Sunday, March 22, 2015

Beginnings and Endings by Alison Hart

Since I have been a prolific writer -- over 60 published books since 1987 -- I have had to tackle MANY beginnings and endings of books and beginning and endings of chapters.  Let's face it, life does not have clean plot arcs like the ones in stories.  There are many beginnings -- new jobs, new babies, new horses, new homes -- but few clean endings. And let's doubly face it -- the middles of our lives are a hot, muddled mess, and rarely are there satisfying resolutions to all the loose ends and crazy moments.

I wrestle with all beginnings and endings.  For historical fiction, I want to plunge my readers right into the characters and time period. Take the opening paragraph of Gabriel's Horses.  

"The wrap goes like this, Gabriel," Pa tells me as he tugs the strip of rag around the horse's front leg. Stooped in the straw, I watch with hawk eyes. When Pa shows me something, I  take note. Pa's the best horseman in Kentucky, and I am to follow in his path. Besides, any fool knows that wrapping a racehorse's legs right is almost as important as riding him right. 

And the ending?  If your readers have happily gone with you on the journey of your story, it's important to leave them satisfied.

Happiness fills me. I'm free. Free to be whatever I want and go where ever I choose.  Someday soon I'll ride on a famous racetrack like Saratoga. And one day I'll join Pa and the colored soldiers to fight for freedom for all slaves. But right now, I belong in this barn. With my courageous horses.

Not that I always manage satisfaction.  After Whirlwind came out (the sequel to Shadow Horse) I had many unsatisfied readers email with demands for a third book because I had left too many unanswered questions. Kind of like those messy endings of real life.

Writers also have beginnings and endings to projects, and often they overlap. Currently I have two deadlines (both about the same time). I have to revise Finder Coal Mine Dog and also come up with a finished idea/summary for as yet to be titled book about a sea dog traveling with Magellan.

Both projects require completely different skills.  For Sea Dog I am reading lots of kids books on Magellan before diving into a weighty tome and bouncing my thoughts/ideas in emails with my editor. (Magellan's voyage was a complex, violent trip spanning two years and of course, he was murdered before he made it around the world.)  For Finder I am reading comments and changing/clarifying text, which often requires fact-checking and word wrangling.

Beginnings and endings -- two important skills that an author must master (as best as she/he can!) in order to create great stories.

What beginnings and endings are you tackling?

1 comment:

Laura Crum said...

I admire your ability to keep on writing great stories, Alison. At the moment all I'm writing is journal entries and blog posts--which are quite simple to begin and end. Not so books (!)