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Introduction: The Story in Your Head 1
Part I Beginnings 5
Chapter 1 The Very Beginning: Your Opening Scene 6
Chapter 2 The Later Beginning: Your Second Scene 34
Chapter 3 Help for Beginnings: Early Revision 55
Part II Middles 60
Chapter 4 The Middle: Staying on Track 64
Chapter 5 Under Development: Your Characters at Midstory 86
Chapter 6 Help for Middles: Getting Unstuck 99
Part III Endings 112
Chapter 7 Satisfying Endings: Delivering on the Promise 113
Chapter 8 The Very End: Last Scene, Last Paragraph, Last Sentence 131
Chapter 9 Help for Endings: The Last Hurrah 132
Exclusive Q&A With Nancy Kress 158
Beginnings, Middles, and Ends gives in-depth tips and insights on how to create a well-crafted story. Paying careful attention to how each scene develops character and plot, Nancy Kress tackles the three stages of a story, breaking each into more manageable parts and addressing their particular difficulties.
Clear, concise sentences deliver the points without any obtuse abstractions that leave readers searching for a dictionary. With each chapter organized into headings, readers know from the beginning the point to be covered and can easily go back for quick references for particular problems. No tangents distract from the main points, and specific examples back each of the concepts. Kress also highlights important tips using bullet-points. At the end of each chapter, exercises offer readers a chance to stretch their creative writing skills while employing the concepts from the chapter. In terms of structure, style, and content, Beginnings, Middles, and Ends provides a reference that is easy to navigate and understand.
This book is not a stand-alone guide; as Kress mentions, Beginnings, Middles, and Ends does not have a section on style or description (two areas that the Elements of Fiction Writing series also offer). The book's focus covers, most importantly, how to keep people hooked on the story, including some advice on pacing, contrasting scenes, and developing character with lots of emphasis on revision. This is not one of those speed-writing, novel-in-a-month books, and makes no pretenses about the hard work necessary-in other words, if you want a feel-good, creative-muse-prep-talk writing book, you might want to look elsewhere. Novel writers might get a bit peeved too when they hear that the endings of novels are not "as important" as the endings of short stories.
All in all, however, Beginnings, Middles, and Ends fulfills what the title promises and more. It offers some essential advice for writers and is a must-read for anyone who wants to improve their writing craft.
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Posted December 8, 2012
Posted June 8, 2012
BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES, AND ENDS is part of the “Elements of Fiction Writing” series from Writer’s Digest Books, and is an excellent guide for writers who are just starting out. This short, straightforward book focuses on linear plots and stock characters, providing a good amount of useful information without overwhelming anyone.
The section on beginnings got my attention because it covers the first two opening scenes. Kress says the second is just as important as the first, and they must contrast with each other in some way. Unlike most how-to books, BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES, AND ENDS does not dismiss prologues out of hand. Kress explains the advantages and disadvantages, letting each of us choose what’s best for our own books.
The middle section covers things like developing characters, thinking in scenes, staying on track, and planning for the climax. Since “sagging middles” plague many novelists, Kress explains how planing for the end can tell a writer which scenes to include in the middle. She has sympathy for stuck writers and offers suggestions for finding your way out.
For the ending, Kress shows how to fulfill the promise set forth in the beginning and middle, chiefly by thinking about what your reader wants from an ending and providing it. She wraps up the book with a few words about revision.
I’m generally a fan of this series. At least a few volumes should be on every writer’s shelf. (See PLOT and SETTING.) BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES, AND ENDS is a great introduction to the topic, making it a practical choice for new writers.
Posted October 10, 2010
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