Follow My Manuscript! Chapter 3: Getting the Ending Right

Ah, endings. Endings kind of make it or break it, right? Sure, you gotta hook 'em with a good first line. Yes, a strong main character with a unique voice is essential. But whether it's a picture book, novel, movie, or TV series (I'm looking at you, LOST), if the ending fails, that's what we remember. Because the ending is either satisfying... or it isn't. And there are so many ways to wreck the ending, it can become a little scary to write those elusive, perfect last sentences. Maybe it's because we're so desperate to please, that we try to wrap everything up in a nice little package. Or maybe we start off never knowing the ending, and once we get there, we have no idea how to end it. In a way, the last line of the book is as much of a hook as the opener. If you can get the ending right, then they'll want to start reading it again from the beginning. And, in the end, that's all we can really hope for.

I'll admit, the ending to Beetle and the Dung Ball is still, er, under construction. You can read a synopsis and excerpt below in my last post, but just to recap: Beetle finds a dung ball. While rolling his dung ball home, Beetle swipes his neighbor's dung. The dung ball becomes so big that Beetle can't push it up the hill. Neighbors come to the rescue. Beetle assumes the neighbors want their dung back, but learns they don't like dung and are just returning the favor for Beetle cleaning up the neighborhood.

In my first draft, I had no intentions of Beetle learning any lessons at all. He started off greedy and selfish and in the end he was just as greedy and happy that no one wanted a piece of his stash. The general consensus from both of my crit groups was that it was not satisfying. Beetle needed to change somehow and not be a jerk.

In another draft, Beetle can't even comprehend that anybody wouldn't love dung, so he sends everyone home with a dung ball whether they want it or not. Still not satisfying. Sure, he was willing to share, but he hadn't really grown as a character. And sending the neighbors away came off as a downer.

So, in the draft I submitted to SCBWI, Beetle gains a clear understanding that he's alone in his love for dung and learns that neighbors should help neighbors in need. He's so happy to have made friends that he throws a party--though everyone brings their own preferred snacks. This latest version definitely wraps things up with a happily ever after vibe.

But the night before my submission, I went too far. In my attempt to avoid any critique comments that "Beetle lacks a transformation", I let the neighbor characters get preachy in order to pound the moral home. Arg! Rookie move. In the heat of the moment, I was able to read it aloud to myself and make it sound right. But in hindsight, I gotta cut that junk out. We'll see if it's an issue during my critique in LA. If you're out there, mystery critique person--I know, I know. The ending needs work.

Next time...
Chapter 4: Does the Back Matter... Matter?