From Margaret Atwood's MasterClass

Writing the Middle and Ending

Margaret teaches her approach to keeping readers engaged through the middle of your book and discusses the merits of closed and open endings to your story.

Topics include: Keeping Your Reader Engaged Through the Middle • Changes Can Happen Along the Way • Approaching the Ending • Open vs. Closed Endings • An Open Ending in The Handmaid’s Tale


Margaret teaches her approach to keeping readers engaged through the middle of your book and discusses the merits of closed and open endings to your story.

Topics include: Keeping Your Reader Engaged Through the Middle • Changes Can Happen Along the Way • Approaching the Ending • Open vs. Closed Endings • An Open Ending in The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood

Teaches Creative Writing

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The middle of the book-- always the most difficult part. You've got the beginning. You have an inkling of what the end is going to be. But how are you going to get through the middle? More to the point, how are you going to get the reader through the middle? I was talking last night to a script writer who happens to be the showrunner for "The Handmaid's Tale." And I said, well, there's going to have to be a season three because you left us with at least five cliffhangers. And he said, that's my thing. I can really do cliffhangers. So in the days when novelists were writing in serial form inside of three chapters or so had to end on a-- and what next? And that, too, is the secret of Sheherazad, telling the 1,001 nights in one night. She always ended when dawn appeared, things were not resolved, and the central character was in peril or about to open a forbidden door. So you needed to know what is going to become of these people. Even if it's somebody who's saying, my life was just a mess, and I sat in my room all day staring at the wall, that, too, is a cliffhanger. How is he going to get out of that room? Or is he just going to be in there forever staring at the wall? Something has gone off the rails and needs to be resolved. How are you going to get your characters out of the difficult situations we hope you have put them into? [MUSIC PLAYING] What they say about writing longer books-- not poetry, but longer books, fiction, nonfiction, memoir-- it's one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration. So writing is work. It's something you work away at. And that includes scratching things out, moving parts of it around, making it better. Let's speak of it in terms of furniture arranging in your house. You put the sofa there. Then no, it might look better over here. Maybe it's the wrong sofa. Maybe we can put this sofa upstairs and then put this other different one here. Sometimes you take a turn down a corridor, and it's a dead end. It leads nowhere. And at that point, it's not a question of resolving the difficulties in the middle. It's a question of realizing you ought to be writing a different book. However, things where you needed to resolve the difficulties in the middle-- I would say just about every book I've ever written is that sort of thing-- or the moment when you realize that something you thought about your character isn't true. Something else, on the other hand, is true. And then you have to backtrack and work it through in a different way. There's no shame in backtracking. There's no shame in revision. There's no shame in realizing that you got it wrong or that there's a better thing that you can do that's better than what you have done. And those pages can just go away. [MUSIC PLAYING] The ending that you think is going to be the ending is often not the ending. And of course, it's quite usual for you to write the ending some time before you actually write the part leading up to the end...

The art of powerful storytelling

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online writing class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories, from historical to speculative fiction, that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Margaret is simply awesome! Her advises are simply gold for anyone that wants to write. She is inspiring , encouraging and passing so much valuable knowledge. Thank you Margaret! Thank you MasterClass.

Margaret Atwood is a fantastic speaker and writer and her knowledge and experience has been extremely valuable from the point of view of a writer re-visiting a couple of old novels with the aim of perhaps publishing these. I loved the class and it's been the most wonderful refresher. Thanks very much.

She is an amazing teacher... Her insight is as timeless as it is priceless. Thank you ma'am.

Loved Margaret Atwood's teaching style - I have been an avid speculative fiction reader and am working on my own speculative fiction novel...her lessons will surely help!


Gareth S.

This was another great lesson! Margaret makes writing seems like a person could actually do it.

Damien M.

This is so great and helpful -all of them are, although I can't help but suggest Paul Auster, who I think is another one of the truly brilliant ones out there still writing. Hey Masterclass... if you're listening? Paul Auster!


Very useful, because i am dealing with several issues in my novel and at least one of them is going to be open ended.

Caetlin W.

I especially enjoyed hearing Ms. Atwood's thoughts on open versus closed endings. The endings of my stories tend to write themselves, and I usually view that as the only possible choice, but Ms. Atwood has shown us that it doesn't have to be. I will definitely be applying this lesson to my current work in progress and future works.

Craig H.

I'm halfway through a final (I hope) edit of novel and I'm on my third ending. :) I know this ending is better, just don't know if it is the best. If it survives this edit then I'll consider it finished. As Ms. Atwood said, "The ending that you think is going to be the ending is often not the ending." I didn't get stuck on the middle, what I did was add WAY too much back story, sub plot, etc., just meandering around in my characters' lives. The subsequent edits have been about cutting out the extraneous.

Melissa M.

Ms Atwood states that the middle is the most difficult part. I couldn't agree more! I've always felt as though every story I've written, has had a beginning and an end that came very naturally to me. The middle, which is usually the longest part, always gets me stumped!

Maria S.

I'm gathering that impatience and stubborness are enemies to good writing. I have the tendency of rushing through the end and also to not want to deviate too much from the original concept. Thank you Margaret for this lesson as well.

Phillip P.

As an artist who's delved into several mediums I find that if the mentors were there I've succeeded famously. Margaret and I have similar personalities. I love how she created the anti-heroine in Oryx and Krake, one who'd been through the mill with men and came out stronger for the wear(ing them out). I began a story last fall that just had to be told, put it down and then along comes Margaret and now I'm in the middle of the story, knowing the end, just wishing that the two worlds I'm bringing together were easier to hide mid-stream, I'm concerned about surprise though the morals of the story and lessons my protagonist learns along the way are in fact expose in themselves, I must not be too didactic. Thank you Margaret, this one is coming along superbly and I couldn't do it this well without you.

A fellow student

Thank you, Margaret, for telling me to just finish writing the book, and THEN worry about whether I need to add more. This has been a barrier for me, when really I know it will be much easier to tell what I need to change about the book once I can read it all the way through again with a clear head, so it was good to hear it from a master. Very helpful lesson.

Kathy W.

I loved this. I am working on a novel and have gone back and forth on the type of ending it will have. Currently in the middle /climax the main character is going down a dark path but I want to see her go through some type of redemption at the end - a hopeful beginning to her next chapter. I guess I would like to have a more closed ending - that fulfillment of closure or "happy ending" as the novel is quite dark. I don't want to leave an arbritary ending for the readers - or if I'm being honest, myself. I love her and want to see her eventually reach a happy ever after - whatever that looks like by the time I get to the ending of my novel.