Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The End is in the Beginning

By Keila V. Dawson

 What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” T. S. Eliot

In a narrative nonfiction biography, writers inform readers about the real life of a person. Just as in a narrative, the character’s goal is revealed; something they want to get, solve, find, achieve, etc. But a goal alone is not enough. Real events and facts that make up the plot are not enough. A writer must show their young audience why the person they chose to write about matters. That's done through storytelling, using a narrative arc

In beginnings, readers must understand the story problem or conflict. My January 2018 post Where to Begin addresses that.

The middle is about how the character reacts to that conflict and or their circumstances. Stakes are raised, choices are made, and the conflict increases. Facts are included that pertain only to the story being told. Extraneous information, unrelated but important facts end up in the back matter.

In WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, Ann Whitford Paul teaches us how to focus a narrative story in fiction by writing a story question. This applies to narrative nonfiction too. The story question should be related to the character’s goal. Paul instructs us to connect every scene to that story question. 

In endings, the story must resolve the conflict presented in the beginning and answer the story question.

Satisfying endings in narrative nonfiction can:


In looking at the mentor texts below, readers can formulate the story question from each beginning. Which type of ending mentioned above did each author use?


In Charlie Takes His ShotHow Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf, Charlie's dream is to play golf in the PGA tour but black players aren't allowed to play in white clubs or in white sporting events.

Will Charlie be able to overcome discrimination play in the PGA tour?

Author: Nancy Churnin
Illustrator: John Joven
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company, 2018

In Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber, Mary loved sports and wanted to become a sports reporter but her own mother, and others in the early to mid 20th century didn’t think a woman should work in that field. 

Will Mary convince people she can do the job and become a sports reporter?

Author: Sue Macy
Illustrator: C. F. Payne
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2016


In Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation, Sylvia did not want to return to school. “Sylvia,” said her mother, “¿No sabes que por eso luchamos?” “Don’t you know that is why we fought?”

The story question is literally in the text. Sylvia and readers learn the answer.

Author/illustrator:  Duncan Tonatiuh
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams. 2014

In Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu YeboahEmmanuel wants to work like everyone else but he was born with only one strong leg in a country where someone with a physical disability is expected to become a beggar. 

Will Emmanuel become the person he believes himself to be? 

Author: Laurie Ann Thompson
Illustrator: Sean Qualls
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015

Although Home is a concept book about the different types of homes where animals and people live, the author was still able to create an ending that is emotionally satisfying.

In what home does a ______ belong?

Author/illustrator: Carson Ellis
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015

In Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles, while searching for a problem to solve for a school project, a girl discovers baby loggerhead sea turtles die when they get lost on their way to the ocean during nesting season.

Will the girl save the sea turtles?

Authors: Philippe Cousteau, Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Meilo So 
Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2016

In One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, Isatou finds plastic bags cluttering her village are an eyesore and learns they are a danger to the livestock too. 

Isatou is one person, can she make a difference and declutter her village?

Author: Miranda Paul
Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon
Publisher: Millbrook Press, 2015

Whether you are a pantster or a plotter, look for the end of your story in the beginning. 

I hope you share some of your favorite story endings and why the story questions and answers matter to you. 


  1. Thank you, Keila! What an inspiring, informative post. You've given me so much to think about concerning the narrative nonfiction biography. The additional links and examples are a treasure.

  2. Welcome Charlotte. When it coming to writing, there are a lot of moving parts to think about all at the same time. Happy writing!

  3. Hi Keila, what a wonderful and TIMELY post. I'm putting the finishing touches on a narrative nonfiction biography and this post is spot on! Thanks so much! :)

    1. Hi Rita! So happy you found it helpful. I LOVE nonfiction narratives, especially biographies. Good luck!

  4. Life and picture books can be so similar, can't they? Echoes of the child within the adult that they become. I'm trying to do this with my own books. Thanks for an in-depth post into this topic! I had just checked out a bunch of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's books from the library. She was a master at this. The last page always seems to be an "of course" along with an echo. I wish I had them at home right now. I have several of Barb Rosenstock's biographies here. She's a master of the echoing the beginning in the ending. "Vincent can't sleep.." "Shhhh...Vincent's asleep." And "Dorothea opens her grey-green eyes. They are special eyes. They see what others miss..." "Dorothea's eyes help us see with our hearts." So many examples.....

    1. Barb Rosenstock's books...yes, yes, yes. I love her story about how she came up with the thread for her book on Vincent Van Gogh. Brilliant. I need to reread AKR! Thanks for chiming in Jilanne. I'll be in San Francisco in the fall...this time we WILL meet. :)

  5. Terrific post, Keila. So much of it applies to fiction as well as NF. In fact, several of your examples were spot on for my WIP. The reminder to write a story question couldn't have come at a better time! Many thanks for all the good info.

    1. Welcome Marty. And I agree, Ann Whitford Paul's book teaches about writing fiction, but her advice works for NF too. Good luck!

  6. Great information about tying up loose ends into a satisfying ending.

    1. Thanks Cassie. No easy task, but we can recognize a good ending when we read one!

  7. What a wonderfully helpful post, Keila! Thank you!

  8. Welcome Patricia. So glad it was helpful. :)

  9. Thank you! This post is very helpful!