Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress, Elements of Fiction Writing, AUTHOR RESOURCE



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.

Paperback, 149 pages
Published March 15th 1999 by Writer’s Digest Books (first published 1992)
Original Title Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing)
ISBN13 9780898799057
Edition Language English
Series Elements of Fiction Writing


After the Introduction, this book is divided conveniently, into three parts: Part One: Beginnings, Part Two: Middles, and, Part Three: Endings.

Part One, Beginnings, is divided into three sub-sections: The Very Beginning: Your Opening. In this section you’ll learn that you have approximately three paragraphs in a short story, three pages in a novel, to capture your editor’s attention to continue on reading and show an invested interest in your writing. You’ll learn about first impressions, what should be included in the first part of your story and why.  You’ll also learn how a story makes two promises to its reader, and how important it is to fulfill those promises.  Each promises is broken up in detail, explaining what you as the author is expected to do to achieve these promises.

As with most books like this one, character development, arcs and creation is discussed.  Fleshing out your characters is a very important factor to having a successful story and\\in this section, you’ll learn how to do this.

Conflict is discussed here too because conflict should arise in the first few paragraphs but necessarily should it mean a shocking moment in your story. You’ll learn about overt, dramatic conflict: character vs. character (thrillers), or character versus society (ie. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”).  But conflict can smaller in other genres such as family strife, romantic misunderstanding… etc. You’ll learn more about conflict and its types. The author addresses ‘Specificity’ in this section too, where specific details’ use can make for effective beginnings.  You’ll learn about the importance of credibility in your prose. The importance of diction and the misuse of words killing an author’s work. Words written similar but slightly different are often butchered and used improperly, such as: affected/effected, or, illusion/allusion, and they’re/their/there or too/two/to, just to name a few. A credible author will know the differences.

Economy or using filler is discussed next. Learn why it’s so important to say what you want to say and not add words for the sake of adding.  Here, you’ll learn how repetition can be used effectively (not affectively), and how economical prose will serve you much better. The author also discusses sentence construction. Yes, sentence construction’s importance is the ‘white elephant’ in the room for authors. Many find this area of their writing weak compared to others.  However, the necessity of successful sentence construction within novel writing must be confronted. Many authors jump right in to that book without first acquiring the tools they need first to be a successful writer.

I personally took many courses both in college and university and online, in both colleges and universities.  Yes, some were tedious and monotonous, but necessary. Nothing turns a reader off more than encountering a book with crappy prose full of grammatical errors. Imagine what an editor will think…

Because credible prose varies in sentence structure, you will learn how to do this while maintaining control of the effect you want to create. This is learning about ‘punch’ and ‘drama’ and where to apply them. You can’t have a section like this without discussing the parts of speech such as: tone. The author of this book talks about how credible prose shouldn’t be overloaded with adjectives and adverbs (there are exceptions), and controlling modifier use, bearing in mind, that excessive use of modifiers shouts: AMATEUR!

When discussing tone of your story: comic, serious, reportorial, iron… the credible writer doesn’t self-indulge. After learning how to balance the tone of your story, you’ll learn how to pull it all together. You’ll revisit character, conflict, specificity, credible prose to begin your story and then move in to the rest of your scene.

The author then approaches the subject of prologue.  Here, you’ll learn when to use it, why you should and shouldn’t use it and what it should and shouldn’t contain. Then, the author summarizes everything from Part One wrapping it up in a nice little bow.

Some people struggle with hooking readers within the first part of the story. These section of the book is for them. The author provides a comprehensive breakdown of all the important facts every writer should know about how to start their story. The author evens provides exercises after this section to help you hone your craft following what you’ve learned in part one.

In Part One, Sub-Section Two, The Later Beginning: Your Second Scene, you’ll first address the three basic options you have for your second scene, what they are, and when to use them. Here you’ll learn how conflict can be dialed down for contrast without sacrificing story movement.  Subplot introduction is now discussed showing how it can be used to introduce tension without sacrificing story movement. In this sub-section, you’ll read how to choose the action for your second scene in order to carry the story forward.  Along with teaching you how to write the first two scenes to develop conflict and imply change, you’ll also learn that different characters will have different kinds of conflicts and changes.

You’ll learn that every paragraph in your story has two goals, what they are and how to execute them.  You’ll find out what happens in the middle of your story or novel, how it’s done. You’ll learn about major and minor actions and what they each inspire. You’ll see how other characters in your story create reactions, what they are, who they affect, and why they’re important. In this section, you’ll discuss dialogue, thoughts, gestures, appearances and body language and how they affect and contribute to your story/novel. Having characters that readers want to read about is outlined through the use of the above. In many stories, more characters are introduced with individual quirks and important roles to play in the plot. They each are important to your story, affect your main character and help to drive that character toward their goals. You’ll learn the downfall of introducing each character with an expository capsule biography and what to avoid, how to do so correctly and where and when to put them in to your story.

Following a summary of this section, more exercises are provided by the author to help you practice what is previously discussed. Chapter three, or the next sub-section of Part One, Help For Beginnings: Early Revision, you’ll learn that all fiction is created out of five different ways of presenting information to the reader, and what they’re called. The author breaks each down perfectly explaining the pros and cons of all. Finally to finish off Part One, the author gives her final thoughts on revision and how to avoid the temptation to polish forever.

The rest of the book is broken down in the same detailed format as I’ve shown above. Each section is laid out for the writer so that they can relate and understand the content giving helpful insights and great advice broken down in easy terms.  I highly recommend this book as a resource tool for any writer/author. There’s a wealth of information in this book that even the most experienced writer out there would be able to use it; or, even a beginner author/writer needing a strong writing base to build on.

I give this book:




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