some way, but avoid preaching to your readers. This information can generally be summed up very quickly and dramatically with a short final chapter.

Nonfiction books: The end of a nonfiction book is the conclusion of all of the information you have presented. However, with books you have an entire chapter to make your point. Many authors title their last chapter with a question, such as "where do we go from here?" or "What Does the Future Hold for the Amazon?" The body of your chapter will answer this question, drawing from the facts in the book and posing possible solutions. If you relate the subject to the reader's own life, he or she will continue to have an interest in the topic long after finishing your book.

Endings are important. They are the final contact you'll have with your readers: your last chance to make an impression. Take time with your endings and write them carefully. A satisfying conclusion will not only make reading an enjoyable experience, but children will anxiously await your next work.

Laura Backes has published Children's Book Insider, The Children's Writing Monthly, since May 1990, and is the co-creator of the Writing Blueprints online courses and webinars. This article originally appeared in Children's Book Insider. Used with permission. 

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