Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress is one of the best writing how-to’s that I’ve read, yet. The book is targeted at both novelists and short story writers of any experience. Kress assumes little writing theory on the part of the reader and yet manages to be neither patronizing nor cliché when explaining basics (I swear some books are written from the same template – not this one!) Kress also takes care to emphasize that different writers work in different ways, addressing the “pantsters”, who like to write without plotting, acknowledging that, for them, most of the advice will be relevant only after the first draft is done (but it will be relevant.)
So what’s so good about this book? In short: it focuses on the writing. There’s no showing off the author’s understanding of Georges Polti, or proving that she bleeds Joseph Campbell. There are no structure formulas (three acts with seven turning points, no nine sequences, no 18 dips and crests of the roller coaster,) Kress has written a book which focuses on what you, the writer, need to know and do to organize your story’s structure. Not that there’s no theory, there’s plenty, but it’s all contextual, so it is clear how to apply it. How does Kress do this? Well – ahem – it’s how the book is structured.
The title of the book is its structure. Starting with Beginnings, Kress discusses everything that needs to be considered when writing a beginning, which, of course, touches on everything from characterization, to language, to how the beginning effects the middle and the end. She acknowledges writers who find beginnings easy and offers assistance for those who find them difficult, addressing the various reasons one can become stuck while writing a beginning. Kress then gives the same detailed treatment for each of Middle and End, followed by a section on Revision.
I highly recommend this book to any writer, whether they are new to writing and don’t know where to begin, or are wallowing uncertainly in a WIP. I particularly recommend this book to structure-phobics because, whether they think about it consciously while writing a first draft or not, a writer needs to know their craft and this book is a pain-free way to learn. I’ll be putting this one on the #storycraft Book Chat list.