Friday, April 1, 2011

Are You Better at Endings or Beginnings?

So, dudes, can I just tell you that I recently began my latest book, my third book, the book that is supposed to be so much better than anything else I've ever written before? It's not going that well.

Right around this time last year I finished the rough draft of my second novel. That novel put me through some things boyo. Characters decided to go their own way, minor characters juggernauted, and I don't even want to talk about what happened to my carefully laid out plot points. Rest in peace, original plot points, rest in peace. The third novel started coming to me in fits and spurts just as I was finishing up my first big rewrite of the second novel. However, while I was hard at work on the third, fourth, and fifth rewrites of my second novel, when I was telling myself how much more everything that is good in the world this third book was going to be, I failed to take one factor in account: I hadn't actually written an original word of fiction in almost a year. And as I was daydreaming about a story that wouldn't run away from me and characters that would do exactly what I told them to do this time, the cerebellum rust was just piling up like you wouldn't believe.

Here's the thing about my writing muscles: I have really good ones. I blog five days a week at my community blog, Fierce and Nerdy. I return lots of emails. I leave Facebook comments like a mofo. I'm from the school of rewriting then rewriting again and again and again -- and then one more time just for good measure. So my writing biceps are 80s-era Schwartzeneggeresque. However, when it comes to my original fiction writing legs, that's the one muscle group that I build up and then let get weak, build up again and let get weak again. It's a bad cycle, and right now my legs are scrawny.

You would think that by the third book it wouldn't be so bad. I'd sit down at the computer and all of this pent-up story would just come flowing out of me. But I swear that I can actually hear things creaking inside my right brain whenever I sit down to work on this latest book. If I could get inside my cranium and spray the whole right side down with WD-40, I swear I would.

So basically, I always get really excited about beginning a new book, but as far as execution goes, I'm waaaay better at endings. And you know, rewriting.

But how about you? Are you better at beginnings or better at endings? Let me know in the comments. And while I've got you talking about endings, here's my favorite ending line of all time, from THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker:

"But I don't think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt."

If you, too, have a favorite last line of fiction, make sure to include that with your comment.

featured image credit: ATWJ - (


  1. Fun post! It's always interesting to know how others go about their writing-business.

    I'm the other way around, mostly because I'm a pantser first and a plotter second. I love beginnings, because they're so full of potential. So many new ideas are streaming in and new characters come to life. My fingers can hardly keep up. Beginnings-Pantser, that's me.
    Then comes the middle, at which point I (should) know where the story is headed. This is where I start plotting and where the 'plugging away' begins. You know, when continueing to write actually becomes hard work. Still fun, just not as easy anymore.
    Then comes the part where I realize I have 100k+ words, and I should really REALLY start heading all those characters, plot lines and tangents I've veered off on towards that ending I envision; bring them all together. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't, because the possibilities aren't endless anymore but have been narrowed down considerably, plotted out course or no - which is why I prefer beginnings.

    Good luck with your new book, Ernessa!
    May the Muse be with you.

  2. "If I could get inside my cranium and spray the whole right side down with WD-40, I swear I would." Put it in a book, Ernessa, and it may become my favorite quote!

    In the meantime, cliche as it is: “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Always reminds me of the bigger picture in general and how great books get written.

  3. Here's some great last lines. I don't notice them as much as first lines but I'm going to start paying attnetion. Fun blog!

    Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” – Gone with the Wind

    But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing. –The House at Pooh Corner

    From here on in I rag nobody. – Bang the Drum Slowly

    There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air. – The Awakening

  4. Ernessa, great post! I pay just as much attention to last lines as first lines. They are the dessert to the main course (the book!) and should be rich and satisfying.

    One of my favorites is from the classic, Little Women:
    "Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this!"

  5. Ha! It never gets easy to write in my opinion. You learn to do some things better or more easily but then you question other aspects of your writing that you never even worried about before.

    Anyway, I find endings much easier. Even after the beginning comes to me, I write and rewrite. The ending generally flows from all the work before.

  6. Beginnings are hard for me, too. I totally understand the out-of-shape fiction writing muscle analogy! Thank goodness it gets a little easier and I get into the book. Love it when the first draft is over. Must take note of good ending lines from now on out!

  7. Ernessa, first drafts are hard! And I don't think they ever get easier (at least, not for me!). I remind myself that they're the equivalent of verbal vomit: you just have to get all those words out. You can clean them up later. Good luck!

    A great last line--or two--from ALL THE NUMBERS by our own Judy Moticka (aka Merrill Larsen):

    He smiled, and she answered back by nodding, smiling softly, and letting another handful of ashes flutter away. "Rest well," she whispered to the last handful in the wind. "All the numbers."

  8. Endings, final SCENES, yes bring em on. Last LINES? Me hate. So hard. Make brain hurt to write.

    Can you tell I've been trying to write some last lines lately? Ernessa, pass me that there WD40!

  9. @Pia You are a braver woman than I am. I wish I had that much trust in my writing process. But I micromanage myself like you wouldn't believe. No wonder my right brain feels so sluggish!

    @Laura That's a fantastic last line. And one that still resonates with me, too.

    @Karin Ooh, fellow Smithie, Margaret Mitchell. I've never read the book or seen the movie. But you know you've got a truly great last line on your hands when people around the world know it, w/o ever have read or seen the source material.

    @Maria I love that LITTLE WOMEN last line, too.

    @Connie Please don't tell me that. The only thing that keeps me going in this grind is the thought that it will eventually get easier. :)

    @Sara I also love to have a first draft done. Even if it's awful, at least it's something. I'd much rather do a really nice remodel than build from scratch.

    @Susan You've probably guessed my now that I've had a long, torrid love affair with metaphors, so I really appreciate yours. I will say that's exactly what it feels like -- like I'm vomiting with dry heaves in between. Nasty, nasty business this is.

    @Carleen You'll get it done. Though, I have found that my last lines are usually the only thing that doesn't change from first draft to the last. Though in the case of my first book... actually I'll save that story for another blog.

  10. Great post. My favorite last line is the one from The Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

  11. Thanks for this great post! Beginnings and endings are both difficult. As is the middle! LOL

  12. Great post, Ernessa. I'm with you - the idea is utterly exciting, the execution so painful! I don't have a famous last line for you. Today I finished the first draft of my second novel (joy!) so I'll give you the last line of that:
    "Yes, you do."

  13. I hadn't thought about it before, but now that I look back I think I'm definitely better at the last few lines than the first. Good luck with your writing!

  14. Endings are the worst for me. I flatter myself that I'm okay at beginnings, but I KNOW my middles are prone to sagging.

    'The Good Earth' had a great ending. Something like, "But over his head, the young men smiled'. I can't remember the exact words, but it was chilling.

    I wrote a post about how awful endings are for me, in February: