Dear Writer Revisited: Letter Three

Top and Tail

When I last left you, dear reader, we were discussing why adjectives and adverbs are very very naughty little words.  Today, we are talking about the bread of the sandwich that is your novel, and that is beginnings and endings.

By we, I mean that Virginia O'Day is talking about those things.  I am just talking about Virginia talking about them.  Oi.  Confusing!  But we carry on. 

Virginia counsels writer to pay close attentions to her beginnings and endings.  These things are important because they influence the lasting effect your story will have on a reader, and also whether or not they read it at all.  Beginnings and endings occur in many places throughout your work.  Paragraphs, chapters and entire works all have them, and as a writer, Virginia warns that you must be brave enough to ruthlessly edit and even cut them.  You don't have to go down to the sentence level with a fine toothed comb though.  I mean, come on, you're not Proust. 

We return to an examination of the florid opening paragraph to Writer's story.  Virginia explains that she feels as if the real story is obscured behind this winding up period in which Writer is merely describing the story's inner landscape as it exists in her imagination, and that the second paragraph, which begins with a character, ya know, doing something, is where the real interest lies.

She then goes onto a tangent in which she talks about characters names.  Frankly, I feel as if this could use a chapter all in itself!  It seems to be only slightly linked to the idea of beginnings, but nonetheless, it is there.  Names, Virginia says, can be used as a form of specific detail that help to set a character in the mind of the reader without obscuring the action needed in a story's opening.  Names must be consistent with age and personality.  Names must not be caricatures.  For great examples of names, see the work of Dickens.  (and as a side note, Hard Times in particular.  Oh gosh, Mr Gradgrind and Mr Bounderby.)

Phillip 'Pip' Pirrip... mistake... or genius??

We must remember that it is not necessary to set the scene for the entire story straight away; therefore it is not good to begin a story with an in depth description of a character or a setting because that will make your reader fall asleep.  Not stated in the book explicitly is that you should start with a character in a scene doing something, or something happening that will soon affect your character, but I just thought I would add that.  Opening sentences need to be vague enough not to give the game away but fascinating enough that your character will want to read on.  Remember!  Be brave!  In writing, beginnings and endings are like training wheels.  The best bit is what happens when they come off.

This is a slightly shorter chapter with no writing exercises; great for beginners, but would possibly benefit from a bit more fleshing out.  What really sets this book apart from all the other How To Write books is the unique format that makes you feel as if you're getting advice from someone like an agent or editor, as opposed to some writer telling you about how it works for them, so I encourage readers to really go for it and take this book to heart.   


  1. Love thinking of beginnings and endings as training wheels -- the good bits happen when they come off! I WILL order this book. You're making it sound enticing ...

  2. Oh yay, that means I am doing my job right! It's definitely proving to be worth looking at, I am finding working through the chapters sort of like a checklist, or a crash revisitation course in all those basics that I sometimes think I am too far gone to remember. It's nice to touch base and make sure I'm not overcomplicating things for myself.

    The training wheels analogy was all me! Yay. I extrapolated the idea from the concept in the book.

  3. Glen Hunting9/13/2013 12:28 pm

    My wariness of the Twitterverse persists, so I will ask the questions it raised for me here: What's going on with your bad dreams? And what did your pleasant daydream about being published entail?

  4. Ah yes... the bad dreams. I have a lot on my plate right now and it just seems like I won't be getting much rest even when I am sleeping, sadly. As for the daydream, I daydreamed that QWC/ Hachette called me with a yes, the editing process went like a dream, and that I got to do a book launch at work. It was heavenly.


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