Beginnings and Endings

Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear, I haven't yet come up with an exercise for beginnings and endings for the writing class. I think I'll steal something from Writing Fiction, but really, no, that's not going to work because the author doesn't quite focus on that particular aspect in detail.

Bad beginnings for essays: "Since the beginning of time..."
Bad beginnings for stories: "I woke up at 7 AM with the alarm clock."
Good beginnings for short stories: Start in a moment of crisis. Something is happening immediately. Let us know where and when we are. Let us know who the narrator is, who the characters are. Their gender or age shouldn't come as a surprise 1/3 of the way into the story either. 

Bad endings for essays: "And that's the whole truth and nothing but the truth and I'm sticking to it."
Bad endings for stories: "And it was all a dream. ---The End."

Pet peeves in endings:
Ah-ha, surprise endings. Unless you're O.Henry, don't do it. It's even irritating in his work.
I also don't like the vague, ambiguous ends where the writer says you can interpret however you want. I want the writer to know what she's trying to do, even if she doesn't exactly succeed.
Tied up in a bow ending. This is where everything comes together so neatly and perfectly that you can only use numerous adverbs to describe it.

Good advice about endings from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, "'Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'”

Here's what Joan Didion says about beginnings and endings in her interview from The Paris Review
(you can read the entire article here):

      You have said that once you have your first sentence you've got your piece. That's what Hemingway said. All he needed was his first sentence and he had his short story.

     What's so hard about that first sentence is that you're stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you've laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.

     The first is the gesture, the second is the commitment.

     Yes, and the last sentence in the piece is another adventure. It should open the piece up. It should make you go back and start reading from page one. That's how it should be, but it doesn't always work. I think of writing anything at all as a kind of high-wire act. The minute you start putting words on paper you're eliminating possibilities. Unless you're Henry James.

Maybe I'll create a quiz to see if students can tell the difference between good and bad first sentences?In the meantime, here are some photos of my super cool mom and her brothers:

And then again at church.