Is the Beginning of a Novel more important than the Ending?

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Sonoma by A.K.Andrew

Beginnings and Endings by A.K.Andrew

The beginning of a novel is crucial. Without  a good beginning, you won’t have a reader. But if the ending is unsatisfactory, it’s unlikely your reader will recommend your novel or read any more of your work. So which is more important?

What links the two is the beginning and end of a circle. Yes – I know there is no beginning and end to a circle , and that of course is the whole point. Hold that thought OK?

A Journey

On a personal level I’ve recently been experiencing both endings and beginnings: I’ve left the UK, my country of birth, to return to Northern California, my adopted home where I spent more than 20 years of my adult life. It’s been a long journey, hence my absence from all things social media. Apologies for the gap in my blog, but it really has been a long 6,000 mile trip. I’d undertaken the same process, in reverse, ten years ago, so I thought I knew what to expect. And in some ways, similar to the way in which we develop the plot of a novel, I did. But like all good stories, there were unexpected, but necessary twists and turns. And like writing a novel, it took longer than I’d like.

We have our furniture unpacked, but not arranged. Most of my paintings seem to have made it in one piece, though are sitting facing a wall waiting for me to hang them. Again, like writing, it’s been a lesson in patience. Rush it and you end up with a really shitty first draft.

This blog is where life and writing collide. Endings and beginnings are significant stages in both. I was sad to say goodbye to my friends and family in the UK, but thrilled to be back in the USA  and see old friends in California. New beginnings are always exciting – the promise of new experiences, new people to meet, new characters to write and plot arcs to develop.

Endings

Aside from friends and family, I will miss living so close to the sea, watching the quirky English weather.

Brighton Pier by A.K.Andrew

Brighton Pier by A.K.Andrew

West Pier Brighton, Hand Tinted Photograph by A.K.Andrew

West Pier Brighton, Hand Tinted Photograph by A.K.Andrew

And  of course I shall miss the English countryside. From twee to wild, almost always green.

England, green England by A.K.Andrew

England, green England, by A.K.Andrew
Derbyshire Peak District by A.K.Andrew

Derbyshire Peak District by A.K.Andrew

Beginnings

But  sights I welcome back with open arms:

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge by A.K.Andrew

 

Armstrong Redwoods.Sonoma CA

Armstrong Redwoods by A.K.Andrew

Jack London State Park by A.K.Andrew

Jack London State Park by A.K.Andrew

Northern California is an area of incredible natural beauty: the Pacific ocean at the Golden Gate spanned by the eponymous bridge, acres of vineyards, olive groves and stunning state parks, and centuries old redwoods as tall as the eye can see. Yes, things really are bigger in America!

Coming Full Circle

Let’s go back to my original comment on the beginning and ending of a novel, and the continuous circle they can present. Life and literature really are all about the journey, and that journey continues ad infinitum. The real challenge is to create a piece of work where the beginning and ending are so closely linked they form a circle. Every writer strives to achieve a scenario where the reader carries the characters with them, wondering what happens after the last page has been turned, and if appropriate, looks forward to the sequel. Beginnings are fun and the first essential step, but the real challenge is the ability to follow through and satisfy your readers once they’ve reached the end.

What do you think is the most important part of a novel? As a writer, do you struggle with the beginning more than the ending? As a reader, how does it color your impression of the book as a whole if it has an unsatisfactory ending?

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

Many Thanks!

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Comments

  1. Hi AK This is a thoughtful and wise post. Your photos add a lot to it. I guess I think the end of a story is more important than the beginning. It’s only at the end that you have been taken on a journey, and the conclusion of it feels right and good.
    Larry Crane recently posted..Best of Larry’s Twitter Pal Daily Dec 8- Dec 13, 2013My Profile

  2. In today’s fast paced world, if the beginning of a book doesn’t pull me in, I might well not make it to the end. On the other hand, in real life, I think the end and beginning are of equal importance, but sometimes, it is actually the in between part—the actual journey—that is the there, there. (With apologies to Gertrude Stein).
    Suzanne Fluhr recently posted..The High Road to Taos, New MexicoMy Profile

    • Oh bring Gertrude Stein to my blog- I don’t mind:-) . Life is definitely about the journey, and I think that’s something we appreciate more as we age. And you’re right, without a good beginning there has to be a compelling reason for me to battle my way through to the end. I just read Faulkner’s Sound & Fury which was one of those scenarios. I really wanted to enjoy it more than I did, but was determined to finish it.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Is the Beginning of a Novel more important than the Ending?My Profile

  3. Hi A.K.: I definitely think the beginning of any story is the critical part. As Suzanne says, if a story doesn’t pull me in fast, I’m gone, and on to the next one.

