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Beginnings, Middles & Ends

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Get your stories off to a roaring start. Keep them tight and crisp throughout. Conclude them with a wallop. Is the story or novel you've been carrying around in your head the same one you see on the page? Or does the dialogue suddenly sound flat and predictable? Do the events seem to ramble? Translating a flash of inspiration into a compelling story requires careful Get your stories off to a roaring start. Keep them tight and crisp throughout. Conclude them with a wallop. Is the story or novel you've been carrying around in your head the same one you see on the page? Or does the dialogue suddenly sound flat and predictable? Do the events seem to ramble? Translating a flash of inspiration into a compelling story requires careful crafting. The words you choose, how you describe characters, and the way you orchestrate conflict all make the difference--the difference between a story that is slow to begin, flounders midway, or trails off at the end--and one that holds the interest of readers and editors to the final page. By demonstrating effective solutions for potential problems at each stage of your story, Nancy Kress will help you...hook the editor on the first three paragraphs make--and keep--your story's "implicit promise"build drama and credibility by controlling your prose Dozens of exercises help you strengthen your short story or novel. Plus, you'll sharpen skills and gain new insight into...the price a writer pays for flashbacks six ways characters should "reveal" themselves techniques for writing--and rewriting Let this working resource be your guide to successful stories--from beginning to end.


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Get your stories off to a roaring start. Keep them tight and crisp throughout. Conclude them with a wallop. Is the story or novel you've been carrying around in your head the same one you see on the page? Or does the dialogue suddenly sound flat and predictable? Do the events seem to ramble? Translating a flash of inspiration into a compelling story requires careful Get your stories off to a roaring start. Keep them tight and crisp throughout. Conclude them with a wallop. Is the story or novel you've been carrying around in your head the same one you see on the page? Or does the dialogue suddenly sound flat and predictable? Do the events seem to ramble? Translating a flash of inspiration into a compelling story requires careful crafting. The words you choose, how you describe characters, and the way you orchestrate conflict all make the difference--the difference between a story that is slow to begin, flounders midway, or trails off at the end--and one that holds the interest of readers and editors to the final page. By demonstrating effective solutions for potential problems at each stage of your story, Nancy Kress will help you...hook the editor on the first three paragraphs make--and keep--your story's "implicit promise"build drama and credibility by controlling your prose Dozens of exercises help you strengthen your short story or novel. Plus, you'll sharpen skills and gain new insight into...the price a writer pays for flashbacks six ways characters should "reveal" themselves techniques for writing--and rewriting Let this working resource be your guide to successful stories--from beginning to end.

30 review for Beginnings, Middles & Ends

  1. 4 out of 5

    Spencer Orey

    There's a lot of useful info here for aspiring authors (like me!). Good focused book without a lot of fluff, divided into helpful little sections. I'll be coming back to this one a lot. Seems especially helpful for the process of revision.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David

    “The story that comes out on the page isn’t the same as the story in your head,” Nancy Kress says on the very first page. I know this feeling intimately, and from this moment on I was hooked. I’m very serious about writing, and I also have a tendency to research things I’m interested in very thoroughly. I’ve done this with every RPG and MMO I’ve ever played. I’ve done it with shows that have complex mythologies. So, it probably comes as no surprise that I’ve read quite a few books about writing. “The story that comes out on the page isn’t the same as the story in your head,” Nancy Kress says on the very first page. I know this feeling intimately, and from this moment on I was hooked. I’m very serious about writing, and I also have a tendency to research things I’m interested in very thoroughly. I’ve done this with every RPG and MMO I’ve ever played. I’ve done it with shows that have complex mythologies. So, it probably comes as no surprise that I’ve read quite a few books about writing. As of this review I’ve finished five, including this book, and I am working on three more. So far no book has helped me as much as this one. I took notes on this book, of every chapter. The chapter with the least notes clocks in at 200 words. The chapter with the most clocks in at over 800. That’s how packed full of useful information this book is. So what makes this book so great? Kress goes over every topic a new writer needs to write credible, publishable prose, and to structure a satisfying story, and she does it in a way that immediately makes sense. She also does something I’ve yet to see other writing books do, which is to take into account every type of writer. Every new lesson acknowledges the differences between novelists and short story writers—outliners and discovery writers, and it offers specific advice for each. As someone who is just starting out, I write a lot of short stories simply because they’re faster and easier to finish. Finding information specific to short stories in this book was an unexpected but welcome surprise. Long story short, this is one of the best books about the technical side of writing fiction. Period. If you need tips, advice, structure, direction, buy this book. If you are instead looking for inspiration, you won’t find much of it here, but one book can’t have everything, now can it?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Candace

