Monday, December 8, 2008

On Ending Well

By Nicole Seitz

Every cool morning after the kids are strapped in my husband's truck and we've said our goodbyes and I love yous, I do a little something extra. I exhale warm breath on the cold window and use my finger to draw something for the kids to see as they're pulling out of the driveway to go to school. The first day I did it, I drew a heart. It instantly became a hit and was expected every day. Then, I had to draw on BOTH passenger windows. Next, I came up with different images: a cat, a happy face, a house. Now, the kids request things. This morning, my son asked for an airplane and my daughter, a bird. They may not have been the best or most recognizable images, but I did my best and I watched as they smiled and my son traced the airplane with his forefinger from the other side of the glass. This little tradition of ours has become quite an important part of our morning routine. As long as it's cool weather, these window paintings will keep a-comin'.

So I was thinking about how important they are, these images, these last impressions I leave with my family. You must understand how hectic things are for the thirty minutes leading up to the backing out of the drive. There are proddings to finish breakfast. Warnings to put down that toy. Pleadings to come upstairs and get dressed. Some days there is hair pulling (mine), heart racing, "We're late, we're late!" moments. So much commotion for four humans to make! And then...once the truck doors are shut and the children dressed and bundled and strapped, there is a moment of quiet as my finger goes to glass and a last impression is created between mother and children...and husband. I love the smiles. I love the oohs and aahs. But I love my family most of all. I don't want them to remember the running around and rushing that morning. It's so important that they savor that last impression from home to carry with them to the next place.

I think book endings are very much the same way. We, as writers, create this cacophony of words and images, scenes, commotion, turmoil, heartbreak, heart-leaping across hundreds of pages...and then...the ending. An ending to a novel is so powerful, it cannot be underestimated. Have you ever loved reading a book and had the ending fall flat? How did you feel about the book afterward? You remember that slight disappointment at the end, at least, I do. And then, we've all read a book that's going along fine, we're getting into it, and by the end, WOW! what a zinger. I did NOT see THAT coming. How does the ending color the book? It can make or break it. The ending is your final goodbye, that thing that you leave. What do you like to draw for your readers?

I have to admit, I'm in the school of surprise endings. I love when I don't see it coming. I'm a savvy reader, and this goes for movies too. PLEASE don't let me guess correctly who-dunnit. Please don't let me peg from the opening scenes who the bad guy is, what the secret is. I love endings. I LOVE my readers. I want my readers--no matter what they've gone through to get there to the end of my books--to be satisfied, sometimes surprised, and definitely entertained. It is the end that we, as writers, give our readers as that lasting image, drawn with warm breath on a foggy window. The details of the book will fade away mighty fast, but that faint image of a smiley face or awkwardly drawn birdie or great big warm heart will remain.

Here's another thing I've noticed about the window images and novel endings: They've got to be fairly quick and simple. No Sistine Chapel ceilings here. Why? Because the fog on the glass only lasts for so long. You've got to get that image drawn the best you can in the short amount of time you have. Otherwise the fog will disappear and you're left with a half-drawn something-or-other that could be a cat or an airplane--we can't tell. And let me tell you, my son will turn to my daughter's window if he can't figure out what I've drawn for him. Kids are like that. Kids, and readers--we all love a good ending that we can trace with our finger from the other side of the glass and take with us wherever we happen to go next. A great ending is the one thing that lasts and lasts.

Nicole Seitz is the author of Trouble the Water, The Spirit of Sweetgrass, and coming in March, A Hundred Years of Happiness. She also paints the covers for her novels. Visit her website at to watch book trailers, look at artwork, and learn more.

Image courtesy of Friends of Randolph Library and Circa Gallery, Asheboro, NC.


Kimberly said...

I love this. You've given me so much to think about--personally and in my writing. Thank you!

Nicole Seitz said...

Glad you liked it, Kimberly. You certainly know kids AND writing well!

Anonymous said...

Lovely! Thanks so much for this beautiful entry.