Guest Post by Lori Mortensen
24 Carrot Writing is pleased to welcome Lori Mortensen, award-winning children’s author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles.
If you’re like me, one of the favorite parts of a picture book is the little surprise at the end. After following the intriguing story page by page, I’m always looking forward to see how the author will wrap it up. Will the ending be ho-hum predictable, or will the author create a wonderful ending that’s often described as “unexpected, yet inevitable”? Exceptional endings not only satisfy the story problem, but they fulfill it in a surprising and unexpected way.
At first, simply solving the story problem might seem like the obvious way to bring a story to a satisfying close. For example, if Sally wants a pet, she gets a pet. If Sam loses his kite, he gets it back, etc. But exceptional stories take that extra step.
In my rhyming picture book, Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg that became one of Amazon’s Best Picture Books of 2013, Clyde wants to catch his dog for a bath. So, the obvious ending would be Clyde catching his ol’ dirty dawg and giving him a bath, right? However, as I wrote the story, I knew that predictable ending wouldn’t feel satisfying. There had to be more than Clyde just getting his way. As I wrote, I became excited about where the story could lead. With each successive page turn, I showed Clyde trying to catch his dog, each attempt more comical and disastrous than the last. I told myself, Clyde would get so frustrated he would …. What would he do? I wondered.
I was delighted when I instantly realized things would get so bad, Cowpoke Clyde would scrap the whole idea. Oh, no! I thought. How is Clyde going to bathe his dirty dog now? I was just as eager to find out what would happen as I hoped future readers would be. Moments later, I knew what my ending with a twist would be. Instead of Clyde actually catching his dog, he’d scrap the whole idea, then take the bath himself. Whoa! I didn’t see that coming, but it felt absolutely perfect. As Cowpoke Clyde scrubbed and crooned in the tub, Dirty Dawg joined him with a tremendous SPLASH! At this point, I realized the story wasn’t about Clyde checking off a laundry list of chores. It was about them---Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg. Once Clyde stopped trying to finagle his dog into the tub, the duo discovered that taking a bath was something they both enjoyed. I avoided a didactic ending where Cowpoke Clyde showed Dawg who was boss and turned it into a satisfying friendship story that drew Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg together. I was just as pleased with this unexpected ending as I knew the reader would be.
Another example is my counting picture book, Mousequerade Ball, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. In my original story, mice arrive at a ball in ascending numbers from one to 10. At the climax, a cat shows up and scares them away in descending order back to one. A fun idea, but after several rejections, I knew it needed a more satisfying ending with an unexpected twist.
I decided the solution rested with the cat. Instead of arriving as a threat, the cat shows up only wanting to dance. This unexpected twist gave the story a new meaning and level of satisfaction. It wasn’t simply a book that counted mice up and down. It became a story about friendship and inclusion.
One of my favorite picture book endings with a twist is Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham. In this story, Zebra directs alphabetical characters to their correct place on the page and Moose can’t wait to be featured with the letter “M.” However, when “M” comes along, Mouse gets the coveted spot, much to Moose’s dismay. As the alphabet continues, Moose becomes more and more distraught when it looks as if he’s never going to get a chance to fit in. Then, Kelly dazzles the reader with her own special brand of “unexpected, yet inevitable” magic. When the reader finally gets to “Z,” it reads, “Z is for Zebra’s friend, Moose.” Awww! This unexpected ending not only fulfilled Moose’s desire to be in the alphabet, but it cemented Zebra’s and Moose’s friendship in a surprising and touching way.
This year, my picture book If Wendell Had a Walrus hit the bookshelves. In this story, a boy named Wendell wants a walrus. Of course, the obvious ending would be Wendell getting a walrus. However, as I wrote along, a different ending came to mind. As soon as I wrote it, I knew it was the perfect ending with a whale of a twist.
Would Wendell get a walrus?
What do you think?
So, the next time you’re puzzling over a manuscript, think about your favorite picture book endings and why they work. Did they have an “unexpected, yet inevitable” ending with a twist? Then play around. You may not find the right ending right away. It may take time to sort through all the options that spring to mind at first. But keep at it. If you do, one day an author may be writing a blog about your book and its wonderful “unexpected, yet inevitable” ending with a twist.
Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Recent releases include If Wendell Had a Walrus, illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Matt Phelan (Henry Holt), Chicken Lily, (Henry Holt), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury), illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion), a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013. When she’s not letting her cat in, or out, or in, she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life. For more information about her books, teacher activities, critique service, events, and upcoming releases, visit her website at www.lorimortensen.com.
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