On Writing


Three points about plot:

1. Beginnings are easy.

2. Endings are not so difficult.

3. It's the middle that will kill you.

I have a whole folder full of great titles, another with great opening lines, yet another with fantastic first scenes. Most will likely molder in the folder until the ink fades. Why? Lots of cool ideas for scenes spring up, but the test comes when I ask myself, "what happens next?" If I have no idea where to go from there, the idea gets assigned to my personal slush pile. No matter how many great beginnings I come up with, all I have are pieces to different puzzles that don't fit together. Beginnings are doomed to remain annoying glimmers of possibility until they are connected to plots.

Endings, like beginnings, can be a piece of cake....The middle is where the magic happens...

Endings, like beginnings, can be a piece of cake. Like the saying, "there are no new ideas," it's also true that there are few new endings: they all lived happily ever after; the battle was won/lost, but the war had just begun; the lone survivor lives to tell the tale; and that's why there are no (unicorns, elves, cavemen, you name it) today; even though (name here) died, life would never be the same; ding-dong the witch is dead; and that's what I did on my summer vacation. Which one (or variation thereof) did you use in your last story? The story's climax and genre will be the major factors in deciding which ending works or, in the case of some genres or publisher's imprints, is required.

The middle is where the magic happens and, to quote a character in Nora Roberts' Vision in White, "...magic takes sweat." This is what separates your story from all the other similar stories out there. The twists and the turns, the hurdles that the main characters have to overcome, the way they grow as people--and grow on the reader so she'll want to know how the story ends--are what the middle's all about. And why it's so difficult to get right. Many writers have problems with the middles. A dull second act can kill a play. The second book or movie in a trilogy is often the least popular. The middle is the main reason I started outlining. Through experience, I've learned that before investing the time to perfect a beginning, I need to be sure that I actually have enough of an idea for a complete story. If you have a plot, you have a story. Without a plot, you've got nada.

Return to the "On Writing" Main Page