Author Etiquette - Beginnings and Endings

by Jennifer 28. December 2018 08:42

As this is the last Author Etiquette on the Apocalypse Ink Productions blog, I thought we’d end this series with a discussion of beginnings and endings. For many authors, this is perhaps the easiest and hardest part of writing. Where you begin a story sets the tone, gives a setting, and introduces the characters, and sets up something that a reader will continue to read, but don’t want to overwhelm the reader with too much information. The ending needs to tie into the beginning hook, tie up the main plot thread, and if necessary, offers an opening for other stories. Although what happens in the middle is necessary, if you don’t have a good beginning and ending to a story, things simply fall apart.


If your eyes are already crossed, that’s okay. Finding the right way to begin and end a story is never the same twice. Some stories start with action, or dialog, or even a setting. Stories end with a sudden twist, or a gentle release. Each book in a series can start in a different way and end in another for endless possibilities. The most difficult part is deciding what one is right for the particular story you are writing.



Where To Begin

When you draft a story, what you start out with may not be the beginning that you end up with after editing. For a lot of newer authors, this comes as a surprise. The carefully crafted setup full of setting, character, and situational descriptions is often axed by an editor. While it may be important, it probably isn’t important NOW in the story.


For those who are giving this article the side-eye, what that means is you need to kill some of the fluff and get right into the story. This is especially important in a short story. Instead, “Start at the point of no return.” (Thank you @jennybhatt for that distinction!) For those unsure about what that means, imagine your story is a big rock on a hill. Weather and time has eroded the small rock and soil around it (this is a lot of that back story stuff) so that with one action--rain, wind, whatever--it starts to move forward. There’s no stopping it once it’s started. THAT is where you need to start many novels and short stories. You can always go back and touch upon the past, but jump right into the story and get your reader hooked.


The Info Dump

Information has its place, but it’s not usually at the beginning of a story. It is tempting to use a technique called an infodump at the start of a story. What this usually amounts to is backstory, descriptions, and reasons for the story itself. This often slows the story down, and can bore the reader into disinterest.


An author needs to decide on what information that reader needs so that the plot, setting, and character is clear. Everything else can be added in later.

The Hook

Have you ever read the first paragraph of a story and found you HAD to find out more? Whether it was a situation, the character, or even question those first words provoke, you were hooked. That’s the goal of every beginning every author writes.


The hook is that little tidbit that drives the reader to keep going. Hooks can be found throughout a story--especially at the end of chapters--but the most important one is at the beginning of the story. Beginning hooks can be found at the very first sentence or in the next few paragraphs, but they are always early in the story.



Generally speaking, most stories do not need a prologue. A prologue fills in information that completes the story but is told from a different character’s viewpoint, a piece of history, or even gives you a glimpse into the future. However, it may not be necessary. Prologues can confuse the reader, give out more information than necessary, and even muddy the plot. If you feel that a prologue is necessary, use them cautiously.



Where to End

Just like the question of where to begin a story, the ending is a difficult one. The ending of the story must satisfy the reader, but also wrap up the plot in a way that ties into the beginning. As an author, you should realize that you won’t satisfy every reader, but you should make good on the promise on the hook you drew the reader in with.


Endings can come in many different forms. Sometimes you need to have a twist (but be aware you need to hint at this somewhere in the story). Other times you’ll crest with the final battle, and then roll into the aftermath. Endings should show movement in the character and in the plot. That usually means that things are different in the ending than they are in the beginning.


Tied Up in a Bow or Open Ended

Endings don’t always mean a nice, neat conclusion. Most series end up with some sort of open ended issue which opens up a new story later. The main plot might be wrapped up, but there’s some lingering things to take care of. Short stories can also do this, but it is less common.


A self-contained story often has the plot issues all neatly wrapped up at the end. There’s no dangling shoelaces to trip up the character and lead into a new adventure (that you can see.) The tied up with a bow approach is especially useful in short stories.


Which technique you use if often determined by the story you are writing and the genre.


To Be Continued...

When you start writing your series, it is often useful to leave unfinished business behind so that your characters can have a starting place for the next book. Perhaps it’s an item, or maybe the villain got away, but leave something dangling at the end.


It might not always be fair to your characters, or at times your readers, but if continuation of the story is the goal, don’t tie up all of the plot threads.



Just like prologues, epilogues are a subject of debate. For many stories they are not necessary.


If you do decide to use them, epilogues can be handled in several ways. Sometimes it’s an aftermath of the story conclusion. Other times it’s some sort of information that the reader needs to see. It can be a jumping point for the next book or a new series. Always be cautious about using them.


We hoped you enjoyed the Author Etiquette series and hope they have assisted you in your writing journey. ~Sarah Craft and Jennifer Brozek


Apocalypse Ink Productions

A small press publication house specializing in dark speculative fiction.

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