The cursor blinks on your laptop with a menacing presence. The page in front of you is blank. There are so many ideas swirling in your mind, and yet, you can’t think of the best way to start your story. How will you captivate your readers and create intrigue?
You’ve gotten one sentence into your last chapter, and your fingers are itching to finish, but writer’s block has arrived, right on time. Just when the end is in sight, no words present themselves to you. How will you offer a satisfying end to your book or short story, without disappointing yourself of your readers in the process?
Every writer, no matter the age, experiences these problems. I know I have. But, what I’ve noticed is that there is often an abundance of pressure to get the beginning and ending right the first time, leading to subpar writing and procrastination, both of which are less than ideal.
Tips and Tricks:
Beginnings: Start with a little bit of action. Not only are readers more likely to be enthralled with an action-packed scene, but it will also keep them flipping those pages. This sentence, for example, is sure to imbue curiosity: “Everybody in the room was as silent as a prairie in the dead of winter, until I spoke up, sparking a deadly feud that left casualties sprawling across the white, marble floor.” What did our main character say to antagonize the others near him/her? Why were people killed over it? You can even hide some of this information from the reader to make it more interesting.
Be careful not to imbue your first chapter with too much action, however. You need to introduce your main character and his/her life BEFORE the start of the inciting incident, which may or may not occur at the end of the chapter (depending on how fast your timeline is). Taking the sentence from above, perhaps our protagonist is an assassin with given targets, which accounts for the casualties. You’ll need to expand on his/her experiences with this job, one or two important relationships, and most important– the deepest fear. This fear might be resolved by the end of the novel, throughout the adventure, but it also might not be, depending on what the writer’s goal is. Either way, your character will begin the story thinking one way, and end it in another mindset.
TRY IT: Use the sentence above– or your own story starter– to craft a first chapter. Include your character’s deepest fear and normal life before the inciting incident arrives to change everything. Incorporate dialogue with others for a healthy combination of thoughts and speech.
EXTRA: Write the first chapter for an experienced assassin… then do the same thing for a newbie. How does this change what you write?
Endings: Ah, such a bittersweet moment. Personally, I have more trouble with ending my drafts rather than starting them, but it varies based on my mood. Anyhow, this is where the resolution should be, as the story winds down (if we’re ignoring the possibility of a sequel). In this segment of the novel, you must tie up all of your loose ends… but for now, focus on creating a memorable moment for your reader to leave the story from. My favorite way to finish off a book is this idea below:
The Circular Ending: My own novel starts and ends at the same place: the beach. It’s a setting of significance to both my main characters, and I love the fact that they have both changed dramatically since the last time they were there. This is the essence of the Circular Ending: contrast and closure. Who the characters were then, and who they are now. What happens next, beyond the written words. This type of resolution is great for thematic topics, too. That fear your character was experiencing? Has it been vanquished, or has it deepened to the point where a sequel is needed? That, my friends, is up to you.
TRY IT: Where does your story start? End it in the same place; have your character reflect upon their (mis) adventures and come to a conclusion about themselves. Are they stronger than ever, or have they been hurt so badly that they want revenge?
REMEMBER: You can always go back and change your beginning and ending! Editing and revising are a writer’s best friends, however painful they may be. You’re under no pressure to be perfect the first time– or any time, because your writing will never truly be one hundred percent perfect. And that’s okay.