Beginnings, endings, and transitions


Two teachers I worked with this year recommended fire and heat at the beginning of our stories.

Writer, teacher, editor Dinty Moore uses the metaphor of a fire burning in the forest when talking about flash fiction and memoir. As a writer sparking a reader’s interest, you don’t have time to let them be a hiker strolling in the woods, begin to smell smoke, and investigate. The reader needs to be a “smoke jumper.”  You start them “at the edge of the fire, or as close as one can get without touching the actual flame.”

Julia Green says, “Start hot!” Begin with something compelling, perhaps a problem, conflict, or question. Maybe you start with an intriguing scene. In revision, the writer asks herself, “What have I given my reader that will make them want to keep reading?”

Look at the difference between these two openings of my mother’s story. The original, a meandering; the revision, the start of a scene.

A.           This was the day we’d dreaded, cried about, and feared.  Ironically, the      time had both dragged and sped by, but before we knew it, we were down to         “her day,” as the hospice nurse called it. Within 15 hours after my sister           Reenié arrived. 

B.       The hospice nurse sat at our mother’s bedside when my   sister Reenié and I rushed in at the care home where Mom had lived those last    three weeks of May 2003. 


Get out of the scene or end the piece at the right moment. Don’t linger long after the resolution or the answer to the question. When I went back to Mom’s Story, I realized I could cut the entire final paragraph to serve the story (and the reader) much better.


Sometimes paragraphs or sentences need to be shuffled around for smoother transitions.  Adding a sentence or two may help things flow. Putting in line breaks allow the reader to rest or reflect, or they move the story forward to a new time or place.

In my latest version of mom’s story, I’ve divided it into three sections with line breaks in between. First, there’s the scene where we get the word about her imminent passing and how to provide comfort care. Next, how the day went for all of us—what we (and she) did for her and for us. Third, afterward—how we handled a challenging circumstance and how we came to see it.

Paying attention to the beginning, ending, and transitions made a huge difference for my story, making it more accessible for readers and boosting my revision confidence.

How are you coming along with your revisions?

~ xoA

Uncategorized writing

Moving Along with Revision

To get started with the revision process, we wrote a summary and looked at the whole piece. Next, Julia Green (whose revision workshop I’m basing these posts on) advises moving to the “line level,” where every line or sentence should be relevant to the summary, and noticing whether each bit of the text advances the story.

Line by Line

If something doesn’t contribute to the story, think about and look for instances where you’re bored or beginning to skim. If you’re bored, your readers will be, too. Mark that spot.

Are there places where things happen too fast—or too slow? Do you expect something to happen, but it doesn’t?

Do you wonder about something that’s missing and begin questioning the characters or text? Jot down those questions.

Does the piece need more background information or a more specific setting to ground the reader?

What about the dialogue and action? Would your character (a frustrated teen-aged girl, a compassionate dad, a mugger, a ______) really speak or behave this way?

Is the character’s motivation or desire clear?

Bird by Bird

This is a lot to look at and digest here. SO start with just one thing; don’t try to fix everything at once. Start with one area that feels accessible.

Do you need to go back and look at your character work-up to see his motivation, what he holds dear, his height and weight, or ways he would never behave?

Would your story benefit from you listening in on folks’ conversations or watching a movie or YouTube video of similar characters to catch their speech patterns and vocabulary?

Maybe beginning to write the answers to the questions that arose would be helpful as a starting point.

Once More

Try anything. Everything will reveal something about the piece and doing something is better than doing nothing.

Look for one more upcoming post on Revision. Bird. By. Bird.  ~ xoA

Stock photo. Photographer unknown.


Thumb’s Up for Revision

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

Over the 18 years since my mother’s death, I wrote, revised, and excerpted her story several times. But when writer, teacher, and coach Julia Green asked us, attendees of her Revision Workshop, to bring a piece to practice on, I looked in my memoir files, and Mom’s story jumped up, raised its hand, and said, “me, me!”

Following Julia’s prompts and directions provided me the motivation to give this important-to-me story another go and it’s so much better. It might even be the final copy.

About revision

We use two different parts of our brain when we go from first draft to revision. In the first draft, we have an idea or a starting point, and we download as much as we can come up with onto the page, in any form that comes.

When we revise, the analytical part of our brain kicks in and goes to work. Our job is to elevate the piece, and Julia says, “Revision is any attempt to improve the writing.” That includes rewriting existing material, cutting, adding, reordering, reorganizing, and crafting images and language.

As writers we sometimes are stumped about where to begin and how. Julia encouraged us to try things because everything will reveal something about the piece and doing something is better than doing nothing.

Instead of judging, read with curiosity

Re-read and ask what the piece is about, whether you see a theme or patterns. This first step proved to be helpful for me. In writing a three-sentence summary and noticing a pattern that threw the story in a different direction, I became motivated to dive into revising this story again.

Other important aspects to observe are where emotional and/or physical reactions occur; what’s the conflict, problem, question, or mission of the piece; and what or who has changed by the end.

Get started

Print out a short piece or section, 3-5 pages you want to work on. Read it aloud, with curiosity. And mark it up. Make notes in the margins. Write a three-sentence summary of the piece. Does it match what you thought the piece was about when you wrote it? If you’re working on a longer piece with chapters or sections, it’s helpful to write a summary at each of those points.

I’ll be sharing more about revision in the next few blog posts. Meanwhile, keep writing. Remember, if you don’t have something written, you can’t revise. ~xoA