I’m adding the final touches to the workshop I’m going to be giving next Sunday… it’s a writing workshop (of course) and it’s thinking about beginnings, middles and ends… how to have an engaging start, a middle that doesn’t flag, and a satisfactory end that doesn’t just fizzle out. I’ve been looking back over what I’ve written previously about the structure of a story or a book – or in fact any piece of writing, and here is something I wrote about beginnings:
Endings are vital… satisfactory endings are compulsory but beginnings have to leap off the page and grab your reader. The words have to mesmerise them and pull them in under your spell.
- My favourite book:
“The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all.”
- The book I’m reading at the moment:
“I came into aviation the hard way.”
- A favourite book by a favourite author:
“The day they drowned Dendale I were seven years old.”
My favourite children’s book:
- “The Old Sea-dog at the Admiral Benbow, Squire Trelawney, Dr Livesey, and the rest of the gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is treasure still not lifted, I take my pen in the year of grace 17_ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodgings under our roof.”
John le Carré, Neville Shute, Reginald Hill, Robert Louis Stevenson
There must be a difference between being an established author with a following who will read the latest book and may be willing to give a dull beginning a bit of a chance, to being a complete new comer to the world of books who has to do everything possible to lasso the reader.
John le Carré wrote “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” my all time favourite book and it was published in 1974, his seventh novel since 1961 so I guess he already had quite a following and his hero George Smiley had already featured in his other novels. Five years later it was made into an acclaimed TV series.
I am reading Neville Shute at the moment. “Round the Bend” was published over sixty years ago in 1951 and he was already a well established author.
Reginald Hill wrote many books under a variety of names; “On Beulah Heights” is one of my favourite of his Pasco and Dalziel novels and no doubt many people did as I did when it was first published, dash straight to the bookshop to get a copy!
Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s story of “Treasure Island” was his first major success as a writer; it is now a classic.
I think if you asked most writers – of any piece, what is the one thing which must be as good as they can make it, and that is the beginning… that is most often where you win – or lose, your readers.
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