    This how-to-do book on beginnings, middles and ends helps the writer with writing skills. In beginnings the author discusses the implicit promise writers make with the readers. It instructs the writer on the importance of the first sentence, the first paragraph and the first scene. The middle looks at developing the promise and keeping your novel or short story on track. The writer does this through answering three questions: (1) Whose story is this? (2) Who is the point-of-view character? and This how-to-do book on beginnings, middles and ends helps the writer with writing skills. In beginnings the author discusses the implicit promise writers make with the readers. It instructs the writer on the importance of the first sentence, the first paragraph and the first scene. The middle looks at developing the promise and keeping your novel or short story on track. The writer does this through answering three questions: (1) Whose story is this? (2) Who is the point-of-view character? and (3) What is the throughline (plotline). It also covers moving from scene to scene and planning for the climax. The ends deliver the implicit promise. It discusses the climax, denouement and epilogue. Ends point out the importance of the last scene, last paragraph and the last sentence. The final chapter is on revision. This book discusses writer's block. It covers both the novel and the short story. It has exercises at the end of each chapter for the writer to practice. Overall, the book is a good resource for the novice writer.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    This was excellent, not least because it's very well laid out, with a clear flow from point to point and chapter to chapter. (As you would hope from a book on beginnings, middles and ends.) All too many craft books, I'm finding, don't have much to teach anyone who isn't a beginner. This is an exception. Even though some of the ground it covers is inevitably ground I've seen covered before, it does it so clearly and thoroughly that it provides fresh insight. For example, the section on endings This was excellent, not least because it's very well laid out, with a clear flow from point to point and chapter to chapter. (As you would hope from a book on beginnings, middles and ends.) All too many craft books, I'm finding, don't have much to teach anyone who isn't a beginner. This is an exception. Even though some of the ground it covers is inevitably ground I've seen covered before, it does it so clearly and thoroughly that it provides fresh insight. For example, the section on endings gave me an "aha!" moment about one of my own stories. The editor I'd submitted to liked it apart from the ending, and requested a rewrite. I realised, reading Nancy Kress's explanation, why the rewritten ending had worked where the original had not: it directly addressed the conflict which started in the first paragraph and was developed through the middle of the story. This was the main point I gained from the book: the beginning, middle and end form a unity. However, there's also useful material on characterisation, motivation, promises, climaxes, and a structured approach to revision. The author helpfully points out some differences between short stories and novels along the way. She also makes clear something that had been vague to me: how non-plotted or "literary" stories are supposed to work, and how to signal that you're writing one of those, and not a plotted story. I believe I'll now approach the non-plotted stories I read with more appreciation for what the author is doing. This is the second book I've read in the Elements of Fiction Writing series (the first being the highly useful Scene and Structure ), but I'll be searching out the others, given the excellent quality of both the ones I've read so far.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Darcy Conroy

    Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress is one of the best writing how-to's that I've read, yet. The book is targeted at both novelists and short story writers of any experience. Kress assumes little writing theory on the part of the reader and yet manages to be neither patronizing nor cliche when explaining basics (I swear some books are written from the same template - not this one!) Kress also takes care to emphasize that different writers work in different ways, addressing the Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress is one of the best writing how-to's that I've read, yet. The book is targeted at both novelists and short story writers of any experience. Kress assumes little writing theory on the part of the reader and yet manages to be neither patronizing nor cliche when explaining basics (I swear some books are written from the same template - not this one!) Kress also takes care to emphasize that different writers work in different ways, addressing the "pantsters", who like to write without plotting, acknowledging that, for them, most of the advice will be relevant only after the first draft is done (but it will be relevant.) So what's so good about this book? In short: it focuses on the writing. There's no showing off the author's understanding of Georges Polti, or proving that she bleeds Joseph Campbell. There are no structure formulas (three acts with seven turning points, no nine sequences, no 18 dips and crests of the roller coaster,) Kress has written a book which focuses on what you, the writer, need to know and do to organize your story's structure. Not that there's no theory, there's plenty, but it's all contextual, so it is clear how to apply it. How does Kress do this? Well - ahem - it's how the book is structured. The title of the book is its structure. Starting with Beginnings, Kress discusses everything that needs to be considered when writing a beginning, which, of course, touches on everything from characterization, to language, to how the beginning effects the middle and the end. She acknowledges writers who find beginnings easy and offers assistance for those who find them difficult, addressing the various reasons one can become stuck while writing a beginning. Kress then gives the same detailed treatment for each of Middle and End, followed by a section on Revision. I highly recommend this book to any writer, whether they are new to writing and don't know where to begin, or are wallowing uncertainly in a WIP. I particularly recommend this book to structure-phobics because, whether they think about it consciously while writing a first draft or not, a writer needs to know their craft and this book is a pain-free way to learn. I'll be putting this one on the #storycraft Book Chat list.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mary Catelli

