Every magic trick has, at its heart, one key effect. Of course, there might be several effects, but there is one moment in the trick that hits the hardest and leaves the greatest impact on the spectator. For example, in the classic chop cup routine, a small ball is removed from a cup by the magician and the cup placed on the table. When the magician lifts the cup, the ball has returned!

This is repeated several times until the cup is lifted and something surprising, like a lemon or a baseball appears under the cup. This ending is memorable because of its surprising nature, but also because of the construction of the trick itself. When constructing a trick, magicians typically start with the ending and work backwards to make sure that the primary effect is both startling and plausible. This ensures that the magic trick has the maximum affect possible.

We can use this principle in our writing as well. If you know how the story will end, you can make sure that the rest of the story supports and even enhances the ending. It even makes revisions a bit easier because, with a clear view of the ending, we authors can cut anything that doesn’t support the ending.

Before trying it with your own work, here’s an exercise to practice this approach:

  1. Pick one of the wonderful books below.
  2. If it’s a picture book, turn to the last page and read the ending. You may need to read a few more pages to get the whole ending. If it’s a novel, read the final chapter. Again, you may need to read the final two or three chapters to get the gist of the ending.
  3. Summarize the ending in one or two sentences. Identify the main characters, and what was accomplished.
  4. Work backwards from the ending and create a story outline or summary that would lead up to the ending you’ve just read.
  5. Re-read your outline or summary. Do all the parts support the ending? If not, revise your work.

It’s most helpful to do this with a book you’ve never read but is still useful with works you’re familiar with. Feel free to try this exercise with a couple of books. Then, turn your attention to your current work in progress. Repeat the steps above. You may find ways to tweak the story and make it stronger, or you might find (as I did with my story “The Magic Day Mystery”) that you’ve completely changed the story. Either way, if you’re looking for a way to end your story strong, give this exercise a try.

Here are some books with endings I love. Feel free to use one or more of these for the exercise or choose some of your own.

Picture Books

  • No, David by David Shannon
  • Be a Friend by Salina Yoon
  • The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds
  • The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat

Chapter Books & Novels

  • Judy Moody Was in a Mood by Megan McDonald
  • Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
  • The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles
  • The Moon Within by Aida Salazar
  • Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

Well, that’s all for this month. Happy writing (and revising) and have a magical month.