Have you ever heard the advice: the beginning of your story should be an ending? Did you then think: what does that even mean? Despite the contradiction, this advice is helpful when thinking about the structure of a story. How is a beginning an ending? Read on to find out.
I can’t remember where I first heard this advice, but the example that went with it stuck in my mind. The beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has multiple endings. Harry’s parents die, 12 years pass, and at the “end” of the beginning, Harry leaves the Muggle world and goes to Hogwarts. Here’s another one: the transition in The Hunger Games is when Katniss ends her time as a citizen of District 12 and becomes a Tribute. Similar to Katniss’ transformation, Zetian in Iron Widow leaves her village to enlist in the army and avenge her sister’s death.
In these examples, the plot device that ends one story starts another and is a catalyst for character growth. On the surface, this advice sounds like you should dip out at the end of Act 1, but the heart of it is instead about transformation. The “ending” of the beginning should not be an obvious one, but instead a link between parts of the story and phases in a character’s life.
“A beginning should be an ending” is also advice about starting your plot in the right place. We don’t need to know a character’s whole life before the inciting incident because it is another story. Start your story in the place where your character will cross a bridge from one part of their life to another, and if they have a hand in it, even better, this shows an active character.
Do all stories have obvious endings in the beginning? No. Sometimes the “ending” is simply an end to a character’s passivity, or a step in the right direction to their goal.
There’s one more thing I’d like to dismantle about this advice, and it’s that there can be multiple places in a story where an ending can happen. The midpoint can be an ending, closing one subplot and starting another. A character’s motivation can change anywhere in the story, ending their desire for something. The climax is also an “end” to the conflict in most cases.
And when I think long enough about endings, I remember that the best conclusions aren’t endings at all, but beginnings of new stories. Cliffhangers come to mind too, and first books in a series that set up the sequel. And these “ends” don’t feel like endings either.
So what should we take away from all this, besides the fact that semantics are the Devil? Well, the place you start your story is important. There shouldn’t be too much expedition, and your character should transform in some way, even if it’s only the change from a passive to active character.
As I come to the end of this article, I realize I don’t have the right way to finish. Maybe that’s poetic, or this topic doesn’t have a right conclusion. Either way, I hope this article gives you something to think about when you outline your stories, and happy writing.
is a writer based in North Carolina. She attends writing classes of all kinds at UNC Chapel Hill and has a particular fondness for sharp imagery. In her free time, she drafts her own novels.
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