Re: Beginnings, Middles, & Ends

Beginnings, Middles, &  Ends, by Nancy Kress is one of those books I keep coming back to. It’s so well organized: beginnings, middles, and ends crossed with plot, character, and revision. And it explicates one central idea, which gives the writer the reassuring feeling she is handing you an infinitely flexible tool that will help you tell your story: the implicit promise.

Every story makes two promises to the reader about how it will make them feel and what it will make them think. At first, you may not know what your story is promising, but that shouldn’t stop you from writing. At some point, though, you do need to figure out what the promise is, in order to apply the advice in this book. The plot of your story will make that promise, develop it, and bring it to an exciting conclusion, when everything blows up real good. Since plot is character and character is plot, the book also covers introducing and developing characters, showing how they are capable of change, and making that change convincing when it happens.

The idea that jumped out at me on this reading is that events are not scenes. While there is a chain of events that happen around the characters, you must choose carefully which ones your characters witness, and of those, which ones are interesting enough to dramatize. I found the advice about revision useful, if familiar. Keep writing. Write your book a page at a time. If you lose interest, it might be a signal: maybe you’re done; maybe you need to restart at the interesting point. Most of all, quitting your job, or renting that vacation cottage on the Cape ain’t gonna work.  Keep writing.

In the coming year, I’m going to start some new stories. Before I start actually writing them, I’m planning to think harder about the implicit promise. We’ll see if that helps.