Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Muddling through beginnings, middles, and ends

It was Aristotle who said that every story should have a beginning, middle, and end.

What's fascinating about the writing process is that most writers I know have a weakness in one of those areas. You'd think the one would flow into the next, but some writers write brilliant beginnings only to flounder in the middle. Other writers can't write an ending unless you count ending the story, world, and all their characters with a massive, unexpected bomb.

I've been thinking about beginnings, middles, and ends since fellow blogger Mary at Resident Alien posted about her ending that wouldn't come together. I was sympathetic, but hardly empathetic. I couldn't get over Mary writing, "Beginnings always write themselves." First I sputtered, then I choked, then I ended up in a coughing fit. Later I may have cried. If only MY beginnings would write themselves (I blogged last fall about how much I hate beginnings).

Monday we talked about our strengths as writers. I especially found it interesting how some of you posted not only about your strengths, but why you had those strengths, given your childhood, your life experiences.

So to continue the conversation, what are your strengths when it comes to beginnings, middles, and ends? And do you have any idea why?

As I said, I struggle with beginnings, usually writing an entire novel before I have a clue how to begin it. But middles make sense to me, perhaps because I'm a fairly linear thinker. I used to work with a teacher who taught history through different themes, rather than in narrative order. It made my head spin! As for endings, I'm good at tying up themes and characters' arcs. Perhaps that comes from my English major background, being used to thinking in that big picture, critical analysis sort of way. Or maybe it just takes me some time to catch my stride.

What about you?

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  1. I usually rewrite my beginnings about a dozen times until I'm happy with them. Ending, I like. I've even written the endings first so I have a definite goal to work towards.

  2. For me, it's the middle. I love beginnings and endings, I love writing them. I can open a story and end one, but all that 'stuff' in between :chuckle: is where I get into a lot of difficulty. I'm not a linear thinker, which I'm assuming is part of the problem.

  3. Kelly: You sound like me! I'll revise my beginnings dozens of times, but my middles and ends usually don't need that much major rethinking. But I've never tried writing the ending first; I'm kind of tempted to give it a whirl now!

    Andrea: How interesting that you're not a linear thinker and you also struggle with middles. To me, that's the only way of understanding the middle that makes sense, one event follows on from the next. Really fascinating how different minds work.

  4. I love beginnings. I think I'm good at creating a good intro/hook. Middles? BOO! But then endings are great. I like a good twist. :)

  5. Karen: I'm both incredibly envious and incredibly sympathetic of you beginning and ending people! What great strengths to have! After all, who needs a middle anyway? =)

  6. Hey, maybe I LIKE massive, unexpected bombs *pouts*

    Well don't hit me, but I find beginnings easy. It's a Shiny New Idea! I'm all excited and creative! I don't have to worry about where the story's going yet! After that... ugh. Pretty much all of the rest is hard for me.

  7. Brr, those middles drive me to distraction!

    Girl Friday, I'm actually more like you. Shiny New Ideas are so lovely to write! The middles are where I end up writing and revising outlines, and then my endings roar to these fantastic endings. :-)

  8. What Andrea and Girl Friday said -- that's me down to a T. It's easy to start off, all full of vigor and big ideas. But a good, satisfying finish is so important, and for me, so elusive. Making the middle of a story move along at a good pace is vital too, and I believe that people who are good at middles are probably the best writers. There's a lot at stake, writing the main body of a manuscript: a plot that cracks along, but isn't confusing, has lots of side plots, but doesn't go off in tangents -- that's a huge thing.

    I'm STILL working on that ending, by the way! And nowhere near done with it.

    If you lived nearby, we could really bounce ideas off each other...too bad Bristol is so far away!

  9. GF: Hah! Didn't mean to dismiss YOUR bombs. =)

    Cat, GF & Mary: Grrr... I'm so jealous of you beginners! I usually know where I want to go, and once the story starts moving I'm fine. And I'm always excited about new ideas! But I have no idea how to give stories that opening push to get them moving.

    Mary: Interesting theory about the best writers being middle writers... You may be right. Of course, the ones that sell most easily are the good beginners, and then ones that sell subsequent books most easily are the good finishers!

    I'm so sorry to hear you're still struggling with that ending!!! I really wish you lived closer; a writing buddy to bounce ideas with over coffee would be fab. But if you want a virtual sounding board, happy to have a chat over email or Skype! Let me know!


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