Do you spring clean? Do you preserve peaches in the summer or freeze apple pies in October? Did you move a tassel from one side of your graduation cap to another? Have you danced at your daughter’s wedding? Have you walked out of the oncologist’s office with a clean bill of health, cancer free? Do you write New Year’s resolutions?
If you have done any of those things then you’ve probably experienced the feeling of starting anew, moving from one season to another, beginning a new phase. It’s a good, clean slate feeling. You’re at the top of a ski trail, nothing but untouched powder on the run below. It’s exciting. It’s scary. You wouldn’t miss it for anything because, man, in this moment you’re completely alive.
Beginnings and endings are a lot alike. They’re a pivot, a leap, a weightless suspension that lasts a second but feels like it could go on forever. It’s a moment you’ll never forget yet is gone too soon.
So, when is the right moment in a protagonist’s experience to start his or her story? And when does that story truly end? If a story is about change, then the story begins with the protagonist’s apprehension that change is underway. By the same token the story has ended when that change has happened, both outside and in.
Authors often open with a dramatic event and end with a visual image. That’s fine but such choices don’t necessarily capture the feeling we have of arriving at defining moments in our lives.
Here’s a method for finding alternate opening and closing moments for your work in progress:
- In the early chronology of your story’s events, what’s the moment when your protagonist first knows that things are shifting…that something momentous is underway?
- What in particular causes your protagonist to realize that? What is different? What is different inside?
- In the late chronology of your story’s events, what’s the moment when your protagonist knows that he or she is beginning a new life?
- Also, what’s the first moment (at the story’s end) that signals the beginning of a new world? What in particular signals that?
- Have a look. Would those be good spots to begin and end?
Beginnings and endings are external, true enough. But they’re also personal. Go inside your protagonist to find where things truly start…and when they’re finally done.