Bridging the distance between beginnings and endings


If you live in the Vancouver, BC area, bridges are essential conduits. You may start out knowing your destination, but you aren’t likely to get there without travelling over a bridge or two. It’s all part of the charm and challenge of living in a coastal city.

As I travelled home via the Golden Ears Bridge the other day I was reminded that getting around the city is much like navigating the first draft of a novel.

Most of my novels originate from a mental image of a character. Once I’ve explored the who, what, why, where and when aspects of that image, I have a place to start. With the character’s situation clearly defined, my next step is to determine the character’s goal – i.e., what’s the destination, the point of the journey?

Then I have to find a way to bridge the distance between beginning and end. I need to know what interferes with the character’s ability to move from the starting point to the destination. Without obstacles there is no conflict, nothing to entice the reader to accompany this character on the journey.  Without conflict the trip is nothing more than a boring documentary about the scenery along the way.

What makes some writers excellent navigators, while others are mediocre tour guides?

We often hear of the importance of beginnings, middles and endings, and that’s the way some ‘pantsers’ proceed. They make a start and wander the highways and byways in search of an uncertain destination. I’m inclined to think the order of importance should be beginnings, endings and middles. I guess that makes me more of a planner than a pantser. I don’t do well trying to outline, but I have to have some idea of where I’m going before I turn the key in the ignition.

How do you get from the beginning to the end in your writing? How do you determine the kind of bridge you’ll use?


16 thoughts on “Bridging the distance between beginnings and endings

  1. Laura Best says:

    I begin with a character and start building from there. Once I know a bit more about them I know what their goal will be in the story. I’m not always sure in the beginning if they’ll actually achieve this goal or even how. Guess that makes me a panster. Sometimes I like being surprised along the way. It makes the journey that much more interesting..

    Great post, Carol!

  2. Since my stories are character driven, I must agree with Laura. It’s like letting someone take you down the garden path … you never know what waits for you around the bend 🙂

    As always Carol, a very thoughtful post.

  3. Shari Green says:

    Oh how I love that old wooden bridge…. 🙂

    I usually know the general beginning and ending before I start writing. And then I end up where I am now, lol: with a great opening and closing to my WIP and a very muddied middle! Maybe that’s telling me I should plan more, but I can’t say outlining has ever been my friend. I like pantsing my way through the middle, figuring things out, surprising myself. It’s a lot of work, though! But when you come ’round a bend and discover an old wooden bridge that’ll take you exactly where you need to go, that’s a glorious thing indeed. 😉

  4. Writing, like traveling, requires practice to get it right. Writers who are not so good at navigating either don’t have the skills, or they just haven’t traveled the city well enough to know it. If that analogy makes sense at all!

  5. I especially liked this post on bridges and the need to connect the beginning and ending of a story. There is so much involved in that, and it is a great metaphor. But I liked the bridge metaphor for my own purposes. I’m in the midst of a re-write of my current WIP, Sofi’s Bridge. So this gives me more room for thought.

  6. Good morning to all, and thanks for contributing your thoughts on today’s topic. I’m loving the different explanations of how you travel the distance in your novels. 🙂

  7. Middles are always hard. I think it’s the ability to navigate the middle of a novel that lets a writer “graduate” to the next level. It’s why finishing a project is so darn hard. The beginning and ending are solid in our brains, but the middle is just one soggy mess that has to be slogged through. I think this is where other writers come in very handy as sounding boards or beta readers.

  8. joylene says:

    Great question. Generally, my novels start with the question, “What if?” That comes after my protagonist is visible and making an impact. What’s wrong with him? His wife has died and his daughter hates him. Why? Because he wasn’t able to protect her mother? Why? What does he need to survive this tragedy? He must discover why his wife was killed and bring the guilty to justice. How? He’s not sure, but he’s willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.

    That’s how one of my current WIPs began. I had an image of the ending, the beginning, but I knew the real story was the middle. All I had to do was watch, listen, and record everything.

    Sounds simple? LOL. It never is.

  9. My story has a plot that sucks in all the characters. It seemed that wherever the plot went, the characters were sure to follow, with emotions high, and conflict strong. Only three days pass from start to finish, yet each life is changed by those three days. The end is a new beginning tied in beautiful strands of gratitude and hope for the future.

    I wish I could find the moments to invest in getting this last revision finished. It’s doable, I think. I just need to get into it and stay in. Great post and photos! Blessings to you, Carol…

  10. Terri Tffany says:

    I am still working on this one–my middles are better with each new book though. Building in conflict has helped.

  11. There’s lots of agreement about those middles. The conflict that gets us through them must continue to escalate. I recall Donald Maass saying we have to think of the worst possible thing that could happen to our protagonist, and then make it happen. Then when he overcomes that situation give him a worse one to deal with. Make him go through the unthinkable. It sounds doable in theory but deciding on those situations can be a challenge, can’t it?

  12. I usually know the ending better than the beginning, and think of key scenes for the middle before figuring out exactly where to start. I guess I’m a bit backwards.

  13. karen evans says:

    Ha, seems like I have to travel all the bridges and then figure out the way home. 🙂

  14. elderfox says:

    AM HOME!
    As to “bridges” apparently mine have been the draw bridge kind that is caught in an open / \ position and that space in the middle is (has been) always a wide leap, i.e., finding the problems/conflict\to make it over to the end of the ride.


    • What a wonderful extension of the analogy! But stuck drawbridges sure do make the journey difficult. I hope you soon figure out a convenient detour so you can complete the trip. 🙂

  15. Anon says:

    I love that sky view picture, it’s beautiful.

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