    I loved the theme and imagery of your post. Well done, and we’re glad to have you back on this side of the pond!
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..hire a professional proofreader to ensure your book is the best it can beMy Profile

  4. Welcome back A.K.! What a great restart with this visual blog. As I was reading this my mind drifted off to what I know about delivering training and speaking. If it is in any way similar to how we respond to a novel, then both the beginning AND the end have to be in synch with each other. Love them both, great. Love one, that taints the other. We tend to really be attuned to the beginning and the ending.
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  5. While the opening has to grab their attention, the ending is the last thing they read…which will make or break you in terms of whether they recommend your book or not. Given that fact, I think the ending is slightly more important.
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  6. My opinion is that he beginning is crucial. Even agents will only give a cursory glance at 5 pages max to make a determination. Although the ending is the lasting impression, I’m not one who needs it all tied up in a neat package. In fact I appreciate if the author has given me some credit as reader and allows my imagination some space.
    Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie) recently posted..Where’s the Justice… In a Mustache?My Profile

    • What you are saying about agents is so true Jacquie, so from that perspective a good beginning is essential. I don’t need the ending to be tied up in a bow either, and often prefer a novel that is open ended. But I do need it to be satisfactory, even if I don’t know what happens to all the characters. Leaving speculation for your readers is a benefit I think.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Is the Beginning of a Novel more important than the Ending?My Profile

  7. I’ve been to England, but only briefly. And I’ve never been to California! Trying to do something about that. One day.

    Oh, you asked about novels – beginnings and endings. I’ll tell you about a movie, the one for The Hobbit. By the end, I was like … it took too long. And it wasn’t really the end. But as my son says, I’ll see the end (the last movie, I mean). Because I really did like the book, once upon a time. So there’s an example of a great beginning (my liking the book) pulling me in for life, even if parts of the movie(s) are dull.
    Leora recently posted..Tufted Titmouse, Coneflower, CardinalMy Profile

    • An interesting take on the issue Leora. Books and movies rarely have the same result for us, and tidal of the movie business to split the novel in two. Frustrating for you who felt part one was too long. Maybe once your son has seen the sequel, he’ll be motivated to read the book. There’s nothing like a novel that you carry with you for years.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Is the Beginning of a Novel more important than the Ending?My Profile

  8. At long last, she’s back! I guess as a reader and editor, strong beginnings matter the most to me. Yet, when I put this question into my writer’s perspective and the dickens of a time I’m having getting my novel finished, I would have to say endings matter much more. An beginning can only be awesome in my eyes if it leads up to a totally fitting (not necessarily) satisfying conclusion. With all the issues I’ve had writing my shitty first and second draft, I really wish I would have started with the ending already in place. I could have avoided much frustration that way. Life and learn 😉
    Jeri recently posted..Book Review: Rapunzel by Molly GreeneMy Profile

    • Hey Jeri! Thanks for the welcome:-) I can see we’re both on the same page with this issue. Definitely different perspective depending on what hat you’re wearing. While I always have an ending in mind when I start a novel, things change as you write so the original ending might not be applicable. I do feel a slightly uneasy approaching the end, as it’s the real moment of truth as to whether you’ve been able to carry the whole thing off. Kind of performance anxiety I guess. Thanks for your comment.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Is the Beginning of a Novel more important than the Ending?My Profile

  9. Agree wity you completely, AK. The beginning and end of a book are crucial. And the same applies to articles, or any text for that matter. If you don’t draw readers into the text you will lose them. And if the ending is not satisfying they will not read what you write again.

    Like your analogy of comparing a book to life. “Life and literature really are all about the journey, and that journey continues ad infinitum”, is spot on. On a continouos basis we start new chapters in our life. If not, imagine how boring it would be.
    Catarina recently posted..CSR & Sustainability – capitalism at its bestMy Profile

    • I like what you’ve said about different chapters Catarina- phases of our life really are like that, breaking it up into smaller or larger pieces depending how big picture you want to go. And that’s a good point that the importance/ relationship of beginning and end is the same with articles. Good lesson to keep in mind once more for a blog post. Thank you.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Is the Beginning of a Novel more important than the Ending?My Profile

  10. It is so good to see you back AK. I get that about how long things take as apposed what we think. It is quite and undertaking to move 6,000 miles. But the best news is we are too far away form each other and can visit each other. As for your question. To me, the beginning and ending need to be connected in some way or it leaves the reader without a place to go. 🙂
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  11. Thanks so much Susan! Great to have a warm welcome:-)) It’s good to be back. Def. a big plus we’re not too far from each other. Leaving the reader without a place to go is an excellent way of putting it. It leaves us with a place to touch down at all the key points in the novel and properly determine how they relate. Good to ‘ see ‘ you again:-)
    A.K.Andrew recently posted..Is the Beginning of a Novel more important than the Ending?My Profile