    A how to write book. With plenty of useful advice about how the beginning sets up the book's promise, transitions to your second scene, development of the middle, point of view structures, having it all collide in the climax, and the denouement. Getting unstuck, working out how to develop the character rather than pull things like rabbits out of hats, and more.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    This mid-sized book about writing has an oversized amount of knowledge packed into it. Nancy Kress has won four Nebula and two Hugo awards, written over 28 books, and it shows. Divided into three parts, appropriately, Beginnings, Middles and Endings, with three chapters in each part, and yes, a very helpful index at the back of the book. She goes from your opening line, your opening scene, to last paragraph, the last sentence. Terrific, useful, step-by-step, craft advice on how to put the This mid-sized book about writing has an oversized amount of knowledge packed into it. Nancy Kress has won four Nebula and two Hugo awards, written over 28 books, and it shows. Divided into three parts, appropriately, Beginnings, Middles and Endings, with three chapters in each part, and yes, a very helpful index at the back of the book. She goes from your opening line, your opening scene, to last paragraph, the last sentence. Terrific, useful, step-by-step, craft advice on how to put the qualities that make your beginnings original and interesting, and your prose credible. How to stay on track in the middle of the story and stick to the promise you made the reader in the beginning. And how to fill that promise in the ending. And, oh yes, exercises for those who like them. The part I personally found most helpful, was “Satisfying Endings: Delivering on the Promise,” (Chapter 7). I read and re read this one as I was writing the last few chapters of my current novel. It helped me avoid some mistakes that could easily have worked their way into the book. When you’ve spent over a year writing a novel, and revised it several times based on changes the characters and action demanded, you can write an ending that no longer meets the need of satisfying the reader who has read all those pages. But not if you heed her advice. Here are her four rules for creating a satisfying climax: 1. The climax must satisfy the view of life implied in your story. 2. The climax must deliver emotion 3. The climax must deliver an appropriate level of emotion. 4. The climax must be logical to your plot and your story. Sounds deceptively simple? Nancy Kress devotes 17 pages to it. There’s a depth in this (and her other sections), that might take a couple of readings before the light goes on, you say. “I get it,” and then you rewrite that last chapter or two. I recommend this book to anyone who writes, particular novelists. And I recommend having a yellow highlighter available, because, you will want to highlight sections for your re-reads.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Timons Esaias

    I don't often find the time to read how-to-write books, but I've been meaning to find some additional strategies for helping students who get stuck in the middle of their novels. This book is relatively short and simple, but I found all the advice to be sound and practical. Almost all of the end-of-the-chapter exercises are versions of what I call Field Reconnaissance, which is the best way for a practicing writer to learn; so clearly I endorse them. I did find some strategies to add to my list; I don't often find the time to read how-to-write books, but I've been meaning to find some additional strategies for helping students who get stuck in the middle of their novels. This book is relatively short and simple, but I found all the advice to be sound and practical. Almost all of the end-of-the-chapter exercises are versions of what I call Field Reconnaissance, which is the best way for a practicing writer to learn; so clearly I endorse them. I did find some strategies to add to my list; and I also found the brief discussion of what makes a prologue valid to be useful.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Audra

    This book was extremely helpful to me. As I continue to write daily, my writing improves, but I often find myself getting stuck in the middle of my stories and also either not ending them sufficiently or at all. Nancy Kress offers excellent detailed advice for all three aspects of the story. Most meaningful her explanation of how these aspects will differ from short story to novel.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Carlie Van Amerongen

    Really helpful. Lots of practical exercises for both crafting a piece of writing and polishing those you have already written. The chapters were knowledgeable and the information was useful. I especially liked that there were exercises that had you looking at stories written by other writers for examples of the ideas Kress was trying to teach.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Doug Farren

    This is a good book to help newer writers focus on what is important in writing a book. It provides a good overall set of rules and things to consider when writing anything from a short story to a massive novel. One thing I did like was the acknowledgement that not all writers write in the same way which makes it difficult to write a book on writing. Overall, I thought it was a good book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    Very decent guide to writing both novels and short fiction. It reminds me of a great deal I should always keep in mind while reading, as well. My appreciation for novels might just improve some more with these kinds of reminders. :)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Letitia

    I borrowed this from the library, but I need to own it! I have never read a more clear, useful, step-by-step manual to brilliant writing. If you don't have talent, this book won't give it to you, but if you do, Kress' advice is invaluable.

