The end. Full stop. That's it

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
Children's enthusiasm for imaginative writing is at its best in the beginning of a story. Spirit is high and the idea is fresh. The beginning can even be too concerned with minutiae. Exact details of what the main character had for breakfast is probably unnecessary when the piece of writing centres on a school trip to an 18th century castle. Unless, of course, the breakfast reappears on the bus trip to the castle.

Enthusiasm stays through the middle of the story. But by the ending things can crumble. Good endings are a real challenge. The plot has to be explained, loose ends tied up and the writer may want to sum up the work. All this when the spark of creativity may be virtually extinguished.

Given the inescapable demand of an ending, it is not surprising that children often rely on a number of devices which simplify their task. There are three main endings in written work.

Less popular now than in the past, there is the "then I woke up" ending. The main character may be inextricably trapped or the writer thinks that having written the required page length it is simply time he moved on. The art activities the rest of the class are now tackling appear much more appealing. As we all know, you don't always wake up at the part you want to in a dream, so dream endings can be used at almost any point in the story.

Another favourite ending employs a minimalist reaction to the type of trauma which would normally demand psychiatric counselling. In the morning the main character slips through a crack in the back of his wardrobe door. In the afternoon he explores the planet Zog and wrestles for survival with a three headed alien. Yet the evening sees the character untouched by any post traumatic stress, having tea, playing football, watching television and going to bed.

Finally there is the most concise of all endings: "The End". I asked a class of Primary 5 children about their use of "The End". The attractions it would seem are many.

"The End" has an incontrovertible validity to it. To the reader (notably the teacher) here is a very clear, unambiguous statement that the end of the story has been delivered. If children are told that a story must have a beginning, middle and an end, then why not red flag the end? There is less opportunity for a resurrection of this tale which would require further writing. This is recognised by some children.

" 'The End' tells you that it is the end of the story, that the story is definitely over."

"If you use 'The End' it means it is the end and there will be no more coming after this."

"You wouldn't get another part to the story if it said 'The End'."

Another attraction of "The End" is the sense of grandeur.

"Real fairy tales always have 'The End' at the end of them and it makes your story look more real."

Children point to the use of this caption in films and cartoons.

"I think lots of children write 'The End' because they see it on cartoons and they think it is the way to end things."

"I sometimes put 'The End' in stories because then it looks like a realistic story."

Despite appealing to the lofty principles of establishing a firm ending and imitating real stories, "The End" also serves mundane purposes. As ever in children's writing, there is the question of space. A story which does not quite fill the page suddenly fills it when you miss out a couple of lines and write "The End". This is widely acknowledged by children.

"I write 'The End' because it uses up some space so when there is space left at the bottom of the page I would write 'The End'."

"I have written 'The End' at the end of a story. It takes up more room. "

"The End" also has attractions for the doodler: "I like writing 'The End' because you can use fancy 3D writing and it looks smart."

And by producing a calligraphic squiggle below "The End", similar to that found under the signature of medieval monarchs, you can take up yet a further three or four lines beneath "The End".

Few teachers encourage children to use "The End". Teachers tend to focus rather critically on its space filling characteristics. This is certainly a significant attraction.

However, the appeals of "The End" are spread much wider and find favour with a larger group of pupils than those simply filling up space. It is this assortment of appeals offered by "The End" which has ensured its survival to the present, and will ensure its health in the future.

The End Ally Budge teaches in a Caithness primary school.

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