You can have the most fabulous opening ever.
You can have the most riveting story ever.
You can have the most wonderful characters ever.
But if you blow the ending....well, then, it's like serving brussel sprouts for dessert after the gourmet dinner.
Here's a story about an almost-blown ending.
(Warning: If you haven't read Moonpie and Ivy, this post will most likely mean nothing to you.)
I don't like fairy tale endings. I like realistic endings. But I also know that the ending of a child's book should at least be hopeful in order to be satisfying.
Here is the original ending of Moonpie and Ivy (prior to revision):
Then she lifted the shoebox and dumped the postcards out the window. They fluttered in the wind like butterflies, then drifted slowly to the ground, leaving a colorful trail on the dark road behind her.
I LOVED that! Those butterflies...that colorful trail on the dark road....
Lucky for me my editor is more brilliant than me and is not easily moved by fluttering butterflies and colorful trails.
She called me and told me no, no, no. That ending isn't right. First of all, she can't throw those postcards away. She needs them (i.e., kill the butterflies).
Second of all, metaphorically speaking, the dark road isn't behind her. The dark road is ahead of her (i.e., kill the colorful trail).
In addition to that stroke of genius, my editor made one small suggestion that gave the ending exactly what it needed: hope. She suggested that Aunt Ivy give Pearl her phone number.
That phone number gave Pearl a connection that she desperately needed - and left the reader feeling better about things and not so hopeless about Pearl's plight.
Here, then, is the revised ending, as it was published:
She opened the scrap of paper and squinted at it in the glow of the dashboard lights. "Ivy Patterson" was scrawled in big, hurried letters. Underneath, circled in red, was a phone number. Pearl closed her eyes and said the numbers in her head again and again and again and again. She put the envelope back in the shoebox. Ruby droned on and on. "Wait till you see..." "You're gonna love..." "I was thinking we could..." But Pearl wasn't listening. She hugged the shoebox, thinking maybe she could already feel that hope starting to grow inside her. Then she whispered Ivy's phone number over and over while she stared out at the dark road ahead.
Here are some of the reviews:
"O'Connor provides no magical happy ending for Moonpie and Ivy, but it is a hopeful one."
"What I most admire here is the author's courage with the plot, particularly the ending..."
"...the ending was very brave, tinted with hope but with the weight of reality hanging heavy within. I admire that [she] didn't tie it up with any pretty ribbons."
And two reviews from children:
"I hope you all have a chance to read it because I thought it was great even though at the end it's very sad. At the end I loved it"
"The ending, although not happily-ever-after style, left me feeling good."
So there - saved by an editor.