Inevitable Endings by Maria Oka
I’ve heard it said that the very best endings are both inevitable and unexpected.
There. I’ve given you the key to writing your perfect ending. Done and done.
Just kidding. (Hint: writing The End is usually not the best ending.)
Writing an ending that is both inevitable and unexpected takes careful crafting, starting with word one. You know you’ve achieved it when your reader has an “Ahh!” or an “Aww” moment at the end, not a “Huh?” or a “Duh” moment. You want your ending to be unexpected rather than completely predictable, but you also want it to feel just right, like this was where you were meant to end up the whole time.
Everything in your book, EVERY WORD (especially if it’s a picture book), should be leading up to the perfect ending for your book. Sometimes it will lead to a surprising ending, sometimes to a warm and fuzzy ending, sometimes to a circular ending (where you end where you started), and sometimes even to a melancholy or sad ending. Still, all of those endings can be inevitable and unexpected.
I’ll give you two examples, and oldie, and a newbie:
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Max is wild, wild, wild, and he drives the story. He ends up confined in his room without dinner after telling his mother, “I’ll eat you up!” There, he gets on a boat and sails to where the Wild Things live. What if the book had ended when Max became their king and they rumpussed about? Though that is arguably the best part of the book, it would have been a very dissatisfying ending. When Max decides to go back to where “someone loves him best”, he ends up back in his room, with his dinner, “and it was still hot”. Inevitable and unexpected. Perfect.
Note that Max ends up in his room alone with his dinner. If it had ended with Max giving his mother a verbose apology, it wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying. It would have been contrived and out of character, and it wasn’t the scenario that the story was leading up to. And if he had ended up back at home, but without dinner, it still wouldn’t have been quite right. There is a strong food theme throughout, and to be true to that, Max had to have his dinner.
Wait by Antoinette Portis
If you are not familiar with this book, that’s ok. It just came out this month! If you are familiar with Antoinette Portis’ other books (“Not a Stick”, “Not a Box”, "Froodle", "Princess Super Kitty" etc.) you’ll know that she has a passion for fostering imagination. And she's a genius at it.
The premise of “Wait” is that there is a mother who is in a hurry to get somewhere, and a small child who is intent on exploring the world around him. “Wait” he begs his mother, “Hurry” she says. Those are two of the three words used in the book, and they are repeated throughout as the boy and his mother have very different experiences on the same walk through town.
Since the book is so new, I won’t give the ending away here, but I will just tell you that it is perfect: perfectly inevitable and yet somehow unexpected. You’ll just have to read it to find out for yourself.
So if you’re struggling to find your perfect ending, maybe you need to back up. Who is your character, and what is their primary goal? Does everything in the book lead up to the ending you’ve written? Have you ended your story too early? Too late? Or did you craft your characters and plot carefully enough that they end up right where they are supposed to be? As always, study from the masters, and you’ll find your very own perfect ending.
This post was written by Maria Oka, mom of three girls and wife of one handsome fella. Maria reads and writes from Southern California.
9/22/2015 12:39:54 am
I'll find this book Wait by Antoinette Portis just to see the end). As for me I really prefer when the big story (book over 300 pages) with very active plot ends like with no action, no ending point. and then your imagination goes on through this story thinking about what happens next. It makes you to think about the story for a long time.
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