Happily Ever After: Finding the Perfect Ending
by Eugie Foster

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Whether it's the last page of a story or the wrap-up of an article, endings are what you leave readers with--the closing word, your final chance to make an impression or drive a point home. A wonderful ending can make readers forget about a clumsy segue or stumbles in pacing, but a bad one will typically result in a thumb's down verdict for the work as a whole, even if the rest kept readers spellbound.

With fiction, endings are the one time where you can allow yourself to linger (within reason) over an extra sentence or paragraph. While beginnings have to hook, and middles must be tight and well-paced, endings are to be savored. Readers who have followed with interest and anticipation the adventures, exploits, and travails of your carefully and lovingly crafted characters want to relax into the denouement and relish the hard-earned finale. An ending which is too fast or too abrupt is more likely to dissatisfy than one which is too leisurely.

A good fiction ending:

In articles, essays, or how-tos, the ending should be a conclusion, not a synopsis or a reiteration of what's been gone over before.

A lot of nonfiction simply stops after the information has been presented or trails off, uncertain what to do once all the important points have been covered. This is because nonfiction writers and journalists are often told to organize their information so that the most important and interesting items are presented first--in order to "hook" readers and because it's assumed that most people won't read to the end. However, this perpetuates the prevalence of weak (or nonexistent) endings in a Catch-22. Weak endings provide little incentive for readers to keep reading, so they don't, which provides further evidence to editors and writing instructors that readers stop before reaching the end.

However, as writers for young readers, our goal is to instill a love and interest of both our subject matter and reading in general. Boring our audience mid-article such that they have no interest in finishing is no way to impress them or editors.

A good nonfiction ending:

An article that appeals to young readers (and editors) will be interesting, informative, and relevant from start to finish. Likewise, a good story resonates with readers, leaving them with a sense of satisfaction as well as something to take away from the experience.

Copyright © 2007 Eugie Foster
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Eugie Foster is a short-fiction writer specializing in genre and children's literature. She has sold more than a dozen stories to the Cricket Magazine Group, including Spider, Cricket and Cicada, as well as to an assortment of other children's magazines including Dragonfly Spirit and Story Station. She holds an M.A. in developmental psychology, has co-authored a textbook on child development, and is a frequent speaker at Dragon*Con's Young Adult Literature Track. She is a member of the SFWA and managing editor of Tangent (http://www.tangentonline.com). Foster maintains a list of children's SF/F magazine markets at her website, http://www.eugiefoster.com.


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