Endings for Children’s Fiction – Happy? Sad? Optimistic?

A few words about a current project if I may. And Endings.

I have this book for children. I’ve been writing it since mid December and resolved to finish it by the end of January and I am aware that this is the week I need to wrap things up. But how?

I realise many of you plot your books carefully before you begin. You have a structure to work to. The bare bones. A skeleton. A beginning, middle and end. Amen. It sounds a fantastic way to work. I just wish I could do it.

I’m one of those people who has a few great ideas (?) to kick off the story and a half decent Act 2 in which all manner of silly things happen, but sadly Act 3 is always featureless….a barren desert of nothingness. Yes, it’s as bad as that. Does anyone else write like this? I suspect there are more of us than we think.

So, instead of having a completed first draft, a complete story which I can then re-jig and improve, I tend to end up with a finished Act 1, an exciting and inventive Act 2 that works well but would benefit from a few tweaks, and an Act 3 that appears to be wandering around aimlessly hoping to bump into an ending….any ending...just get me the hell out of here.

But what kind of an ending? It’s a book for children. Does it have to end happily ever after? I’d rather not if you don’t mind. But I’m only the writer. Think of the poor children….. “and Sleeping Beauty never did wake up, children…..

Another problem lies with my bad guys. I have two of them. Nice characters. I love them to bits. I always prefer my bad guys to the hero/heroine. Every day.  How to dispose of them in Act 3?

Do I give them a break and let them repent and promise to be good boys for the rest of their lives? Or make it a brutal blood bath? I suspect the kids I know would prefer the latter. So would I actually. Maybe that’s the answer. A bath of blood. Er, maybe not.

But endings do matter of course. A heck of a lot. As readers we crave a really top notch ending. Good endings, be they negative or positive, do satisfy us. We crave resolution of some kind. There is some psychological mumbo jumbo to support this view but don’t ask me what it is. Just accept it.

‘Leave them wanting more‘ is another quote we can all recognise. That works.

Actually, come to think of it, I do have a rather good final paragraph in which the main character is nicely set up to have another adventure (Books 2, 3 and 4 will be on sale in all good book stores by Christmas) but this is in what at one time would have been called the ‘Epilogue’ .

So, I’m struggling at the moment. Maybe I should do what I always do and lock myself away and simply tap a finger on the keyboard and see what happens….it’s more in hope than realistic expectation but hey ho, that’s the joy of writing I suppose.

And finally, I seem to recall a quote about endings….I can’t quite remember who said it (Duh!) (Frank Herbert?) but it went along the lines of “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” I’ll buy that.


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I help new writers become published authors through self-publishing. I also offer writers the chance to have their work converted into Kindle eBooks and publish them on the Amazon Kindle store.

4 responses to “Endings for Children’s Fiction – Happy? Sad? Optimistic?”

  1. MishaBurnett says :

    I recall reading an interview with Roald Dahl in which he claimed that children, as a class, insist that justice be done in fiction, if there are people who do bad things, then bad things must happen to them, and if people do good things, then good things must happen to them.

    I’m paraphrasing, he said it much better than that, but that’s the basic idea. So if you offer the opportunity for redemption to your villains, you probably ought to make them suffer a bit first.

  2. hawleywood40 says :

    I’ve never tried writing children’s fiction, but always thought that if I did it would need the more traditional “happy ending with lesson learned” to be well received. But then … along came Harry Potter …

  3. Michelle Proulx says :

    Children’s books don’t necessarily need to have happy endings, but I personally would shy away from an overly sad ending. That’s just personal preference, though. I like my stories to have at least a semi-happy ending. If I invest the time in reading a book, I want the character’s I’ve grown to care about to come out all right at the end — some of them, at least. That’s why I don’t like watching those thriller movies where only one person out of a group of like 12 survives the horrible disaster. It’s depressing.

    But each to their own 🙂 And I agree with Misha Burnett — justice must be served, especially in a children’s book. Otherwise you’re implying that actions — good or evil — have no consequences, which is not a good lesson to be teaching our impressionable youths 🙂

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