  14. 4 out of 5

    John

    Very helpful stuff. I wish I'd read more books like it when I was in college working on my writing degree.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    An excellent walk through of story structure. Concise, thorough and honest. Certainly worth a second read (and a third).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Great tips and exercises.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Cooke

    I have owned this book in college — and had not read it since then. Some of the advice I had likely internalized, while other points I probably learned by trial and error. Other recommendations were entirely new to me, or at least new to my memory. Beginnings, Middles & Ends (I shudder at the lack of an Oxford comma, but that is the title) is a series of essays on different parts of a novel. Throughout the book, Kress uses examples from literature and her own running example narrative to I have owned this book in college — and had not read it since then. Some of the advice I had likely internalized, while other points I probably learned by trial and error. Other recommendations were entirely new to me, or at least new to my memory. Beginnings, Middles & Ends (I shudder at the lack of an Oxford comma, but that is the title) is a series of essays on different parts of a novel. Throughout the book, Kress uses examples from literature and her own running example narrative to demonstrate how to write, and now to write, these parts of a novel. She does not make assumptions of a particular genre, and this is both a strength and a weakness. The strength is that her advice is immediately applicable to pretty much anything you’re writing — the weakness is that you might need greater detail that the broad scope cannot give you. The last chapter is all about revision, and it felt a little out of place. At the same time, it was one of the strongest and most useful sections in the book. I read the book straight though, but I would actually be more likely to recommend it to a writer who is stuck on a specific part of their story. Each section is pretty self-contained, and I feel like it will serve me well when I get stuck and need a bit of a helping hand.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Isobel

    This writing guide breaks all stories down into 3 elements (I will let you guess which ones; if your answer is similar to this book's title, you're on the right track...), both summarizing what elements the writer will want to focus on, and offering concrete ways to overcome blocks or fine tune the sections. Due to this layout, it can be read in one go, or a specific section can be referenced when difficulty is encountered while writing. Kress uses literary examples, and offers advice that is This writing guide breaks all stories down into 3 elements (I will let you guess which ones; if your answer is similar to this book's title, you're on the right track...), both summarizing what elements the writer will want to focus on, and offering concrete ways to overcome blocks or fine tune the sections. Due to this layout, it can be read in one go, or a specific section can be referenced when difficulty is encountered while writing. Kress uses literary examples, and offers advice that is generally sound. Of course, your story is your story, and there are exceptions to every rule, but generally, I think most writers will find this book a helpful reference they can turn to again and again. Highly recommend.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brooke Johnson

    This was a really quick, easy, and informative read. A lot of what Nancy talks about in this book is stuff I already knew, but I've increasingly found that the value in craft books for me is not so much the "knowing" of something, but the trigger to look at it in a different light. This book breaks down stories on a macro level that makes it easier to see the whole picture of how beginnings, middles, and ends work together to make a satisfying story, while still offering examples and exercises This was a really quick, easy, and informative read. A lot of what Nancy talks about in this book is stuff I already knew, but I've increasingly found that the value in craft books for me is not so much the "knowing" of something, but the trigger to look at it in a different light. This book breaks down stories on a macro level that makes it easier to see the whole picture of how beginnings, middles, and ends work together to make a satisfying story, while still offering examples and exercises of how to accomplish that synergy on a sentence by sentence, scene by scene level. I ended up dogearing several pages and highlighting multiple tips and exercises within the book for later reference. I think this book is good for writers of any skill, from beginners to professional novelists.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Collin

    Thoroughly average book on writing, except that there were a few major points where I did not agree with Kress at all (the last paragraph/line of a novel, as opposed to a short story, doesn't make that much of an impact? she makes no acknowledgement of the kind of ongoing-story type of novel series? what?). I'm not sure if I'd rec this to beginners, because there are a lot of rules and generalizations that I think could be detrimental to writers just starting out, but, at the same time, writers Thoroughly average book on writing, except that there were a few major points where I did not agree with Kress at all (the last paragraph/line of a novel, as opposed to a short story, doesn't make that much of an impact? she makes no acknowledgement of the kind of ongoing-story type of novel series? what?). I'm not sure if I'd rec this to beginners, because there are a lot of rules and generalizations that I think could be detrimental to writers just starting out, but, at the same time, writers who've done their research probably get this kind of thing already. So... yeah, I'm not sure what to do with it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    E. Thiem

