If you want to write a novel, the novel’s beginning and ending are equally important. As the old saying goes, your novel’s beginning sells your book. The ending sells your next book.
I’ve been working with a group of new novelists, and each one has a complete novel. Sort of. I say “sort of” because their novels are buried amongst a lot of stuff which isn’t needed.
Each student’s novel is like a little treasure chest, buried in a pond. It’s up to the novelist to haul up the treasure chest, refurbish it, and polish up the jewels within.
Of course, these new novelists have lots of reasons they need the pond, but your readers aren’t interested in a pond. They want the treasure.
In other words, they want a story, with a beginning, a page-turning, suspenseful middle, and a good ending.
“This is the story of…”
If you’re currently writing a novel, or have just finished a novel, sum up the story in ONE sentence. Begin your sentence: “This is the story of…”
Just for a giggle, here’s Gone With the Wind in a sentence: Money-hungry Southern belle falls in and out of love; should’ve tried therapy.
Here’s the IMDB on Gone With the Wind: “A manipulative Southern belle carries on a turbulent affair with a blockade runner during the American Civil War.”
Can you sum up your story in a sentence? Of course you can. Write your sentence. If you can’t write a sentence, it’s just about 100 per cent certain that you don’t have a novel.
You may have a case of: this happens, then that happens, then something else happens, and something else happens…
That summed up the situation with my students. A lot of STUFF happened, most of that stuff wasn’t needed. They needed the treasure chest.
Got your sentence? Excellent.
Your Novel Begins When…
You have your story, in one sentence. Now think about when the story begins.
I’m currently rereading, for about the fourth time, Carla Kelly’s The Summer Campaign. The novel begins with a proposal, which the heroine, Onyx, accepts.
Where you start your novel is up to you. Don’t start it too early. I love The Summer Campaign, but it started a little too early. Carla Kelly could have lost the entire beginning, and started it when the highwaymen attacked Onyx’s coach. The proposal was a lot of yada yada; we see what a horrible person the vicar is later in the book. He isn’t a main character, there wasn’t any reason to introduce him at the beginning. Onyx’s relatives aren’t that important, either. They appear and then vanish. The book would have been stronger without them cluttering up the first few pages.
However, it’s up to YOU where you start. As we’ve said, don’t start your novel too early. Start when the main action of the story starts.
Your Novel Ends When…
Your novel’s ending is always in the beginning. This is why I said: start when the main action of the story starts. It’s great if your ending refers back to the beginning, in some way: by location, by an event, or by something that someone says.
You can start your novel in any way you choose, but your novel’s ending ALWAYS meets the expectations of your genre. So, if you’re writing a romance, it’s a forgone conclusion that it ends with a Happily Ever After (HEA.) If it doesn’t your readers won’t forgive you. If you’re writing a mystery, your novel ends when your sleuth solves the mystery.
When you’ve got an ending, and a beginning, you’ve got your treasure chest. Now you can polish the jewels, and paint and lacquer the chest.
When you’re writing your first novel, you’re learning a lot about yourself, and about your writing. Find your treasure chest by writing a one-sentence summary. Then decide where your novel starts, and where it ends.
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