Endings v. Beginnings: Which is More Important?

Endings or beginnings? Which are more important? Neither. They are both crucial.

Connection between the Beginning and the Ending

The first thing to notice is that these two points in a narrative must be intimately connected. The story problem you set up must be the same story problem that you solve. When you’re revising a novel, you must check these two point to decide if you went off track somewhere.

If the main story problem is peace in a family that is fighting, the ending can’t be that the family goes off on vacation together. The reader doesn’t know if the family will fight during that vacation or not. They might indeed go off on vacation, as the denouement or the aftermath of the climax, but this isn’t the climax. The climax or high point of the plot must be a family confrontation that solves some basic problems and restores a semblance of peace.

When you’re faced with a disconnect, it doesn’t matter which you change, the beginning or the end; but you must change one of them, these must match up.

Importance of Beginning Well

It is important to begin well, to draw the reader into your fictional world. The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman rightly argues that you only have five pages–at the most–to capture an agent, an editor or a reader. Often, you only have one page. So, beginnings are crucial. They set the stage, introduce character and setting, and most important, Hook the Reader. Lukeman’s book is an excellent guide to getting those pages right.

Importance of Ending Well

On the other hand, it is also important to end well. The end of a sentence, paragraph, chapter and novel are places of emphasis or stress. Consider the difference between these sentences:

The circus featured elephants and a great trapeze act, all presented in the center ring.

Featured in the center ring of the circus was a trapeze act performed above an elephant act.

In the first sentence the elephant/trapeze acts were buried in the middle of the sentence. Pulling them to the end, emphasizes their importance. Likewise, look at the ends of your chapters. Do you dribble off into nothing, or do these make memorable statements that pull readers to the next chapter? And what are the last lines of your stories? Memorable?

  • He loved Big Brother. –George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
  • It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Read 100 Famous Last Lines from American Book Review (pdf)
Read my analysis of 100 opening lines here.

Which is more important, the beginning or ending of your novel? Both. Make sure you nail both of these crucial sections (and everything in between).

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