Sunday, November 7, 2010

Beginnings and Endings and Dingles. Oh my!

I have trouble with both the beginnings and endings of stories but, fortunately, not at the same time. Beginnings of stories are the worst—except when endings are the worst.


We all know that we’re supposed to hook the reader immediately at the beginning of a novel. Depending on who you talk to, that hook had better happen by the 5th page (“The First Five Pages” by Noah Lukeman), somewhere in the first paragraph, or even in the first sentence. On FB, Polly Iyer writes, “Ah, the penchant for getting all the action up front. That's what everyone wants. Like everything else these days, no patience.” I’ve read that a hook should coincide with “where the story actually begins”, but where is that? I believe it’s different for different readers and authors.

Hooks are supposed to grab the reader by being interesting—to readers. I have an ongoing problem with this. To me, -characters- are pretty darn interesting, so I want to explore them a bit in the first couple of pages of my novels. Yes, I’ve learned this is a no-no, unless one is writing a literary novel. I do YA fantasy adventure.

Once “Seabird” was nearly completed, I inserted an action-packed Prologue as a hook for the reader. Since then, I’ve heard that many novel readers skip prologues. Oh well.

In “Earthbow”—the sequel to “Seabird”—I managed some serious tension, action, and a bit of a puzzle about a page into the novel’s first chapter. Chapters 2 & 3 have fragments of tension as well, mixed in with character development. “Earthbow” has no prologue. Did I get it right? I doubt it—after all, there’s no danger to life and limb until at least the eighth paragraph.

Right now, I’m beginning to revise the sequel to “Earthbow”, which is multi-volumed and is so long I frequently refer to it as “The Book That Intends to Eat Delaware.” In my first draft—surprise, surprise—all of my tension and action was in the second chapter while the first was largely characterization. I’m trying to figure out a way to reverse the two chapters, or alternate scenes from both.

I haven’t mentioned short stories so far and for a very good reason—I only rarely come up with an idea for one. Once I actually have an idea the chances are 50-50 that the resulting story will not be publishable quality. I suppose you could say that I have more trouble with the beginnings of short stories than I do with their endings, if by that we mean that I can’t get a new short story started, no matter how hard I stare at the screen or “free-write”. On the other hand, a short story that never comes into existence can hardly be faulted for having a bad beginning.

So, who here has troubles with writing the beginnings of novels or short stories? If you do, what kinds of difficulties present themselves? How have you overcome them? Any tips you can pass on to the rest of us?



Endings give me lots more trouble than beginnings. Part of this is the fault of National Novel Writing Month. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a yearly challenge to authors to write 50,000 words on any fiction project between November 1 and Nov 30.

I’ve participated and “won” five years since I started doing NaNo back in 2003. “Winning” in NaNo, as I said, is completing 50,000+ words before midnight on Nov. 30. The problem is what if you haven’t finished your first draft by then? What happens on Dec. 1? The correct answer should be that you continue writing but at a less frenetic pace. Er, not my answer. In my case, I take a long nap, and wake up the next Nov. 1. ;-P

Currently, I have five novels that are lacking their endings. Every one of them was involved in NaNo in some way—even the last part of “The Book That Intends To Eat Delaware.” If I stop writing a novel part of the way through, I have serious trouble picking up where I left off—even if I have a detailed outline for the rest of the book. Novel manuscripts to which you cannot guarantee complete endings do not attract publishers for some reason. I think I need professional help. Any ideas gratefully accepted!

So I sometimes have trouble writing the end of novels—do I have trouble writing the ends of short stories? Not often. On the rare occasion that I’m writing a short story I write the whole thing pretty much in one sitting. If I’m actually writing and completing a short story, you’ll know it—the sky turns a lovely shade of sky-blue-pink and you can see multi-colored stars during the day. Sometimes they sing but they’re too dignified to dance.

