BlogThe Craft of Writing

Beginning, Middle, and End

What is Your Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?

If stories are about change and scenes need to have an inciting incident, complications, crisis, climax, and resolution, how do you deal with the global story?

This is the last question you should consider before starting your novel (or after you’ve let your draft sit a while). That is, you should be able to answer how your story hooks, builds, and pays off.

When you start writing a global story, the inciting incident also answers how it will end. It will, of course, depend on the genre you’re writing in. If you want to write a murder mystery, it starts with the discovery of a dead body. And it ends once the protagonist discovers who the killer is. Whether justice prevails or not, the novel ends once the questions from its beginning are answered.

Your genre sets your reader’s expectation. It makes promises that need to be answered. Knowing your genre will also help you come up with your beginning and end. That only leaves the dreaded middle to figure out before starting.

And, the middle build isn’t as bad as it seems. If your love story starts with the scene where the couple meets, and the end answers the question as to whether or not they will end up together, the middle must raise the stakes of their relationship. It should also include the necessary scenes and conventions of a love story such as the couples break up, but I’ve already talked about that.

The key is that you should know the hook, build, and payoff in one sentence each.

Meaning, you should be able to write 3 sentences that describe your beginning, middle, and end before you start writing. That way, when you’re in the middle of writing your novel, you can refer back to your sentences whenever you get lost in the weeds.

For example, The Hunger Games can be written in three sentences.

  • Beginning: Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games and enters the world of the capital to prepare.
  • Middle: Katniss has to survive the games.
  • End: Katniss decides what she’s willing to do in order to make it back home.

Yes, you can write the sentences differently. And, though I cannot claim Suzanne Collins had these in mind before she started writing, I can say that knowing where you are headed will make writing easier.

Having a plan helps raise the stakes.

The beginning of The Hunger Games ends when Katniss is forced into a new environment. In the middle, Katniss must survive the games. And the end follows the choices she must make in order to make it back home.

Knowing all of this helps add in scenes to raise the stakes. If Katniss must acclimate to The Capital, why not make The Capital beyond fantastical? Why not have scenes that put her in front of the kids trying to kill her? Why not give her an ally that reminds her of the sister she wanted to save? And if the end asks her to make a choice in order to get back home, why not have that be the most difficult choice she’s ever had to make?

The beginning, middle, and end sentences are the core of the story. As Shawn says, they are the map that keeps you going. You might not know the exact route you have to take, but you know the general cities you have to get to and where you’ll end up along the way. Your 3 sentences are your map.

What else do you need to know?

Once again, there are 6 questions you should answer before starting your novel:

  • What is the global genre?
  • What are the conventions and obligatory scenes?
  • Is there a consistent POV and Narrative Device?
  • What are the Objects of Desire?
  • What’s the controlling idea/theme?
  • And, what is the beginning hook, middle build, and ending payoff?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you during the grueling process of writing your novel. If you can’t get a handle on them yourself, I’m available to talk you through the process. Schedule a free consultation today.

Also, let me know in the comments how the process of writing is working for you and what you’re stuck on. I’ll help in any way I can.

In the future, I’m going to do a Stories that Work Series. In it, I’ll analyze how and why scenes work. Let me know which stories you’d like to see me look at.

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