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

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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Writing #Location as #Character

 

West Pier 1929
Picture courtesy Of Royal Pavilion Museums, Brighton & Hove

In many works of fiction, location is so vital to the heart of the book, it’s essentially another ‘character’. This doesn’t apply to all novels, but in others the author  creates a location, just like a character, that’s incredibly memorable whether real or imaginary. To me this is part of the beauty of reading – I’m transported to Leningrad  in Helen Dunmore’s The Siege, Newfoundland in Annie Proulx’s Shipping News, or to a mythical place  “off the edge of the map” in the sizzling debut novel Snake Ropes, by Jess Richards.

As a writer, I think about the location almost before anything else. To me, that sets the scene, and from there the theme and characters can grow and live and become as three-dimensional as characters in a novel can be.

I currently live in Brighton UK. It’s on the south coast of England and is surrounded by the chalky cliffs of the South Downs. Think ‘White Cliffs of Dover’, and that’s what they look like. There have been a number of novels and films set here, the most famous being Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’.

The book was written in 1938, and the original film made in 1947 with a very young Richard Attenborough as ‘Pinkie.’

West Pier Brighton 9th Dec. 1973
by Slbs

The underworld of violence and crime is juxtaposed against the perception of Brighton as a fashionable resort only fifty miles away from London.  In the film,   location is key  – Brighton railway station with the beautiful arched ironwork, characteristic Brighton architecture of tall, sweeping  terraces  painted cream, and of course the pier, where many scenes, including the finale are filmed. My most vivid memory from first reading the book as a teenager, was Pinkie pouring vitriol onto the wooden railing of the pier to frighten his girlfriend – what would happen if it was thrown in her face! Scary stuff back then.

English: West Pier on fire, March 28, 2003, Br...

West Pier on fire, March 28, 2003, Brighton, UK. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There used to be two piers in Brighton – the West Pier, and the Palace Pier. The West Pier was closed in 1975, and burnt down in 2003.The remaining Pier is now simply called Brighton Pier. But the West Pier, now the town’s very own metal sculpture, stranded about 50 yards from the shore, has become an icon as well as something of a bird sanctuary. In the winter a murmeration of starlings appears and swirls between the two piers finally coming to land on the West Pier.

In thinking of location as a key part of a novel, as vital as the main protagonist, I thought about the West Pier as that character. Starting as the darling of the Victorian era, coming into her heyday when the British seaside tourist trade gets under way in the 1920’s and 30’s. Eventually, like an aging dowager she starts to get a little tarnished and shunned by everyone. She falls into disrepair, and is closed off. Finally, in mirroring the fate of Miss Faversham in Great Expectations, the West Pier is set alight, and any thought of restoration vanishes .

 

 Brighton West Pier at sunset with a f...

Brighton West Pier at sunset with a murmeration of starlings

Once she’s stripped to a skeletal structure, she takes her place in today’s history as a modern sculpture, a new landmark icon for the city of Brighton.

What a story you could weave around the life and death of the West Pier. Mmmm… maybe for my next novel.

Now it’s your turn. Is location important to you when you read a novel? If you wrote a book set in the place you live, what kind of novel would it be? 

I’d love to hear your ideas.

West Pier, Brighton. Hand-tinted by A.K.Andrew

 

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