    If you still feel new to writing novels or short stories and you want to brush up on general techniques, this is a quite useful book. Most importantly, this book both explains how to deal with the common problems with many examples, and it contains comprehensive lists of the usual approaches to writing the various parts of the plot. Therefore it helps with the initial understanding as well as with checking back on whether you forgot a common pitfall to be aware of when e.g. writing the middle If you still feel new to writing novels or short stories and you want to brush up on general techniques, this is a quite useful book. Most importantly, this book both explains how to deal with the common problems with many examples, and it contains comprehensive lists of the usual approaches to writing the various parts of the plot. Therefore it helps with the initial understanding as well as with checking back on whether you forgot a common pitfall to be aware of when e.g. writing the middle section of your novel. A more seasoned writer could probably judge better how well the presented techniques actually work in practice, but to me most of them seemed sound and very useful.

  22. 4 out of 5

    A.M.

    This was not one I expected the local library to have… but there it was. And it’s good. With some great advice about… well, middles and endings. [lol. It does what it says on the cover…] She also points out that it is harder to write a novel that is part of a series and have an ending that is both satisfying and leaves something to follow up further in the next part of the series. I was thinking that this week watching the TV show Bosch. They finalised a story arc that has been sustained over four This was not one I expected the local library to have… but there it was. And it’s good. With some great advice about… well, middles and endings. [lol. It does what it says on the cover…] She also points out that it is harder to write a novel that is part of a series and have an ending that is both satisfying and leaves something to follow up further in the next part of the series. I was thinking that this week watching the TV show Bosch. They finalised a story arc that has been sustained over four full series and left me, as a viewer, still wanting to know what happens next. I’ll be adding this one to my sales watch list. 4 stars

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lyndsy

    I have dabbled with writing, but most of what I do now is editing for friends. This book is brilliant. It’s concise and clear. It takes what seem like complex elements of stories and breaks them down so that you can essentially create a checklist by which you can evaluate your story. I would love to see an updated version with more recent examples, but the examples still work because the author includes enough text and detail to refer to. I highly recommend this book to authors or editors.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Clare Farrelly

    Very helpful and practical, I liked the exercises at the end of each chapter, though I must admit I only did a very few of them. I highly recommend this as a book for writers to read as they are writing a story or just to improve on their craft in general. The book is understandable and easy to read. There are some bits that don't fit with my writing style but that okay, there were still lots of helpful things in here.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cara M

    Kress is as good as her word. Excellent ideas and approaches for writing and fixing both short and long form narrative when it has gone astray. I laughed a lot when she said "Lean!" "Lean!" is what she wrote on students' manuscripts, and a student wrote back "is this a pork chop?" But my laughter came from knowing that Kress's prose is deadly lean and clean and precise. She's not kidding about trimming the fat, and she practices what she preaches.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Lewis

    I was having trouble with my middle. Over and over again I’d write the first third of my book. Nancy’s book got me through the middle. She asks great questions and has exercises at the end of chapters. It’s as if she’s right there coaching you. Loved this book. Highly recommend for writers of fiction and nonfiction.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    I didn't do the exercises on this one - but I found this an easy, helpful read. It's one of those books you want to come back to after you've finished a book - or when you reach a new stage, whether that be the middle or the end or writing a whole new novel, and you need a structure to boost yourself. Anyway, I might buy this... or get it from the library again. :)

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jessie Weaver

    This is an awesome book for writers at any stage of the process. It clearly laid out tips and guidelines for drafting and revising a novel or a short story. In addition to the helpful hints, the author also included many examples for each skill, making it easier to understand exactly what she meant. I highly recommend this one!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ashleigh Gauch

    Interesting examples given throughout the book. There are better books on structure, but I loved the detailed look at hooks and climaxes, and the thoughtful exercises given for various stages of the novel. Combined with a book like Story Engineering and Plot Versus Character, I can see how it would help build basic skills for openings and endings.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Juana G

    Nancy Kress thoroughly addresses the how-tos of crafting a solid story from beginning to end. I learned so much from this book and will be using it as a reference as I develop my writing. Definitely recommended to any fiction writer.

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