If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve experienced one of these scenarios at least once:
(1) The blank screen taunting you. The idea in your head is bursting to come to life, but there’s just one problem…. How do you start the story? You type, then delete. That sounded cliche. Type again; delete again. That was just plain boring. More typing; more deleting. Ugh… that was just corny!
(2) The story is written. It’s been a wild ride. You feel relieved to be nearl at the end of the journey, but also a bit sorrowful and empty. You’ve spent months with these characters you created, in this world you created, on this adventure you created… and now it’s over. Or at least, it will be… if you can just figure out the perfect way to end the story!
Chances are, you’ve actually experienced both. Probably multiple times. Because writing is as much an excursion inward as it is outward, it’s easy to get bogged down in doubt. You can remind yourself over and over again that there’s no such thing as perfect writing… but that doesn’t mean your inner editor doesn’t keep whispering, “It can be better… it can be better… it can be better.”
So, here are the questions: What is ultimately more difficult? Finding the “perfect” beginning or the “perfect” ending? What matters most? Hooking your reader immediately? Or leaving them astounded?
The answer is that both are difficult, both are important. As a reader, you’ve undoubtedly encountered a book that drew you in right from sentence numero uno. Or you’ve experienced that magical elation of an ending that gives you chills.
So, as writers, how do we accomplish such a task?
Chances are, with quite a bit of frustration. Most stories have an idea, and then need written. Every once in a while, a great sentence will come to a writer first and they’ll construct the story around it. (That’s actually the case with a manuscript I’m currently editing.)
But let’s say you got the idea first. How do you dive into the story? Here are few pointers:
(1) Try some freewriting.
Just go for it. Bind and gag your inner editor in a far corner of your brain. Just write whatever comes to mind about your story. Set a timer. For five minutes straight, just let your creativity be in charge. Afterward, read over what you wrote. You might just find the seeds of a “perfect” opening.
(2) Get to know your characters.
If you haven’t already, you might find that developing your characters provides some insight that you hadn’t considered. Maybe a character is particularly snarky, and while brainstorming, you come up with a clever quote that would be just perfect for the opening.
(3) Consider different ways other books typically start.
Many books start with a quote. Or in the middle of an action sequence. Or with a characters’ thoughts. Or even with the description of an unusual setting. Do any of these work for your story? Remember, what you choose should be something that makes your book seem unique. If your book takes places in the far future, then maybe describing the protagonist’s home will grab your reader’s attention. The same is probably not true if the story takes place nowadays and stars an average teenager.
Alright, you’ve found your beginning. And you’ve been writing for weeks. Your first draft is nearly done and now it’s time to finish it. But… how? Try one of these:
(1) Step away and remember the point of it all.
You’ve spent a lot of time in the world you created. Depending the on the type of story, you’ve probably penned some sweeping romances or nail-biting battle scenes. Hopefully, you’ve been entertained while writing it–because if you have, the odds are good that your readers will be, too. But when you first sat down, you had a reason to write. Maybe you had an opinion you wanted to express. An observation about the world. Or, heck, maybe you just wanted to be an entertaining escape. Whatever the reason, reminding yourself of that will help steer you towards the best way to end your book.
(2) Ambiguity: Yay or Nay?
Ask yourself exactly how much you want the reader to know. Some stories are more satisfying when left open. Was the monster real, or was it all in their heads? Other times, the reader wants to feel rewarded for the effort they put into the story: So that’s who the killer was! Know what kind of book yours is and then write accordingly.
(3) Switch Your Role
Take a break from your story and then come back and read it–not as its writer, but as a reader. The closer you get to the end, you’ll probably start to feel how you’re hoping it ends. Do you want to be a nice writer and give your audience what they want? Or would you rather be a little diabolical–give them a twist, or maybe even a sad ending?
Of course, these are just a few ideas. How do you find your beginnings and endings? Any magic methods that work for you? Tell me about them in the comments!