Monday, 19 November 2012

Notes from the Cavendish: Endings

My six-week Writing for Children course seems to have passed in the blink of an eye - and I am bereft! I don't like endings. I'm useless at goodbyes. I struggle to hang up the phone and even at the end of a casual get-together with friends or family, I'm never the the one who ups and leaves first and simply says, 'See you later.'

I know, I know - I have 'abandonment issues' - and I know too that endings are what make space for new beginnings, but the knowledge doesn't help.

As a children's writer, reaching the end of a story can be hugely satisfying, but there are challenges too. Children hate to be patronised so the ending doesn't necessarily have to be 'happy'. It might be thought-provoking, bitter-sweet, twist-in-the tale, hopeful, redemptive or whatever. But I think young people, like most adult readers - me included - want a resolution to the problem posed at the beginning of the story. I may struggle with goodbyes, but I still don't like cliffhanger book endings.  

Whether the protagonist 'wins' or 'loses' in the final do or die confrontation, when the stakes are at their highest, what's important is how the main character has changed. What have they learned - about life, about themselves? How have they grown?

And after it's all over? Well, I don't want to be overly-dramatic (OK, I do!) but for me - as a reader, a writer or a course tutor - then comes the let-down, the anti-climax, the sense of being cast adrift, the headlong plunge into limbo and having no idea what comes next... that's where I am now.

I'd love to hear how other people feel about endings... what are the best last lines you've ever read? How do you say goodbye - in writing or in life?


  1. Having endured decades of tearful "goodbyes" with family (and friends) in the US, I now make things quick and as tearless as possible. I try to focus on the time spent together, the enjoyment of each other's company. My family and I also have developed a few in-jokes that lighten the moment. It's never easy, but it's part of the package when you live far away from so many loved ones. Keeping in touch, not letting relationships slip--that's really what counts!

    1. I knew I was being a drama queen! It's so much tougher saying goodbye when family and friends live in a different country, but you're quite right, Jane - it's not letting the relationships slip that's so important.

  2. Tears are fine - that's what people do when they're feeling sad. The best endings are the ones where it is fine to admit feeling sad, and the wish everyone well in the future and really mean it!

  3. In real life, endings are hard. Especially ending phone calls. How often do you say goodbye several times just so you're not the first to put the phone down? Sometimes, though endings are a relief - boring meetings, hospital appointments. As for fiction, I don't need a cliffhanger ending, in fact they're irritating, but I need a resolution whether happy or sad. In fact, the end of the first Hunger Games book (or non end) annoyed me so much that I didn't read the rest!