Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Begin Well, End Better: The Art of Crafting Beginnings and Endings

Start well
Appropriately, the last installment of the editor's revision checklist is on beginnings and endings. Here are considerations and questions to ask about these two crucial aspects of writing short and long fiction.

Beginnings now mean the first paragraph, maybe the first page, but not the first chapter. Beginnings must  engage readers in the first few lines. Does your first paragraph encapsulate your entire story or novel? Is it immediately engaging? Does the reader want to know more about your story and its characters? Is the promise made (and kept) that the piece is worth the reader's time and emotional investment?

Is the end of your story satisfying, possibly hoped for, but not anticipated, without being obvious? Do you tie up all loose ends, especially those that would leave readers feeling cheated if they're not addressed? Are your readers left wanting more, but not in a way that leaves them sensing that something's missing? Handled well, a good ending can open the door to more stories.

End better
As to a great beginning that ripples throughout a story to the end, author Pete Nelson (I Thought You Were Dead) has said that what you want an agent to do when she picks up your manuscript is to read the first line, pause as she puts on her coat, then read the second line, then ease her coat off as she continues reading, then sit back down or put her coat on as she stuffs your manuscript into her bag to read over the weekend. Of course, closing this deal means following all the way through to a solid and satisfying ending.

Tips: Once you've finished editing your story and are ready to send it for publication, put the piece aside for at least a week. Then come back and reread the beginning and the ending. Don't be afraid to revise both before sending. For the premiere blog on beginnings, by Peter Selgin, visit Your First Page. For general information on the topic, see "Five Fiction Mistakes That Spell Rejection." For more on endings, see "Endings."

For the full editor's checklist, see the Online Editing Workshop.

Happy writing! 


Jessica Ruud said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!! Great blog.

Adele Annesi said...

Thanks for your comment - let me know if you have any writing or editing queries. Am always looking for good ideas :)