by Bryan Patrick Avery
Not long ago, I watched a magician perform a card trick for a small audience. The trick had a great premise and started off strong. In the middle, he combined humor and a bit of suspense to keep his audience’s attention. Then, he got to the end. The trick ended awkwardly. In fact, none of us realized he had reached the end of the trick until he spread his arms out wide, said “and that’s the trick”, and strolled off the stage. He left us bewildered and a bit disappointed.
As writers, we often run into the same problem with our stories. A magic trick is, after all, just a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning and middle keep the spectator (or reader) interested but it’s the ending that ultimately provides the satisfaction (or not). Magicians and writers must carry the story all the way through to the end in order to create the best experience possible.
But how? I struggled with this years ago when I wrote my first play for my high school drama class. It was a one act piece called “The Box”. It was then that I learned about the very Hitchcockian “water cooler” principle. The idea is to create a story that will have people gathering around the water cooler to discuss it once they read or see it. In my case, the last thirty seconds of the play took place in total darkness. At the end, you could hear just three things: a scream, two gunshots, and something fall to the floor. The audience was left to determine what happened.
A great example of this approach at work in children’s fiction can be found in Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko Mystery, “A Malted Falcon”. Hale’s hero, private eye Chet Gecko, is hired to find the winning ticket in the Malted Falcon contest. The Malted Falcon is described as the “biggest, most chocolatiest, most gut-busting dessert ever imagined” and the ticket entitles the winner to a year’s supply. I won’t give away the ending but Hale’s Malted Falcon raises two questions: (1) Will Chet find the ticket? and (2) If he does, will he return it to its rightful owner or will he keep it for himself? The ending lets the reader reach her own conclusions.
Another type of ending that works well is when the story comes full circle. Laura Numeroff’s “If You Give…” series, illustrated by Felicia Bond, uses this approach with great success. In “If You Take a Mouse to the Movies” the story begins with our helpful narrator taking a mouse to the movies. The mouse’s requests start off simple (some popcorn) but quickly escalate (buying a Christmas tree and building a snowman). Once the day is done, the mouse remembers his popcorn. When he gets the popcorn, it’s back to the movies all over again! When she was younger, my daughter loved this series. We would read them again and again, following the mouse through his escalating requests until we had come full circle and would start all over again.
One of the most satisfying endings comes when something significant changes for the main character at the end of the story. In “The Ghostwriter Secret”, book two in Mac Barnett’s Brixton Brothers series, Steve Brixton is a young detective who has been greatly influenced by the Bailey Brothers Mysteries. When he takes a most perilous case, Steve discovers that his hero, the author of the Bailey Brothers Mysteries is a criminal mastermind. As a result, he quits the private detective business.
As you're working on your stories, give some thought to how your ending will impact the reader. As with my magic tricks, I try to end my stories with something that will stay with the reader after they’ve finished the story. Whether that’s a mystery to puzzle over, the desire to read it once more, or the hope that they’ll meet up with the characters again, the ending can be, in itself, a new beginning.
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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