  12. Welcome back to America, A.K. I believe any piece of copy — whether a book or a blog — needs a grabber to get the reader into the piece. So the opening is crucial. However, I have to say that I’m often disappointed with endings. Many authors don’t know how to move deliberately to the ending, tying together the plot points for the reader. So often the author will rush the ending in the last few pages. You can tell there is no logic to it. I love when an ending is so satisfying that I’m sorry to put the book down. So endings are crucial, too.
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  13. Before I even read your last section (Coming Full Circle) I was thinking to myself how I wanted to feel once I finished a book. I think my two answers are satisfied and hopeful. There’s nothing worse than to finish a book and think, “What? That’s it? That’s all I get?” Especially when you know you’re approaching the end…the final pages…the anticipation is that the end is satisfying. Unless you’re reading such a good book that you’re already at peace with the words coming to an end. For me that’s the best kind. And I think that’s where your analogy comes into play. I have never thought about this before and it’s quite interesting.

    I am a relatively new member of this BHB group and it’s been fun reading blogs, getting to know others and seeing unfamiliar faces. Welcome back!

    I am in Central California while my husband is here working. We’ve have great fun exploring the state as our free time will allow. From the coast to the mountains, vineyards and orchards, this past year for us has been quite adventurous. I hope you are happy to be back in California!

    • Thanks so much for your insightful comment Pamela! and good to meet you. I am happy to be back in California, and glad you’re enjoying the state too. The anticipation of the novel’s ending is really tough sometimes- is the author going to satisfy you or not? It’s such a relief when it happens, and then you’re sad the book has ended. Wow & we call this fun? Just kidding, obviously I love reading.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Is the Beginning of a Novel more important than the Ending?My Profile

  14. A.K.! Pictures are beautiful. I am a reader and I am a big lover of Hans Christian Andersen tales, but most of his tales have bad endings. I was crying when I was a child and I am crying now, when I read them to my daughter and I am always tempted to look at the last page, when I have a new book…
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  15. I think the beginning is more important. In today’s fast paced world if you don’t hook them in the beginning they won’t stay with you until the end. My husband spent most of his adult life in the UK so your pictures held more meaning for me. They also complimented your story very well. Nice to see you back on your blog!
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  16. I love reading your post. I am a native from San Francisco and truly miss it, so I enjoyed seeing your photos. I live on the east coast now and there is a big difference. The beginning of a novel needs to grab you so you want to read the end. If the ending is poor it will be last time you read that author’s work.

  17. This is such a great post and I love how you incorporate pictures to show the differences and make your point. I think both beginnings and endings are of prime importance. In my Christmas novella, A Christmas Wedding To Die For, I had to have an ending that had the bride and her bridegroom getting married at the end. I mean, it was loosely based on Romeo and Juliet and started with the bride almost dying so how could they NOT have a HEA at the end. I suspect my readers wouldn’t have been happy either.

    At Thrillerfest this year Michael Palmer made a good point when he said a good ending was vital to the book and should be thought out before you start. He made the point that if you go to a movie and it has a good ending, even if the rest of the movie isn’t that good, the ending sticks with the viewer and will be talked about for years. A bad ending can destroy an otherwise good story

    So a good opening draws the reader in, a good ending leaves the reader feeling satisfied, even if it’s not a HEA.

  18. You are very fortunate to be living in Northern CA. I spent 4 months there last year and loved it, especially the weather. As a non-fiction author and published poet, I agree that the beginning of a story in any genre is critically important for captivating and keeping the attention of the reader. That said, if I don’t like the ending of a story, I may not read more from that author, unless the ending is disturbing to the point where it lingers in my thoughts for a long time, in which case I might read more of the author’s work. When I began as a poet, I learned that even in poetry, it is very important to come full-circle with a conclusion to what you are writing about. This is what keeps the work cohesive in the mind of the reader and without it, no matter how well-written the work, you are not really telling a story. As far as endings are concerned, the goal is not to hold the reader captive till the end of the book, but to keep them wanting more.

    • That’s interesting that you should relate the analogy of a circle in your own work in poetry. I think you have brilliantly hit the nail on the head in saying the goal of the ending is not to keep them captive , but to leave them wanting more. A little like the writing adage ‘ come in late & leave early.’ Thanks so much for your comment and stopping by the site. Happy to connect:-)
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Is the Beginning of a Novel more important than the Ending?My Profile

  19. I thought I had the answer straight away – the beginning. But now, I am not so sure…..
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  20. Hurrah! After all I got a website from where I be able to truly
    get useful data regarding my study and knowledge.
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