Is there anyone reading this who has trouble with unearthing the ends of their t/a/i/l/s/ tales? Has NaNoWriMo ever been involved? What else gave you trouble? What did you do to complete your story? Oh, it isn’t? Sorry! I’ve thought about finding a writing partner—has anyone tried that?


Well, that’s Beginnings and Endings. That brings us to Middles and Dingles.

“Dingle” is a work-in-progress short story that’s been without a middle or an ending for almost two decades.

I liked the beginning ever since it fooled me into writing it down. I wasn’t concerned when I started—after all “Dingle” was going to be a –short- -story- so, naturally, I would come up with the rest of it as I typed.

Not so much.

“Dingle” and I could use some help. Please read what’s below and see if you have any ideas about what will happen next. If you do, please consider adopting “Dingle”. What’s more if you can turn “Dingle” into a complete story, we’ll work out some kind of ownership thing which will probably amount to me giving you my section or what’s left of it after revision. In addition, I’ll send you a copy of one of my books as a thank you.

You can write short suggestions for finishing “Dingle” in the Comments if you like. Naturally, revisions of the current paragraphs are fair game. If you write the rest of the story, please send it to me at KhivasMommy AT gmail DOT com . When my next turn comes to blog here at YAAYNHO (in three weeks), I’ll report back on any suggestions, etc that I’ve received.

Please don’t leave a poor defenseless little story part on its own. Thank you!

Sherry Thompson, author of “Seabird” ( ) “Earthbow vol.1” ( ) and “Earthbow vol.2” ( )


Dingle (work in progress)

Sherry Thompson

Critter scuffed his way across the bare, unvarnished floor, sneezing at the dust he’d stirred up. It was colder today than he’d expected. He wrapped his quilted robe tighter about him, and then retied the rope belt. If Magnus didn’t come soon, he’d have to light a brazier just to keep warm. And that would attract the Night Watchers. Not something you wanted to do, when it was nearly dusk.

He shuffled over to the one window and glared down at the path. Not a sign of Magnus, ...or of anyone else. Maybe, if he went outside and yanked hard on the chain, he could get that blasted shutter to close over the window. Then, it wouldn’t matter if he lit a fire in the brazier or not. The Watchers could do a lot, but they couldn’t see through wood. At least, not the last he’d read.

Blast Magnus! Icy air was seeping in the through the window, even though it was on the lee side of the cottage. Well, that was it. Might as well go and try to close the window.

Critter thrust his dagger and sheath under the ragged rope of his belt, and crept to the door. He stood a moment with the side of his head so close to the surface that his ear kept flicking. Not a sound, except the tiny ones of his held breath and the soft whoosh of his ear fur against the rough wood. Might as well try as not.

He took a great breath, and slipped through the door as noiselessly as he was able. It seemed a shade brighter outside than it had in, but the coming of sunset was undeniable. Shivering from nervousness as much as cold, Critter scuttled to the right front corner of the cabin and peeked around it. Nothing there but the larxs bushes, their stringy leaves black and rustling in the last light of the sun. He crept between the closest one and the side wall. Merhule, the shutter chain was high! Been so long since he’d tried to close the window, he’d near forgot...

A sudden, familiar scent tickled his nose. Critter scarcely began to turn, before he found clammy skin pressed over his nose passages, simultaneous with a strong blow to his midriff. The combined assaults made all the air in his lung burst from his mouth. He choked, unable for the moment to fight back.

The ghost of a giggle blew warmly into his right ear. The grip about his midriff loosened enough for him to pull away from the hand on his nose.

“Magnus! I’ll skin you for that...”

“Not Magnus, imp. Merhule! What are you doing? Oh, the shutter.”

Critter leaned against the wall and gasped in air, as the newcomer reached up and easily pulled the shutter down and closed. Briefly, while Dingle was occupied with the task, Critter considered darting off into the darkness. But, before the thought was more than half-formed, it was already too late.

Dingle had grasped his elbow and was guiding him back toward the door.

