Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Perfect Endings

Quick question here: How many times have you polished the opening page of your latest manuscript?

If you're like me, and many other writers, the answer is probably, "Too many times to count."

As writers, we are always told how important those opening pages are to catching a reader's (and an editor's!) attention. Whether we're at a "First Pages" session at a local writer's conference or reading Noah Lukeman's excellent book, "The First Five Pages," we get the idea of how critical that perfect start is to our current wip.

But what about that perfect ending?

In my opinion, not all published manuscripts live up to this even greater challenge. But when I read one that does, that sense of perfect completeness is incredibly satisfying.

Recently, I finally got around to reading Gennifer Choldenko's excellent middle grade novel, "Al Capone Does My Shirts". I could easily write essay after essay about the many fine examples of the writers' craft Choldenko provided me with in this wonderful story. But, what stood out for me most was the absolute perfection of her ending.

I'm going to quote the last 3 perfect words below:

Done, it says.

Doesn't sound like much, does it? But for me, it was perfect. (And, if you read the book, I'm guessing you might have thought so too.)

I'm curious, what endings have you loved?

P.S. As an extra special ending for today's post, I just wanted to make sure everyone knows about Cynthea Liu's exciting auction. There are incredible prizes up for bid (think editor and author critiques!) and all the money earned through the auction goes to buy book boxes for kids at a Title 1 Elementary School. The auction deadline has been extended until July 8th, so take advantage of the extension to get your last bid in!


  1. I recently read Saint Iggy, by K.L. Going. I absolutely loved this book and the ending left me breathless.

  2. I think the Spectacular Now has a terrific ending. Thought it's a bit of a downer, IMO it's perfect for the character and his situation.

  3. I recently read TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan. It's a difficult and controversial book. It was painful to read from beginning to end, but the end was perfect. That doesn't mean it was a big red bow - it certainly was not. But the end was fitting.

  4. J.A., MG and Meg-- Thanks so much for adding to my "must read" list! I love the words you all use to describe your perfect endings, "breathless", "perfect for the character" and "fitting". I hope some day I can achieve this type of perfection in my own writing!

    Also, one more perfect ending to add to the list. The last page of ART by Patrick McDonnell always makes my son and I give each other a hug. It is so sweet and comforting. And just the right ending for a story without a single wasted word.

  5. It's interesting that the three books mentioned so far are not big red bow endings -- but perfect endings.

  6. BTW, thanks for mentioning Al Capone Does My Shirts. It's a book I'd been wanting to read, then forgot about (what with all the other zillion books on my list). I bought the Kindle edition last night.

  7. "But between now and then, there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open." - Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book.

    Made me want to do the same :)

    Great post! And you bring up an interesting point about "last pages" which are as equally important as a good beginning hook.

  8. Loving this discussion!

    J.A.-- It is interesting that the big red bow endings aren't the ones that stand out for us as perfect, isn't it? I've always loved the ending of THE GIVER. For me, it was perfect. But I know that some people disagree.

    MG-- Glad to remind you about such a wonderful book. There are so many different layers to it.

    Robin--Thanks for adding yet another book to my "must read" list. I think that great first pages get you started reading. Great last pages are what make you remember a book and want to re-read it long after you've finished... FLIPPED was a book like that for me. I don't remember if it was the last page exactly. But the ending to the book "flipped" everything from earlier into a wonderful new perspective. Again, perfect!