How to write the perfect ending for your children's book
Have you ever heard of the serial-position effect? It's ok if you haven't, but interesting, this phenomenon is something that would affect you every day, or at least, every time you read.
In a nutshell, the serial-position effect says that us mere mortals have a tendency to remember the start of something ... and the end of it. And it's for this very reason that the ending of your children's book is very, very important.
Even without fancy psychological terms, we all know that in any children's book, an ending is what gets us. It's what makes us jump up and down with excitement; it's what inspires us to do better. It's what makes us want to hug our children that bit harder, or wipe a happy or sad tear from our eye.
But. And there's a big 'but' here. Endings are extremely hard to nail! After now doing hundreds of children's book manuscript assessments, we asked our editor Leanne what's she witnessed in terms of endings, and just how to create the perfect one for your children's book.
1. Why do you think a good ending in a children's book is so important, Leanne?
As with any piece of writing, the ending is what the reader last sees and last remembers. It is the strongest moment of impact and has the potential to stay with you for a long time.
It’s also the culmination of the whole narrative, providing the reader with a resolution that’s meant to tie everything together with a neat bow.
For children’s books, this rings true and even more so because of the young audience. How many stories do you remember being told as a child? In those memories that have lasted so long, usually it’s the ending and the feelings that it carried that leave the most impact.
2. Why do you think writing an ending for a children's book can be so challenging for an author?
If you think about writing nonfiction, take an essay for example when you were in school, the ending is the way to conclude and resolve all the points that you’ve made throughout the piece. This is the same for writing fiction and in particular, children’s books.
With the short word count, you can run into many problems, such as introducing new ideas at the end that weren’t present previously, or repeating yourself too much to the point of redundancy.
Getting the right balance while still being engaging can be very challenging.
3. Of all the children's books you have read, which one has the perfect ending in your opinion? What makes it so good?
Remembering Mother Nature is a great example of a children’s book that has a good ending. It ties together all the main themes and ideas that were introduced and developed throughout the story.
After discussing environmental sustainability, taking care of the earth and animals, demonstrating that it’s possible for the reader to make a change, the ending encapsulates all of these ideas and leaves on a satisfying note.
4. What are some common mistakes that authors make when writing endings? Can you give some examples (without giving away confidential information, of course!)
Finding the right balance for an ending can be very difficult.
A lot of the time, writers lose sight of what their story is really about (as in, the main message, the core and tone of the story, or the themes and ideas) and try to shoe in some kind of bigger picture idea at the end.
This makes the story seem poorly executed and really hinders the direction of the overall narrative.
Another mistake authors make lies actually in the under development of the story which becomes even more apparent at the ending.
When the development of a story and it’s plot or characters is not executed well, the ending can seem very unearned and undeserved.
The characters don’t feel as though they deserve the rewards that they reap by the end which can make the final section of the narrative feel confusing and off putting. Other times the endings can just fall too flat. Rather than being really engaging and leaving a lasting impact, the ending can feel a bit too anticlimactic and weak compared to the rest of the narrative.
5. Do you think there's a formula for writing the perfect ending? If so, what do you think it is?
I don’t think there’s necessarily a formula for writing a perfect ending, but there are lots of different things you can do to come up with a good ending. One of these ways is interrogating yourself and asking what yourself a few important questions, such as:
- What is your story really about?
- What is it trying to say? Is it trying to say something at all?
- If it doesn’t have an overarching bigger message or core idea, then what purpose does the narrative serve instead?
- Is the purpose of the story to make readers laugh? Or to make readers cry?
You have to ask yourself these questions and know the answers so that when you get to the ending, all of these elements are in harmony with one another.
Consider if you wrote a story that had the intention of making readers laugh but then the ending flips and takes a very serious tone. It can be confusing and strange. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but with the word count limit of children’s books, it would be exceptionally difficult to develop that well.
If you’re struggling to answer these questions on your own and you’re feeling lost, it’s a great time to show your work to someone else and ask feedback about it.
Ask them what they think the story is about, what are the things that stood out to them the most? Depending on what they say, you can shape your ending to emphasise these important ideas further.
Say, for example, if you wrote the story to be about a little girl who saves her brother, and you show it to your friend and they say, ‘actually, I thought the story was about a little boy who really looks up to his sister’, then you might consider rephrasing your ending to highlight this idea further.
In saying this, it’s also important to not make your story into something it’s not. Keep the ending relevant and true to the events of the narrative and the ideas that have already been introduced.
In the example I just gave about the main characters being siblings, both of these characters had ample time to be developed and introduced in the narrative. You wouldn’t want to then turn the ending into something completely irrelevant for the sake of a bigger meaning or core message. If it’s about family dynamics in this case, then it would be strange to then try to end the story on something like environmental sustainability, because that’s just not what the story had been about and this didn’t have ample time to be developed at all.
Another great idea to do for endings is to follow a circular plot or to call back/reference the beginning of the story. Some of the most successful narratives in children’s books tend to follow this structure because it’s funny, entertaining, and engaging.
Ask yourself how you can tie up the story by referring to something that happened at the beginning.
6. Any other advice for writing great endings?
Everyone’s writing process is different, but for me I usually come up with the endings of my story first before I develop the plot. This way I can work backwards and ask myself how the story needs to progress and develop to get to this point.
Not everyone works this way, but it’s an interesting exercise that may be worth trying for those who are stuck.
Other than that, everyone has their own techniques and writing process that work for them.
The main thing for most authors though, is that the first draft is almost never the one that you find success with.
It’s perfectly okay, and encouraged, to make multiple drafts of a story after the first one so that you have room to experiment with the ending and see what works. The key thing is to keep writing and keep editing until it feels right to you.
Leanne's calendar is filling up FAST, but right now there are a few spots left available if you'd like to complete your children's book manuscript assessment. Book yours in here.