At YA Outside the Lines, they've been blogging about beginnings, middles, and ends. I've greatly enjoyed the posts, but they've also made me realize I am a somewhat strange creature among writers:
I like middles best.
Writers complain about middles a lot. Most people prefer the excitement, the freshness and potential, of a beginning; or they like the satisfaction of wrapping up a project. Middles often get a bad rap. They're seen as a slog. They're vulnerable to deflation or detours or stasis.
But I think of middles as the real story, the place where everything happens. The beginning and end are there because they have to be. It's like cutting a variegated thread: how do you know where to make the first cut, and the last? If you cut here, you omit that beautiful turquoise shade, but if you cut there, the thread seems way too long ... The search for the perfect place to make that cut is what drives me crazy about beginnings and endings.
If I have an idea for a story about, let's say, a bunch of people trapped in a burning building, the middle is obvious, and it will be full of action and suspense. For most of this story, people will be running around trying to put out the fire or escape from the building (or both), and they will probably discover things they didn't know about themselves and others in the process. There's the middle. But where should this story start: When the fire starts? Or before, to show how and why the fire starts? Or when the fire's already raging? If it starts before the fire, how long before the fire? These are the kinds of questions I ponder with beginnings. I'll have similar trouble with the end: Does the story end right when the fire is out? Or is there some time for the survivors to process the aftermath? Who makes it out of the fire and who doesn't?
Usually, I can start writing as soon as I have a good beginning--and by good, I mean one that excites me enough that I have the energy to move on to the next sentence, and the next, and the next. Certainly I will flounder in the middle, and take some wrong turns, and get stuck. But the middle is where everything's in play, where patterns emerge, where suspense builds.