Beginnings & Endings: a how-to reflection for writers
There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.
― Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert's sentiment definitely rings true when it comes to sprawling epics like the Dune series, but it also speaks to something important in any narrative.
The end of a story, as well as the beginning, exists as one arbitrary point in time for the characters who are presumably going about their day, unaware that they are about to enter or even conclude a critical and story-worthy segment of their lives. What I'm referring to is narrative plausibility.
Here's the tricky part. There are certain things every book must do at the beginning and the end. Characters, setting, and trajectory must be established, and then arcs, conflict, and plot must be resolved. Yet a good book does all these things without seeming to—it feels as if we have been dropped into a electric moment within a tangible world, and what we discover about the characters and conflicts seems natural. And when we depart, we leave feeling like an amazing story has come to a satisfying close.
In the opposite scenario, the beginning of a clunky novel can feel like a convenient or heavy-handed set-up, almost like the author is there, just behind the page, filling you in on what you must know to proceed. Again, in the denouement, the clunky author returns to tie off the loose plot strings, but in a way that feels forced, unnatural, or dictated by convention.
When you are starting a story, consider the following question: why today? This invaluable piece of advice came to me from a classmate in my MFA program. Maybe even more important, consider what your characters were doing the day before, as well as in the days that follow the final sentence.
—David G Brown