Thursday, April 05, 2007

Beginning to End

Posted by Lynne

There's an old song, It's not where you start it's where you finish. We've talked a lot about beginnings this week, beginnings of books, beginnings of chapters. I thought endings deserved their just due. Well-crafted chapter endings have the power to convince someone to read just one more page. Hooking the reader has as much to do with a good ending as a good beginning.

I'll borrow Hannah's technique to demonstrate.

1. There was my father with his head sewn up and my mother just having told me her life was a joke and I finally felt like things were a little bit normal.

The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Patchett

2. Lester got in his Toyota and pulled into the fog of the coast highway, heading north for Point San Pedro and Corona. The fog was so thick his headlights were reflected off it and he had to drive slow, and careful.

The House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III

3. People dealt with grief in different ways, but somehow he couldn't see himself lounging by a swimming pool just four days after his dead sister had been plucked from the ocean in a fisherman's net.

Amagansett, Mark Mills

4. I can't think of one way in which Alden resembles Harry, and yet, there I sat on the furniture of both marriages feeling as diminished in one man's company as I had in the other's.

Okay, that's from my novel. Do you think it works to keep you reading?

While the beginning of a book gets a great deal of a writer's attention, readers more often than not, say they're concerned about endings. I've heard from more readers than I can count, that a rough beginning is forgivable. A weak, or contrived, or disappointing ending is a sin. I admit my word of mouth recommendations have a great deal to do with endings, too.

Enter into a debate today over the importance of beginnings vs. endings. Which do you spend most of your energy on? Do you write like Tess Gerritsen? This week, she blogged about her first draft process of writing through. It's during her second draft process that she methodically chooses her chapter endings.

Beginnings draw the reader in, chapter endings keep us reading. Novel endings keep us talking about a book long after we've handed it off to a friend. Don't you dream of someone saying this about your novel? "You have to read this. It's amazing!"


Lori said...

I really like the opening of your novel (not just saying that to be nice...) It leads me to a slew of questions: who is this woman? who are these men she's been married to? why isn't it working? how is she "diminished" by him, and why is she letting herself be? I'm left wondering, and I need to know more - and that is, as far as I can tell, the point of a good opening line.
The next few paragraphs will have to answer at least some part of those questions to hook me into the story; after that, the characters become more "real" and I'm invested in their lives.

Larramie said...

I echo loribird's comments regarding your chapter ending, Lynne. In one concise sentence, you present three characters who pose so many questions for the reader. Now when do we get to learn more?

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks for the kind words, Loribird and Larramie. Now if you could just speak to the publication gods on my behalf, you'd be able to read more of my novel. Just kidding, it will be a while before you can read more, since I'm in the editing stage right now. On a daily basis, I remind myself to take my time. Always submit your best work is my new mantra.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Lynne, I think it works really well too--and one of the reasons yours does (as do the others) is that it doesn't tell us everything, it doesn't necessarily start at the beginning. It engages the reader because it requires the reader to be engaged. Does that make sense? The reader feels like they're snooping, or just walked into a scene--and curiosity gets the best of us which is why we keep reading.

Therese said...

This is a good topic, Lynne. Finessing all the transitions--from opening lines to endings--is an essential part of creating a quality read.

(Your line is definitely compelling!)

I hope your editing goes well and the publication gods do smile on you, so that we can indeed tell friends they have to read your book.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


I love your snooping analogy. When I read or write a scene and feel enmeshed in it, I know that's quality writing. Curiosity keeps a reader reading.


Finessing the beginning, middle and end--right down to every single word choice. It all matters, doesn't it? I confess; I love analyzing whether or not I've chosen the strongest verb or the most accurate noun.

Thank you both for the kind words and encouragement. It means a lot coming from the two of you.