Monday, May 24, 2010

Beginnings and Endings

ROBERTA: Some years ago, nearing the end of my training in psychotherapy, I described a new patient who had been assigned to me for therapy to my supervisor. He told me how much he loved starting with a new patient. Anything could happen. All kinds of fascinating information would be revealed. He found the beginning to be the most exciting part of the therapy relationship. I was surprised. I felt better in the middle of the process after I'd gotten to know my patient pretty well and had begun to feel we were making progress in sorting out their problems.

Recently I saw a post on the Guppies listserv (unpublished Sisters in Crime chapter) about how exciting starting a new book could be. Peg said: "I'm in the beginning stages of plotting a new manuscript, and I've been struck anew with how much fun this is! All the frustrations of rejections aside, there is such a great feeling about creating a world, characters, personalities, motives, etc. The actual writing down of words can be an exercise in hair pulling, but this part is pure fun!"

The parallel with therapy seemed amazing! And it works for reading too--it got me thinking how much I enjoy being in the middle of a good book, rather than just beginning to delve into the book's world.

So what do you like about writing--or reading--a book? Getting started? Plowing through the middle? Wrapping things up?

HALLIE: I think more books have good beginnings than have good middles. And fewer still deliver at the end. So when I'm reading a book that's still good in the middle or end, I'm blissed out.

As far as writing, I find it all excruciating. Typing THE END the first time is the high point, and rewriting is much more fun.

And I think I'm glad your supervisor wasn't my therapist...since the 'pleasure' that he finds in his work seems to come from satisfying his own curiosity rather than seeing growth in his patients.

ROBERTA: Oh no, I don't think that was it at all Hallie! I'm sorry if I made it sound that way. He found people so interesting and he really enjoyed the process of getting to know someone and then working on their issues. But the beginning was full of surprises.

RHYS: I love toying with a first paragraph, long before I start a book, but I have to confess I find the first chapters hard. I don't work from an outline. I don't really know where I'm going so it's sort of panic-driven floundering for the first fifty pages or so. Then I start to breathe normally again and can see my way ahead and by page 150 I pick up speed like a horse sighting its stable.

JAN: I confess that I'm resistant to starting new books. It It takes more and more for the writer to get me to buy in. I'm a hard sell. But then at the end, I'm so sad that world is over.

So I guess I'm with you Roberta on middles.

The same goes for writing. The beginning, while fun, presents so many possible choices, there's always the anxiety it won't work. The middle, while rife with problems to solve, means full engagement with this world I've made up.

There's always a point in any article, essay, or novel I'm writing where I get this AH-HA moment and I JUST know it's going to work. That's my absolute favorite part.

RO: Reading is all good - either I love it or I put it down and pick up something else that has the potential to be great. Right now I can't wait for July. I have a stack of books I'm anxious to plow into.

OTOH, Now that I'm in the endless re-write stage of book four, I'm thinking back to the beginning and remembering it as fun. But it's all work. Sometimes fun, sometimes "how can that just be three pages....??" or "will anyone believe this ending or was it obvious from the start?"

HANK: Writing? Oh, I can find fun parts in every third--and I do agree, Jan, there's always a moment, knock wood, where you think of the thing that's going to make it work. The linchpin piece that makes it hang together.

I love the moment where I get the idea for the big picture. I love the moment when I get the idea for the first line. But the first three chapters--auggh. Very tough for me. Once I get the ball rolling, it seems to create itself a bit. Things I've seeded in the beginnning, things I didn't know were there, seem to point themelves out to me once I get to the middle. (Did I say knock wood?)

Let me just say that right now I'm on page 4. If by the end of tomorow, I can be on page 7, just a bit closer to the end of the beginnning of the beginning, I'll be so thrilled! (Do I hear the sound of people knocking on wood?)

I just tell myself: I can do this.

ROBERTA: Knock wood, knock wood. And yes, Rhys, yes, panic-driven floundering, that's where I am! Wondering whether Jan's Ah-ha moment will ever come... How about you readers and writers, do you love the beginning, the middle, or the end?


