Beginning at the End

We all have ideas that don’t pan out. The ones where putting your pen to paper has a result closer to sticking a dagger in their hearts. It’s part of the job. Sometimes it’s no big deal because you know that eventually someone else will think of it (if they haven’t already). Other times, though, it makes you ache with loss. So how do you combat sudden plot death?

One almost flawless method I’ve discovered is knowing your ending before you start.

The thing about a good concept is that for it to be appreciated it needs to be complemented by a good plot. Otherwise, your genius will be obscured by silly events or unrealistic characters. But if you give your concept the advantage of an ending, even if it doesn’t ultimately end how you first thought it would, the knowledge of how it could end can help spur you on while writing. Keeping sight of the finish line makes you less likely to run out of steam, because by that point you will have taken care of two major things: what your story is about, and where your story is going. Now you would just have to fill in the blanks.

So simple, right?

Obviously not, but I’ve found that if my concept has a purpose, then I do, too. The purpose can be a theme, an event, a state of a relationship, even just a feeling. I have a whole bank of endings stored in my mind that zip to the forefront whenever I think of a way to cause them. Some are generic, ranging from “And then everybody dies!!” to the much more down-to-earth “And they all go home and continue living.” A few have to do with a specific kind of heartbreak, namely, love thwarted by definitive things like death, and others are more bittersweet, with lessons learned and people made wiser.

The trick is matching one of these with your idea. When inspiration strikes, and you’re filled with a need to write, ask yourself: What do I want to tell? And I mean this question as less about events, and more about the human condition. In the end, how does your idea affect the characters and the world of your book?

If you can answer that question, then I really think you can overcome sudden plot death. Because once you know an ending, the journey becomes less of a rambling thought process and more of a puzzle. If you sit down and say, “At the end of my book, the boy character is killed,” the question that immediately follows this statement is, “Why?” And if you connect the ending with your concept of, say, evil fairies taking over human bodies, a whole slew of possibilities are opened up.

Maybe he’s killed because his conspiracy to retake the earth has been found out. Maybe he’s killed because he falls in love with a fairy imposter and he’s lured to his death. Hell, maybe they’re genuine lovers and they both die so they could be together in death without judgment. Or maybe, in a surprise twist, he’s not dead at all. And then you’ve got a Book 2 idea as well.

Then the how’s, when’s, and what’s are explored without even having to consciously ask the questions.

The fairy story is a trite example, I know, but my point is that having an ending forces you to stay on track. It forces you to give form to your plot. You stop waffling about where your story is going, and your writing becomes streamlined, with all the events and character developments heading towards a common goal. And even if you find yourself struggling against the goal you’ve set and really wanting to go in a different direction, one that you might even be able to see more clearly than your current one, the beauty of the thing is that you can change the ending.

Which I know seems to go against everything I’ve been saying, but the point of knowing your ending is to start writing without condemning your concept to death by vagueness. Hopefully, by the time you get to a place where you’re sure you want to change it, you will have already carried your idea to term.


10 Responses to Beginning at the End

  1. Sooz Oct 30 2012 at 11:52 am #

    Great post, Billy. And on a topic I’ve thought about…but not in this way. I usually know my ending–at least a general idea of events–but as I write the story, those events might change…yet somehow I always know what I need to write toward. And I’ve never thought about it until right NOW, but I think it’s because I don’t just know the ending, but I know the AFTERMATH. Even if I’m not conscious of it, I *do* know what that end feeling is or how my characters perceive themselves or where they all fit in the universe. So though the actual events of my ending might deviate from what I’d originally planned, I still know where I ultimately need to get the story to.

    Wow, I really hadn’t thought of it like this before. So simple. <3

    • Biljana Oct 30 2012 at 7:09 pm #

      Yeah that’s a really good way of putting it, knowing the aftermath. I didn’t even become conscious of it either until I realized that whenever I talked about my ideas with people, I would always finish my explanation with “No clue what happens in the middle, but at the [em]end[/em]…”

  2. Heather Oct 30 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    You make a good point. I’m writing a romance for my NaNovel and I think, after reading this, that I’m taking the ending for granted. Everyone knows that a romance ends with a happily ever after so I’ve avoided thinking about it. But how are they happy? Are they engaged? Married? Having a baby? Simply enjoying rolling in the hay together?

    This may be the missing link that has me on edge about my plans. I’m going to think about the ending more. Thanks!

    • Biljana Oct 30 2012 at 7:11 pm #

      Yeah, I really think that making a decision there can help you focus their relationship development. You can toy with the two of them wanting different things, and compromise, and stuff like that. Good luck with NaNo!

  3. Lauren M. Barrett Oct 30 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    This is good news. My first project I knew the characters and the premise, but not the ending and it’s been a struggle to get through. My NaNo project has an ending but not much else. So there is hope!

    • Biljana Oct 30 2012 at 7:12 pm #

      And how! Hope the rest falls into place. Good luck!

  4. Loie Oct 30 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    I agree completely! It’s so nice to have an ending that will help you along the way of writing the first draft. For my project for Nano, I have an idea of the climax and aftermath – of where they’re headed to next. So its at least comforting because I know I will have something to pull me along through the middle.

    • Biljana Oct 30 2012 at 7:13 pm #

      Yeah, exactly; if you have a goal, you know you’re not floundering for no reason. Good luck with writing!

  5. A.M. Day Nov 1 2012 at 10:10 am #

    I love starting at the end, or the middle and filling in the blanks. But most times starting at the end for me usually means a book two or three and maybe a spin-off. We’ll see how this plays out as my debut novel is released later this month. Also, cool to know we writers are not alone in our methods.
    ~A. M. Day

  6. google May 24 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    It might isabel marant sandals require a bit of adjustment, but this easily done.

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