How to Structure the Beginning and Ending of Your Book

One of the most important decisions you make as a writer is how to structure the beginning and ending of your book. Perhaps the one thing that most distinguishes a book from real life is the fact that a book has a beginning and an ending. In real life, stories don’t end. Even death doesn’t end some stories. And birth isn’t so much a beginning as a continuation of the greater story of human life itself.

When you write a book, you must choose where to begin and end a story that presumably is continuing and will continue for years. Mostly, this decision will be guided by the story’s primary conflict. When that conflict heats up, you know the story now has enough oomph to begin. When that conflict is resolved, the story will have lost steam and must end.

What writers sometimes miss is that beginnings and endings are not separate entities. Rather, they are integrally related halves of a whole. If they don’t fit together perfectly, the entire book can’t help but suffer.

How to Structure the Beginning and Ending of Your Book

How to Structure the Beginning of Your Book

Your beginning is your hook. This is where you introduce your characters, the world in which they live—and, perhaps most importantly, the stakes that will drive the central conflict. A good beginning must include each of the following elements (which I discuss in more depth in my book Structuring Your Novel):

1. The Hook (i.e., something that piques readers’ curiosity).

2. Your protagonist’s Normal World (by way of contrast with what will happen to disrupt that world later on).

3. An introduction to the main conflict (or a foreshadowing of that conflict, if it’s yet to really heat up).

4. Your protagonist’s greatest Need and the Lie Your Character Believes (which interferes with gaining the Need).

5. Your protagonist’s greatest Want (which is probably different from the Need, and which may even be at odds with that Need).

6. Your book’s dramatic question (a summation of the plot’s main thrust: e.g., “Will the undercover cop survive infiltrating and taking down the Mob?” as in Takedown by Rick Cowan and Douglas Century).

Examine a handful of the scenes you feel might be a good place to open your book. Which scene offers the best opportunities for including all of the above? Once you’ve found that scene, you’ve found your beginning.

How to Structure the Ending of Your Book

Finding the proper place to end your book is often easier than figuring out where to begin it. When a book is over, you just sense it. The conflict has been resolved, the characters have what they need, and, frankly, your interest begins to peter out. But always double-check your instincts by matching them against the following list of necessities for a good ending.

Does your ending include…?

1. Climactic moment (i.e., resolution of main conflict).

2. Denouement (in which your protagonist reacts to the events of the Climax).

3. Tying off of loose ends and subplots (particularly those that involved characters not present in the Climax).

4. Establishment of new Normal World (or comparison of new normal with old, or a final glimpse of old normal as the protagonist turns away from it).

5. Proof of your characters’ transformed lives now that they’ve found the Thing Your Character Needs.

6. Demonstration of happiness now your characters have gained what the Thing Your Character Wants (or demonstration of how their priorities have changed, if they did not gain what they wanted).

7. Answer to the dramatic question.

You never want your book to run on too long after the main conflict has ended. Figure out which post-Climax scene or scenes will allow you to check all these necessities off your list, and then go for it.

How to Tie Your Beginning and Ending Together

Next Level Plot Structure (Amazon affiliate link)

In tying your beginning and ending together, pay particular attention to your book’s dramatic question. This question provides parameters to help you keep the entire book on focus. Even more importantly, it will also be the opening parenthesis that joins with the ending’s closing parenthesis to bracket your book. The beginning asks a question; the ending answers it. Simple as that.

>>Click here to read more about to link your story’s ending and beginning with chiastic structure

Allow your story’s beginning to introduce the elements that will be present in your ending. Then allow your ending to answer the beginning’s plot and theme questions and reinforce its imagery. When you bring your story full circle by creating a beginning and ending that work together as two parts of a whole, you will have created a stronger and more resonant book.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What’s your favorite trick for how to structure the beginning and ending of your book? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Ralph Bullis says

    I still consider “Outlining Your Story” as a must have reference.

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