  1. Sometimes I think there are two beginnings when I start a book. There is the first that is the plotting- lots of note cards, stickies and pages of paper. Many "well, what if...."

    Then there is the second beginning. I have to take my musings and translate them into a first chapter, a second chapter and.....

    Then I have to fix it all. Truthfully, I love editing. It is more fun for me to argue with myself about the details than getting the first words on the page.

  2. I never assume the first chapter I write will be the actual one--it's just a way to jump into the water and get my feet wet.

    I hate middles because there's usually a panic time when I say, "no way there's enough material here to finish the book!"

    What I think I like best are the "aha!" moments when I may be doing something like washing dishes, and I suddenly realize how to resolve a sticky plot turn, or that I can introduce a new character to solve a problem.

  3. Cassy - YES, two beginnings is a good description of what that's like. And oh, Sheila, am I ever with you on those 'Aha!' moments...when I'm either frying chicken or taking a shower or driving or doing something that makes it impossible to write down the Aha.

  4. For reading, I want the good beginning to draw me into the book. When I'm writing, I usually end up tossing the first few chapters, because I can't start writing unless I just start writing. So I write and see what happens.

    Since I don't plot far ahead, I'm always in the 'now' so I don't usually worry about the 'middle'. But endings are tough to write for me.

  5. I find beginnings exhilarating because there are infinite possibilities ahead, so many paths I can follow. With each choice you make about a character's nature or the plot, however, the possibilities narrow (as they do in life). Middles are fun as long as I don't go down too many dead ends before figuring out the route. As for endings . . . I usually spend more time writing/revising the last paragraph than anything else in the book.

  6. Wonderful discussion, thanks for all the comments.

    I meant to also say we have a very busy week coming up on Jungle Red. Tomorrow my own sister, Susan Cerulean, is visiting to discuss her new anthology, UNSPOILED, featuring Florida writers talking about their beloved coast. And Wednesday, debut writer Lila Dare will be here to tell us about TRESSED TO KILL, a delightful cozy. And then Thursday, one of JRW's favorite hunks, Simon Wood, will talk about ripping plot ideas from the headlines. (I know that description is politically incorrect, but it's meant in only the nicest way!) And Friday, you'll hear from Alicia Rasley on learning from the bestsellers.

    So don't miss a day this week!

  7. Love writing the beginning of a book. Love getting into the story and the characters. The middle? Not so much. And the ending is always too tedious in trying to tie everything up.

  8. The thrill of writing a new beginning is one (of many) reasons to master writing short fiction. You can get an exhilaration fix monthly! Weekly! Hey, why not go for daily!

    You know what I mean.

  9. I totally enjoyed finishing my entire first draft, partly because I wasn't sure how it was going to end until I got close. The middle was sometimes fun, sometimes not! But I still don't like the beginning and am worried about it - it's so important to get it right.

    As for rewrites, I'm enjoying revisions much more than I thought I would. I'm having fun checking out things I skipped over and tidying up loose ends.


  10. Yes, yes, revisions. LOVe that part.

    I did make it to page 7! But now, of course I just want to get to page 12.

    Cassy, I think outting the first sentence down on paper (or computer monitor) is so--mystical. It means you're really doing it. And no turnign back!

    Roberta, what a great week coming up!

  11. I enjoy the first draft writing and always start a new project with a lot of excitement. THe rewrites and edits are more of a drudgery for me.

    Reading, I usually approach a new book with a sense of anticipation and excitement, especially if it has gotten good reviews and word-of-mouth. If it doesn't deliver, I often will not even finish the book.

    I get a lot of books for possible review and am always disappointed when I realize I can't give a particular book a positive review. I always feel a little sad for the author who was hoping I would love the book.

  12. Beginnings are daunting. Usually I just start by describing something and let the words flow - I'll end up completely rewriting the beginning and hacking about two chapters off the start of the draft anyway.