“How you begin a sentence determines its clarity; how you end it determines its rhythm and grace.” – Joseph M. Williams in Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace
I wish I had read that sentence much earlier in my writing escapades. But perhaps we hear things when we are ready for them.
Williams’ simple yet powerful directive for writing resonated with me last week, and has indeed been shaping and reshaping my writing for several weeks now. That sentence is not only gold for the writer looking to improve craft, but I see parallels in it for story as well.
How you begin a story determines its clarity; how you end it determines its rhythm and grace.
I recently critiqued the first few chapters of a story and about halfway into the first chapter I made a large notation: START THE STORY HERE. Where to start a story is critical and makes the difference between sweeping the reader in or leaving them yawning. But even further, it clarifies what the story is about – its theme, its driving plot line, its main character arc. Something about that story NEEDS to be in the very beginning, to make clear to the reader why they should continue to invest their time in reading. It is not often easy to see where that beginning should be (hence: betas).
How you end a story determines whether the reader has that satisfying feeling that they crave. Not merely a Happily Ever After ending (although those are very fine), but a sense of resolution or a closed chapter in your protagonist’s adventure, at the least (if there are sequels). A good ending gives the story its final downbeat of rhythm, the last grace note to complete the work.
I’m drafting the ending of my current WIP, and I keep changing my mind about that last line, where the final breath is exhaled. I haven’t found that satisfying feeling and probably won’t until the words are actually on the page and revised several times. And probably passed through a beta or five.
Loverly writer friends: Do you struggle more with beginnings or endings?
UPDATE: Read this post on the Rejectionist about writing endings. Fab.