I’ve often heard remarks about story telling that a beginning is the most important aspect of a tale. But is that so? Because an ending can stick in a reader’s mind for ages. Yet, I’m of the opinion that both are important for a story to work and unfold. I’m a firm supporter of a very solid intro. I would like to say my intro chapter to Red Star Sheriff is a solid hook that keeps a reader’s interest. I would also like to think that my newest [yet oldest, amazingly enough] story, Left of Midnight, has an equally amazing hook. Yet, unlike Red Star, the ending to Left of Midnight is not as solid which is one of the reasons I’m rewriting the whole thing and aiming to make a more impressionable work ( still like the book, but I wrote it like ten years ago and it was only 66k words in length and I think a LOT got left out in the telling. Unlike RSS, which is nearly 200k words in length. So maybe some reserve isn’t a bad thing, no?)
I think the reason that LOM doesn’t have as strong of an ending as RSS is because I was writing differently when I wrote that book. I was coming off those college courses that teach you about how to write but don’t really address the one lesson that only a writer realizes after some years of doing the most crucial aspect of building a suspenseful story: writing. College courses teach you about a great hook but seldom get into what keeps a reader engaged. I think over that time I just got far more into reading and enjoying a story before realizing what it takes to build up the story from the ground up. I think maybe I’ve been too influenced by Stephen King, because in recent years I’ve been letting my characters tell the tale and taking me along for the ride. HOWEVER, even though I’m doing that, I discovered a little trick that makes my story stand out even stronger. The notion of writing the ending first.
Here’s a good article about why it’s a simply wonderful idea to write the ending first! And, strangely, it supports a lot of the thoughts I came to without having researched it first. Great minds think alike, right?
I will say this, in regards to overwritten drafts as mentioned in the ‘Time’ section, I’m very guilty of this even WITH the ending written out. The truth is, you discover a lot about your characters and the world they inhabit on the journey towards that conclusion. So just writing your ending first doesn’t necessarily guarantee you won’t have some headaches in the final drafts (Believe me, I spent TWO years on RSS before I finally hit on the draft I’m absolutely pleased as peaches with and no one will touch it because it’s so frickin’ long! But, bollocks to that! I’ll just present a shorter work first to a potential agent then, and THEN submit my epic masterpiece of the Red Star Sheriff! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! …Okay, I’m losing my mind a little here… moving on…). However, KNOWING where you’re headed will help you out immensely even if the ending gets altered to a degree in the process. You still know your characters’ end goals and that is worth all the tea in China.
I have a few other links to notch up here because they support my notion of the ending being in mind first. However, that having been said, there are a ton of ways to make your story one that will live on in imaginations for years to come. There is no one true method to getting there. No one ideal that says the beginning is more important than the ending or vice versa. They’re both parts of the same narrative and the hook will pull you to the exit and if that exit is powerful enough you’ll want to know more about that universe.
This last link was a short article but has some prescient points. I will say, though, that avoiding cliches isn’t a necessity. Sometimes, cliches connect the reader to an already establish mentality. This instant connection can be built upon and used in a way that allows you not to have to repeat a visual that is clear in the public conscience. So use it if you must. But use it sparingly, of course. You don’t want to be known as a cliche’ cowboy. No, sir and/or ma’am.
Here’s another good article for the up and coming writer:
As always, take all of these grains of wisdom as a grain of salt. Not everything will work for everybody but definitely will serve as cliffnotes on how to proceed with your work. With all of that out of the way (and the basis for doing some expanded research if you’re still not so certain on where you’re headed), I can delve into this notion a little further but not by much. I feel it’s a good idea to have an endgame in mind. But it’s equally useful to have that awesome opening ready to go. Maybe you have no idea where all of this is leading (your story that is) but you know, just KNOW, how it starts off. Great. Now after writing that three, four, ten page awesomeness of awesome, think about where it’s going. Take a moment to ruminate on the final referendum of the work in general. Your hero or sometimes ‘hero’ is trying to accomplish a goal. What’s that look like in the end? Well worth thinking about is all I’m trying to say.
Now, I’m going to share with you the opening paragraph of Red Star Sheriff, and the ending. I don’t claim it to be the beacon of any sort of great writing (I do hope it’s amusing, entertaining, and engaging), but I think (I hope) it gets at the dynamics of opening versus ending. In my opinion, the ending is more important and the opening just has to hook the reader. But, honestly, the whole work being balanced is probably well worth pouring over and making it a good read. Maybe that’s the lesson all together, eh? If you have thrilled yourself in rereading your work, were you successful? Then, if so, why worry about the public reaction and just toss it our there for consumption. If you’re happy with it, there’s nothing more that need concern you. If you think, ‘man, this sucks’, maybe figure out why you feel that way. Because maybe it doesn’t suck so much as you’re afraid of what you’ve written.
I’m not afraid of what I’ve written. In fact, I’m pretty proud of it.
The opening to Red Star Sheriff paragraph one (well, honestly, the first few ‘paragraphs’ as it all relates to one thought):
“THE HAND AROUND her neck pressed her face harder into the filth encrusted wall of brick and mud. She tried to stifle the sob threatening to wrack her body as a calloused hand crawled up her thigh, sliding her frilled, satin dress to her waist. Her eyes clenched tighter and the sobbing broke through.
Oh, please don’t rip my dress! Whatever you do to me, don’t damage it! It’s all I got left of my momma!
A foul breath, thick with garlic and whiskey, caressed her right cheek as a grizzled face drew close to her ears. “Now quit yer whimperin’. You and I both know how much yer gonna enjoy this!”
Okay. Does that make you want to read further? I should think it does, but what do I know. I could be talking out of my ass here. That’s always possible. But let’s look at the final paragraph(s) to see what the final payoff is:
““Bend the knee…” she said to herself, eyeing another bottle. Her mouth turned down into one of intense focus. Her brows knitted together. Her smile disappeared. A raw look crossed her face.
And she pulled the trigger.”
Now, I’m pretty comfortable in feeling that none of the story has been unveiled here and that’s why I posted it here. However, I wonder, does it make you curious about what the rest of the tale was? My thought is that it does. AND it comes full circle as far as the story is concerned.
Hmmm…. maybe a beginning tied to the end is more important? Have I changed my mind? Nah. I don’t think so. I think knowing where it all ends is still more important than flailing about trying to get to a place you don’t know where it’s going to end. In so doing, you build yourself a solid foundation. You KNOW your story must end HERE. As consequence, you have free reign to delve into your characters’ tale and let them pull you along to that logical conclusion.
Certainly, plotting out as is suggested by many in the writing community can become too convoluted in my opinion. First off, plotting every beat ignores those instances that will crop up you can’t predict. Second off, plotting pigeonholes you into a narrative that might not be to the benefit of the story. No, I’m of the mind that if you write your ending first, the rest will just fall behind it naturally.
But, what do I really know, eh? I’m as yet unpublished so I may be just talking so much nonsense and hoping for the best. Always a distinct possibility. You tell me. But if this has helped, then I feel that I’ve accomplished the point of this post. Sweet.
Now, back to the unending process of writing.
~Timothy S Purvis
PS: See you all next year and thanks for reading! This is the last post of 2019 CE! I’m super serial! Love you all!
2 thoughts on “Which Is More Important: Beginning or End?”
I think the beginning is important, for it sets the tone for the story. But even with this mindset, I still believe ending to be the key to success. The ending is the thing the reader will go through in bed, wondering about all the things that happened. The ending is the thing the reader will remember for years to come and ending can create a path to a new story, full of opportunities!
Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment here! I’m happy to have offered up some insight in the art of writing. It’s nice to know it gets a conversation started.