“Waiting for Magnus, what?” Dingle chuckled deep in his throat. “Might not be coming tonight, what. Might not. Might not, at that.” He shook his head, as he closed the door between them and the outside world.



  1. Do like the beginning scene. I was always told to start in the middle of the action or a moment before the action begins or a moment after it begins. By action I have come to figure this is the event that starts the story. I do like your book that never ends I have one of those also and I'm working on ending it now.

  2. Hi, JL!
    Yeah, I like the beginning too which is why it's always frustrated me.

    As for starting to write a minute before or after the action begins, I agree in principle. I just have trouble deciding what serves as the first and most important action to kick things off.

    I'm glad to read that I'm not the only person who has written a book/series with never-ending story. Actually, funny thing is I have two drafts for the last chapter of what I might as well admit is either a trilogy or a quadrology?/tetra-logy?.

    My problem is that I have several different ways that the various problems and personal conflicts can be resolved. Some of them were meant to be red herrings or dead-end approaches to these problems. But after all these years I don't remember which approaches would be likely to work best to resolve everything.

    My reluctant guess is that no combination of tools I've given the characters to work with so far is going to resolve everything to the readers' satisfaction. And I'm fresh out of new strategies with which the main characters can experiment. They are in a pickle, so I am in a pickle. Sigh.

  3. I'd love to read this when I have the chance. Will try to get back later. So much to do. So little time.

  4. Hi, Beverly!
    Not to worry! It will still be here.

    Re "So much to do. So little time," you'll notice that I'm answering you three days later. I 'get' the lack of time.

    Are you involved in NaNoWriMo? My local writers' group (Written Remains Writers Guild) is doing a MiniWriMo, and posting our daily totals at Facebook's "How Many Pages Have You Written Today?"

    Keeping to the daily totals for a publisher's deadline or for a version of Nano really eats up the time, doesn't it? Good luck with whatever is eating up your time!


  5. Hi Sherry!
    We've talked more than a little about the story I'm working on... the first one I've been earnestly involved with in quite a long while. But I'll share again that I started with an idea for how the story started, and have just kind of gone from there. I've worked on developing the characters, although most often they develop in fits and starts that I can't explain. I didn't have an ending in mind, but I pray before I write, let God and the characters take me where they will, and we'll see. I now have a mental image of where the last scene will end up, but I don't know how all the subplots will resolve. For now, it's just part of the adventure, I suppose!

    So, long story short, started with a beginning, recently kinda was gifted with an ending, and we'll see how the rest fills in!

    As for Dingle, that is a most interesting way to start the story! In my limited imagination and certainly limited grasp of the world of fantasy and related genres, I am not sure where I'd take that story. It is a dramatic way to start a tale that leaves open many, many possible directions. I'll have to think about it and perhaps return to it when I can. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, experiences, and story with us!

  6. Hi, Brandon! Thanks for sharing your strategies on the beginnings of your stories. I think that praying before each writing session is a great idea.

    I'm glad that the characters sometimes help you to fill in details about themselves. In my experience this tends to happen in fits and starts, just as you described. If we think about it, it' better than getting flooded with too much about a character all at once--just as we wouldn't want to run through all of the characteristics and motivations of a character in one place in our stories.

    I am very glad that you know have an end spot. Have you ever heard about the artist's strategy for drawing a straight line? Not with a straight edge, as you might think. Instead, you put your pencil on the spot where the line is to begin, then stare at the spot where the line needs to end. With eyes fixed, you move the pencil swiftly until it ends up on the goal. You get a straight line with a tiny bit of life to it, according to those who know. ;-)

    As for Dingle, I'm beginning to think that I've stumped everyone with what to do about the fragment I posted. I agree that there's an awful lot of ways to head with this fragment as a beginning. (Technically, it doesn't even have to be fantasy-with a couple of changes.)

    I think one of the problems I've always had with this fragment is similar to my problems with the Sequel to "Earthbow" -- I have too many options with how the story might go, not too few.
    Thanks for writing!