Beyond ‘Happily ever after’: Improving the Ending of Narrative Texts
For many Primary pupils an understanding of how to close a piece of narrative text is gleaned inferentially from hearing stories read and therefore stereotypical endings are a frequent occurrence in stories written by Key Stage 2 pupils. In order to avoid the pitfall of cliché in narrative closure, the explicit teaching of a menu of ending types can be utilised.
After analysing a broad range of published narratives 7 forms of closure were identified. In this article these are explained and related teaching points are presented.
1. Open for a sequel endings
The opposite of the fairytale’s closed ending, these are reliant upon the wording of the final paragraph (or indeed sentence) to create a sense of doubt in the mind of the reader as to whether the story is truly over. When teaching this category of ending it is useful to explain to the pupils that it can be facilitated through the use of a concluding rhetorical question. This is best modeled by the teacher, using a pre-prepared example as a discussion point:
At the end of their long journey they sat down, at last, around the open fire of the camp where it had all begun and they said that they felt that their travelling days were over. Or were they?
A further method of creating an Open for a sequel ending is through inference. Rather than using a direct question to end the story, a question is created in the mind of the reader. If we rework the above paragraph in this manner it could read,
At the end of their long journey they sat down, at last, around the open fire of the camp where it had all begun and they said that they felt that their travelling days were over, and at that moment they really believed it to be true.
The implication is that it is not true and that at some point in the future they will travel once more. Both of these ‘open’ endings can be modeled and discussed.
An easily obtainable example of an ending which has been left open for a sequel can be found in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator which ends with…
‘Well Charlie,’ said Grandpa Joe. ‘It’s certainly been a busy day.’
‘It’s not over yet,’ Charlie said, laughing. ‘It hasn’t even begun.’
2. Authorial Intrusion endings
‘Authorial Intrusion’ is a form of ending which elicits a sense of empathy from the reader. A good example can be found at the end of C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Silver Chair’,
If ever you have the luck to go to Narnia yourself, do not forget to have a look at those caves
It should be made clear to pupils that the way to produce this type of ending is to address the reader as if they could visit the place in the story themselves. As an introductory task pupils can be given a list of different narrative forms such as Science Fiction, Romance, Ghost story, Detective fiction etc. They can then be asked to produce an ‘Author intrudes’ ending for each of these genre. This provides quick diagnostic information to the teacher as to whether or not the pupils understand the form.
3. Unexpected (Shock!) endings
Unexpected endings abound in the literature currently popular with Key Stage 2 pupils and yet many are unsure how to translate this into their own writing. The following is a useful (if grisly!) example of the form,
At last they were free from the evil that had been plaguing them for so long. The sky was blue, the sun shone and the birds sang in the trees. Jack walked across the field whistling and sometimes singing to himself. He hardly had a care in the world as the sun beat down upon him. For this reason he failed to see the rotting flesh of the hand that broke through the soil beneath him, snatching at his ankle and dragging him, screaming, under.’
Pupils need to be taught how to create a false sense of security, necessary if the shock of the ending is to be achieved. In the above example it succeeds due to a combination of images which create the illusion of calm. Firstly, the paragraph includes descriptions of a ‘blue sky’ and ‘birds singing’; neither of these are associated with tension. The example also includes the statement that Jack ‘hardly had a care in the world.’
Creating a phrase bank of words and sentences associated with calm and peace can be a useful starting point when teaching ‘Unexpected endings’. These can then be used by pupils in the concluding paragraph of their own stories immediately before the unexpected resolution.
4. And so finally…endings
This category of ending is specific to narratives in which a significant number of problems have occurred, all of which have been surmounted so that in the end the goal which had been defined in the introduction has been achieved. (Many myths and legends follow this form.)
As with the other types of ending, a worked example provides a stimulating introduction,
And so, finally, he came to the place that he had struggled to reach for so long; lifting his sword above his head he knew that, at last, his people would be safe.
5. Reader decides what has happened endings
Similar to the ‘Open for a sequel’ ending, this form leaves the reader to make their own mind up as to exactly what has happened. In the following example the story has been told through a sequence of letters written by a soldier during World War 1. The situation he describes becomes increasingly perilous until the story ends with,
The bombs are raining down upon us so that shrapnel is flying everywhere. Tomorrow they say that we must advance toward the enemy who are more than us in number. Mother forgive me as I feel so afraid…
This was the last letter ever written by Private Jones.
The example is a form of authorial intrusion, but essentially the reader is left to decide Private Jones’ fate on the basis of the evidence included in the letters.
6. The end is the beginning
A sophisticated form of story, it opens with the conclusion then tells the story of how events led to that point. This is known as ‘cinematic technique’ e.g. the events are not in chronological order.
The car which John and Mary were driving sped over the cliff toward the rocks below. They closed their eyes and waited for the impact…
Three months earlier
The activity becomes more complex if the timescale is reduced: One hour earlier is significantly harder to write than Three months earlier
7. Reflective endings
To write a reflective ending the pupil needs to produce a story in which the protagonist begins the story with a fixed opinion/idea. Events must then occur which challenge that opinion/idea.
To conclude the story the protagonist reflects on all the events that have occurred and comes to realise that their opinion has changed.
This narrative type offers an ideal opportunity for first person writing.
In this article a menu of ending types has been analysed. Recently the QCA document ‘Improving Writing at Key Stage 3 and 4’ included research findings which indicate that the weakest aspect of pupils textual organisation at the age of 16 is closure. Explicit teaching of endings in both narrative and non-narrative contexts is an aspect of literacy which needs to be addressed if the results of the research findings outlined in the document are to be altered. The earlier that this is tackled the greater the chance we have of reversing the trend.