When you start a new story, where to you begin? At the beginning, of course. But which one?
Everything starts somewhere, though many physicists disagree. But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. They wonder how the snow plough driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spelling of words. ~Terry Pratchett
- Someone driving and thinking about how her life is changing
- Two people sitting at a table drinking coffee
- Someone waking up to start the day
- An overly-long, overly-detailed description of scenery
There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me – not forever, but periodically. One for the Money, Janet EvanovichWhy does it work? Immediately, we can feel the tone of the book. The main character’s voice is distinct. And, we want to know what it is about this Morelli that makes him worth the trouble, more than once.
It was raining the night he found me. Demon: A Memoir, Tosca LeeWhy does it work? There is a sense of foreboding in this line. We know the main character is in for something unexpected (because he was found) and it’s probably not going to be pleasant.
By the time you read this, I hope to be dead. 19 Minutes, Jodi PicoultWhy does it work? How can you not want to know more about the person who wrote that line? This book is not written entirely in first person POV. It changes to multiple, third-person, past tense POVs. But that first line stays with you as you read. One of the characters has a secret so big, they hope to be dead before anyone finds out. Which one? Don’t give up hope if you’ve already started a story with one of the “don’t”s in the list. Keep writing! Don’t stop! But when you’ve finished, go back and think about the best way to invite the reader into the world you’ve created and how to hook him so he can’t stop reading. Quite often, you won’t know that for sure until you get to the end. Speaking of the end…
There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story. ~Frank HerbertEndings have their own unique challenges. Depending on the genre, there are rules for what needs to be there.
- Category Romance – In a true romance, the characters need to find their happily-ever-after ending. There is one line that prefers you include an epilogue with the characters getting married.
- Mystery – The person who committed the crime must be caught and all the loose ends happily tied up.
- Women’s Fiction – This is a little more nebulous, but the most important thing seems to be that the main character has learned something about herself and the people she loves.
“I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Gone With the Wind, Margaret MitchellWhy does it work? This is one of those endings that a lot of readers dislike. It hangs there, leaving so much unanswered. But at the same time, it tells you everything you need to know. Throughout the entire book, Scarlett has faced one crisis after another, and every time she finds a way to get through it. Quite often, it’s by doing something questionable, but she survives. By going back to Tara, she’s reconnecting with the thing that grounds her and gives her strength. Rhett is a strong man, and he’s been terribly hurt, but is there really any doubt that Scarlett will win him back? Think back to some of your favorite books. In fact, go to your bookcase (I know you have at least one) and take three or four of them off the shelves. Read the openings and endings. Why do they work? Is there anything you’d change about them? How can you apply it to your own writing? So many ways to begin, so many ways to end. Only you will know when it feels right, and even then, someone may tell you it’s wrong. Be open to advice, but when all is said and done, you are the one who’s responsible for the story you tell. The choice is yours.
The opposite of the happy ending is not actually the sad ending – the sad ending is sometimes the happy ending. The opposite of the happy ending is actually the unsatisfying ending. ~Orson Scott Card