Monday, January 25, 2010

Endings are Only the Beginning

As writers, we know that killer beginnings are important.

Opening lines get the attention of an agent, and hopefully, a publisher.

Beginning words can make the difference of whether or not a buyer decides they're willing to take a risk on an unknown author, and plunk down their hard-earned cash.

Beginnings set the stage for something juicy ahead. Enticing. Mysterious. Worth further exploration.

The beginning in my manuscript has changed three times. I went from what I thought was a clever beginning (something I don't recall seeing before but surely must have), to a murder scene (Chris Roerden's Don't Murder Your Mystery talked me out of that one) to what it is today.

I worked it and reworked it, then worked it again.

And now I'm worried because although it focuses on one of my protagonists, weather is involved. And people will tell you weather is a horrible thing to open with.


So maybe it's good that it's not beginnings I'm talking about today, but endings.

We've all heard (and I believe it to be true), while the beginning will sell your book, endings will sell your next one. (Note: the little girl in the picture is at the end of her book, cash in hand.)

I can think of one book in particular whose beginning grabbed me. The entire plot was fascinating and well done. There was no sagging middle. It was a "wow" read.

Until I got to the ending.

I truly believe that the author was forced to rewrite whatever ending he had originally written. Or maybe the editor wrote it. Or the __________(fill in the blank). It was so out of left-field, I read parts of it twice to make sure I wasn't missing something.

Unfortunately, I wasn't.

This could be why this author's debut novel was published in 1997. I can't find evidence that he's had a second.

Have you ever been hugely disappointed in an ending?

Almost as bad as a wrong ending, is one that simply isn't memorable. That happens to me a lot. I'm sure it's partly my memory, but it's also that the endings are blah. And they kind of drag on way past where they should have stopped.

So I'm slogging through multiple rewrites of my ending. All for the better. They include: actually writing the confrontational scene rather than just alluding to it (whodathunk?); getting the medical details right (I have a great medical resource who is a detail-oriented Tom Clancy type, but with a sweet smile); and then s-l-o-w-i-n-g down the confrontation scene by writing it again (I remind myself I want to be Dean Koontz when I grow up so I should practice now).

The trick with an ending is to know when to stop.

When you've finished the story, don't blather on for another umpteen pages (or even paragraphs) because, um . . . you've finished the story.


Say, "Goodnight, Gracie."

Just finished: Dark of the Moon by John Sandford. Since I've concluded that his scene/not-scene scene structure is his style, I'm much happier (see the previous posts).

Just began: Vansihed by Joseph Finder.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Beginnings, middles, and endings. If you nail 'em all, you *might* get a book deal ;)

    No, just kidding. I for one can't wait to see the gold you are weaving from dross, Peg! For me a killer ending offers a feeling of satisfaction. A feeling that even if things went badly, they went meaningfully. You know? I like a little reason to my ending.

    Other than that, I "just" want the writer to have taken me on a heckuva ride. Then I'm sure to ship out for the next one...

  2. Jenny, your angst is showing. ;)

    I can't wait to hear about your book deal and read your debut novel.

    Snail's pace . . . actually, a very sick snail's pace. But it will happen.