A while ago, I posted the beginning paragraphs of a new manuscript. Today's writing began by deleting it. I'd reached about 13,000 words, and don't need it anymore. I've used that same basic opening at least two or three times, and it always gets cut. But you have to start somewhere, and as has been said over and over: "You can't fix a blank page."
It's kind of like revving the engine. The race doesn't begin until you cross the starting line, but sometimes you need that running start. Helps burn out some of the impurities. There's more to beginning a story than starting with a paragraph that hooks a reader. It has to hang together with the rest of the book, and since I really didn't know where I was going, it was more like messing around with a bit of clay, seeing if there was a shape inside.
I know if I'd plotting things out from the start, I might not have written that first scene—but I've not had much success starting with much structure. And I often think I can write faster than I can outline, or list plot points, or turning points, or anything else that could be translated directly into the words on the page. It took a few chapters to figure out who my hero and heroine were, and what they wanted. Once I knew more about them, I could go back and see that there were too many gaping holes in that opening scene. Things that didn't really make sense when I started asking "Why?"
Now for endings. We're advised that a reader is likely to want to read "one more scene, one more chapter" before putting down a book. They make logical stopping points. So, writers are told to make sure that scene ends with something that will keep the reader reading. I discovered this long before I started writing. I knew I had to get enough sleep to make it to work the next day, and I realized that the end of a chapter all too often had me needing to keep going. So I started arbitrarily stopping mid page when the hour got late.
But what about that last page? The one where you can't turn any more pages.
It's been said that your first page sells the book. Your last page sells the next book. If you're writing a romance, that ending will include a happy resolution to the relationship. If it's part of a series of connected books, the author will have introduced some secondary characters and laid a foundation for an upcoming book that will the their story—their turn for that Happily Ever After. Very few romances actually pick up with the same hero and heroine as the first book. JD Robb does this well in her In Death series, although she's expanded the cast of characters exponentially as the books continue. Would Eve and Roarke be enough to carry 20 or 30 books alone? Maybe not.
Mystery series are another animal. Detectives come back, book after book, solving case after case. Is it 'fair' to the reader to end the entire book on a cliffhanger? I've noticed it in several series I've read recently. In one, the protagonist is thinking about three women he's dealt with during the course of the book. The phone rings. A woman's voice. And … 'the end."
Luckily, I'm reading back list books here, so the next one is readily available. Would I like having to wait months, maybe a year to find out who was on the phone? Not at all. It's clear the author is setting up the next book in the series, but I find endings like that less satisfying. Yes, I like to care about the characters, and yes, I like it when I wish the book would keep going, but leaving a totally unanswered question like that leaves me dissatisfied rather than feeling that a story has been told to completion. Will I read the next book. Of course. But I have this feeling that I've been coerced into it.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society