A misconception I’ve run into amongst those who do not write is that the most important aspect of the story is how it ends. This is simply not true. It is not the end that matters the most. In truth, it is not the beginning either. In the grand scheme of things all of our stories begin and end the same way: birth and death. On the surface level, there is no difference. Yes, there are many different ways to die, just as there are many different ways to be born. But the emergence into life and the exit from life are expected as we all cycle through our years on this plain of existence.
What tends to be interesting is the time in between.
The people who help shape you traditionally do not enter and exit your life at birth and death (save, perhaps, for your parents who are usually the first people you meet). Rather, they appear as neighbors, moving into the empty house across the street when you’re five. They stumble into the fourth grade classroom that smells of stickers and paste and offer endearing smiles or horrifying grimaces. They stare at you from behind a cold, wooden desk in the back of a journalism class in 11th grade and say something like, “Contrary to popular belief, you’ll never be a writer unless you stop smoking so much damn weed.” They dance by at your sister’s wedding and flutter their eyes at you as though seeing you for the first time or maybe wanting to be seen for the first time, though you’ve known each other since you were children. They sign up for your class and dash all your preconceived notions of what a good student should act like.
Likewise, the decisions you make that make your life and the lives of those around you interesting usually occur while you’re stumbling through this mortal coil, not while you’re taking your first worried steps or gently succumbing to your last night. When you decide to elope with the girl you started dating a little over a year ago, you are doing it in the middle of your story. When your job takes you to a completely different part of the country, you are doing it in the middle of your story. When your children are born, when your parents die, when you lose, love, laugh, and grow, you are doing it in the middle of your story. By the way, for our purposes, the middle is the longest chunk of your story, not the literal middle (in case you were wondering).
When the end comes, as it must, you, hopefully, drift off peacefully while dreaming of a cool summer day, a beautiful green field, and a gentle babbling creek filled with crystal clear water. Maybe you are reading a good book. Maybe you are talking with friends. Maybe you’re making love to your spouse. But that’s neither here nor there because the story is over at this point. The adventure has been had, the lessons learned.
The best part of the meatball sandwich is the meatball. The best part of the Oreo is the creamy filling. The best part of the workday is the middle (when you get to stop for lunch). So the best part of your story, the most important part of your story should always be the middle. The middle makes readers care. The middle makes readers want to keep reading.
The middle is life.
Your book is life.
Or rather it is if it is well written. As in life, the end is going to come. It always does.
Please don’t force it.