Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Okay, first I have some shameless self-promotion. If you haven't already entered The Motherload Contest, stop what you're doing and ENTER! You can win three free books AND an ancient Roman coin!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

I was recently thumbing through my copy of Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, and read an interesting chapter on beginnings, middles, and ends. Now, this sounds basic, but I think many of us have read (or written) a novel and struggled with at least one of those three. For me, it's the middle. I know when I hit about 100 pages that I'm going to start wandering and a lot of what I write will be cut. My next few posts will be about these pieces; today we'll start at the beginning.

Beginning: It's the job of the beginning to start with the question, "Who?" Imagine if Gone With the Wind started in the scene where Sherman is marching on Atlanta. You wouldn't know anything about Scarlet, or Rhett, for that matter (and that would be a crying shame!). You wouldn't feel a connection to either main character, but you might actually like Ashley. Blecch! According to Bell, the beginning has four main goals.

1. Present the story world. We know from the get-go that Gone With the Wind is set in the antebellum South.

2. Establish the tone the reader will rely upon. Some books start out humorous, others are deadly serious. Some are more languorous, while others hit off running at a break-neck speed that never stops.

3. Compel the reader to move to the middle. And don't lose them there. (More on that next week!)

4. Introduce the opposition. These could be internal or external forces. Or both.

Which pieces of a novel do you excel at- beginnings, middles, or ends? Which do you most struggle with?


erica m. chapman said...

Good Stuff. For me it's the beginnings I think. I can never figure out where to start it! However, I thought before it was the middles, I was wrong.

Good tips, thanks for sharing ;o)

Matthew Delman said...

I'd add one addendum to the last bit about introducing the opposition, in that if there's multiple opposing forces the hero will go up against, then introducing one in the opening pages is probably enough -- so long as it's a good one!

I find that I rock at endings, whether I'm leaving things open for the next story or closing them down. There's something about tying down all the extant plot threads that I excel at. Beginnings I've gotten a lot better at, and the middles I'm OK with (particularly where the action starts to kick into high gear as it were).

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm learning to improve my beginnings. In my previous ms I enjoyed myself talking about the characters and setting up the story, getting to know everyone...

Now, I know better :)

Amalia Dillin said...

Endings are definitely the hardest part for me. I think maybe because I never want them to come.

Joshua McCune said...

Middle probably -- gotta figure out how to segue to the end while keeping the pacing/tone.

L. T. Host said...

Great question. I think I'm okay at endings. I don't really have a problem with sagging in the middle because I tend to reveal things all along the way. So I guess maybe beginnings are my weak point, by elimination?

Hm. I think I'm an okay opener (first page/ paragraph/ etc)-- but right after, when I'm getting into the story, is probably where it starts to drag for me.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Erica- I often end up chopping my beginnings, but I don't have a hard time starting them. But around 100 pages I get totally lost.

Matt- You're definitely right- you don't have to introduce all the antagonists up front. That could be overwhelming!

Jemi- I did that too. Fun for me, not so much fun for readers.

Amalia- I always seem to know my endings early on and just can't wait to get there and write THE END!

Bane- It's the pacing of the middles that kills me.

L.T.- I usually keep the momentum in the beginning. At least to get the thing written. :)

dolorah said...

Beginnings are the worst for me. I've had several for my first book, and haven't been happy with any of them. I've introduced my character, set the tone. The opposition is internal, so I'm not sure I've introduced that well, and so I'm not sure people will keep reading past the first chapter.

Once I get going, however, I think I do pretty well at the middle and definitely have decent endings. My writing starts with an ending, so I don't struggle with that.

Thanks for the book reference, and the advice. It will help me.


Michelle D. Argyle said...

Great post! I think I'm best at endings. :)

Libbie H. said...

I an an ender, for sure. I usually know the end of my books and stories -- or at least how the major climax resolves, if not what the final scene looks like -- before I even start working on the piece. Everything else I write is just pushing toward that end scene that keeps replaying through my brain.

I have a harder time with beginnings. I understand and agree with the three points Bell makes, but for whatever reason I just tend to ramble too much in the beginning.