Writing Tips & Advice
Great novels grab readers' attention right away and keep it. This takes work -- and a lot of it. I have learned that
not only does your novel need a good beginning, middle and end, but so does each chapter, paragraph and
even each scene. While most of the following comments apply to an entire novel, many of them apply to
chapters, paragraphs and scenes as well.
The pattern of the beginning, middle and ending of a story is called narrative arc.
If you've ever received comments about your work similar to the ones below and didn't know what they meant,
read on. Knowing how to craft a definitive narrative arc will improve your writing.
“This story has a weak (or non-existent) narrative arc.”
“While the characters are strong, the narrative arc did not maintain my interest.”
“The writing is solid, but the narrative arc is unclear and inconsistent.”
Illustration of a narrative arc
The important thing to remember is you don't get a second chance to make a good first impression. Everyone who picks up your book
will read the first sentence. If you don't grab their attention in the very beginning, you could lose them, so strong opening sentences and
paragraphs are crucial to lure the readers into the story and "hook" them into reading further. The hook doesn't have to be extreme, and
it shouldn't be extreme unless you can support it with the rest of the story. The hook can be quiet and simple to still be a hook.
Beginnings should be powerful; they can't afford to be dull, boring or drawn out. Keep in mind that today's readers don't have the
patience to wait until page 25 to get hooked.
The beginning of a novel should set the stage, the mood, the time period and the tone for the rest of the story. It should also introduce
the main characters and define the protagonist's problem. The main story line must be made clear early in the narrative. If the reader is
confused in the beginning, he may get frustrated and put the book down.
One way to motivate readers to read further is to leave enough out of the first sentence or paragraph or chapter to intrigue them. 'Start the
story right before everything changes,' I was once advised. Force the reader to ask questions about what comes next. Make it clear that
change is imminent.
Middles are the crux of the story, the meat of the story. Many things will carry the middle -- strong characters, meaningful dialogue, an
interesting journey, tension and conflict. To avoid a sagging middle, something needs to be happening at all times to keep the story
The middle of your novel is generally where the story climaxes, where everything comes apart, where the tension is the greatest, where
the conflict peaks. The protagonist will change and grow throughout the story, but most of it will take place in the middle. Some conflicts
may be resolved in the middle, but the major one will peak there and be resolved later, potentially not until the end.
The climax is where the greatest tension of the story unfolds and is what the readers have been waiting for. No matter what form it takes,
whether it's intense action or a quiet internal realization, the climax needs to be tied to the protagonist's conflict that was conveyed in the
beginning of the book, and it should reflect the ultimate test of the protagonist's capabilities.
Three primary things need to happen at the end of the novel. All loose ends should be tied up. The major conflict in the story needs to
be resolved. And the reader needs to know how the story has changed the protagonist. It should be clear what truth the protagonist has
learned or not learned about himself in the ending -- his inner growth, how he's changed, how he's grown. An effective ending is often a
new beginning for the protagonist.
Most readers want to feel some sense of satisfaction when they've completed reading a book. That's not to say every story has to end
with, ". . . and they lived happily ever after." Most readers do prefer a happy ending, but not a predictable one.
Whether the ending is gradual or one with a punch, the best one will make the reader feel some strong emotion, whether it's happiness,
sadness, surprise, pleasure, shock, or reflection. A good ending won't be too abrupt, flat or drawn out.
As much thought should be given to the last sentence of the book as the first one. Whether it's a leisurely sentence or a sharp one, it
should reinforce the book's central message, portray a sense of completion and leave the reader satisfied. A good ending will make the
reader sorry to see the story come to an end.
A word about chapter endings. I rely on instincts to know when to end a chapter. For me, it's usually when I've accomplished the purpose
of the chapter, and the story is going to shift. It's important to end each chapter with enough interest that the reader is compelled to read
the next one, whether your chapter end is a cliff-hanger, a heart-wrenching moment or the use of foreshadowing (providing clues that
suggest events that will occur later in the story). Mix it up; don't end each chapter the same way.
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