When we teach Writers Write, one of the first things we ask students is: How does your story end? This post shows you why we try to define an ending at the beginning.
If you are happy with the way you write and don’t want help with the methods you use to finish a book, please write any way that works for you. I am not trying to convert you to writing with a plan. However, if you are struggling to finish writing a book where the plot works out, I would love you to carry on reading.
Why should you do it?
For two reasons:
- Firstly, as much as some people love the idea of working with meandering storylines, it has been my experience that those writers seldom finish writing a coherent book.
- Secondly, most people who go to workshops or sign up for courses are truly looking for help, and I’ve learned that the best way to succeed in anything in life is to have a plan. Successful people will tell you that you need to know where you’re going before you begin.
Smell the roses
This does not mean that you can’t take time to smell the roses, or explore hidden paths along the way. It simply means that you always have a lifeline and when you get lost, it will be easier for you to find your way back again. Remember that readers like destinations. They love beginnings, middles, and endings. Why do you think fans are terrified that George R.R. Martin will die before he finishes A Song of Ice and Fire. They want to know how the story ends.
Here are seven reasons to write your ending first:
- Characterisation. If you know who the characters are at the end of the story, you will know how much you should reveal about them at the beginning.
- Backstory blues. You will be forced out of the ‘backstory hell’ that beginner writers inhabit and into the story the reader wants to read.
- Hindsight. We all know how different life seems when we’re looking back. We can often tell where a problem began. We think about the ‘what ifs’ with the gift of hindsight. You can use this to your advantage in fiction writing.
- Goals. You will have something to work towards. Instead of aimlessly writing and hoping for the muse to show you the way, you will be able to pull the characters’ strings and write the words they need to get them from the beginning through the middle to the end.
- Time. Plotting from the ending backwards saves you so much time because you will leave out stuff that isn’t meant to be there. You will not have to muddle through an overwritten first draft.
- Facing reality. Writing the end forces most of us out of our comfort zones. We have to confront the reality of what we are doing. It might not be as romantic as flailing around like a helpless maiden, but if you want writing to be your profession, it’s good to make the outcome visible. This is a way to show yourself that you are serious. The end gives you a goal to work towards.
- The importance of ending well. The ending is as important as the beginning. Good beginnings get people to read your first book. Great endings get readers to buy your second book.
There are a handful of famous authors, like Stephen King and George R.R. Martin, who say they don’t plot. I think they just don’t realise they are those rare authors – natural born storytellers, and that plotting is instinctive for them. I have interviewed many successfully published authors and the majority of them do believe in plotting. They outline, in varying degrees, before they begin. And yes, most of them know what their ending will be.
Why don’t you try it? What have you got to lose? I truly hope this helps you write, and finish, your book.
© Amanda Patterson
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