Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review of Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress

In tackling the three puzzle pieces which comprise every novel, acclaimed science-fiction writer Nancy Kress has essentially volunteered herself to explain the workings of the entire novel. One can’t help but wonder how so much necessary information can be packed into a book of such diminutive size, but Kress pulls it off and then some.

She begins, in very apropos fashion, with three chapters on beginnings. I bought the book specifically for these three chapters, hoping they might help me overcome what was a consistent stumbling block. Kress doesn’t offer slam-bang opening lines or never-fail hooks. What she does offer is the hard facts of how a beginning must function in a novel. Likewise, the chapters on middles and ends don’t make any pretense of helping one write the next best seller. But with the aid of Kress’s straightforward, succinct suggestions, one can certainly find a solid base for at least taking a shot at bestseller status.

Citing solid examples from literature and some of her own writings, she presents the foundational blocks of the writing craft in simple, easily grasped terms that cut to the heart of the problems many writers struggle with. Kress does more than teach writers how to write solid beginnings, middles, and ends; she helps us understand why the underlying techniques succeed or fail. One of the few books in my writing library that I would label indispensable, Beginnings, Middles & Ends is an incisive and intelligent look at the core of the craft.

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