For most writers, writing the words, “The End” is the culmination of months (or years) of effort. It marks the completion of a project and is cause for a moment of celebration. I’m weird, though, because none of this is true for me. I usually write, “The End” within the first day of beginning a project.
Is it because I’m finished? Hahaha. No. Nobody writes that fast. The reason for the premature ending is because that’s where I usually begin: At the end. I don’t think I’ve ever written a single book, whether published or not, where I didn’t begin with the ending. That’s the way my thought process goes. When I get an idea for a book, I see the ending first. What I don’t always know is how to get there, so for the sake of moving the project along I start with what I know, even if that is two pages from the end.
Oh, sure, I may see the overall story idea or the characters, but usually the first major plot points to take shape in my mind are near the ending. Maybe it’s the final battle, the cliffhanger, or the final death scene. Sometimes (rarely, for me) it’s the happy ending. When I see that first major plot point, that’s where I begin. I follow it to the end and then I go back and write everything that lead up to that point.
Some people say I’m nuts for working this way. “Don’t you box yourself in? What if the circumstances of the novel point toward a different ending?”
Well, obviously if the circumstances change that much, I can change the ending. I’m not chiseling on stone tablets, after all. Changing the ending isn’t a problem. Usually, though, the ending just “feels” right to me from the beginning so I’m confident that the rest of the novel is going to lead there. Yes, there is a little bit of voodoo weirdness going on with this method. There’s a lot I take on faith and trust that whatever little demon is whispering inspiration into my head knows what he’s doing.
The main benefit to this oddball method is that I do get a strange sense of progress from day one. Even if I know that typing, “The End” is something of a joke, I do feel accomplished. I know where the story is going and to me that’s better than beating around in the weeds wondering, “Where the hell is this all going?”
And I’m writing. It’s too easy to get stuck making notes and procrastinating when starting a new project. Writing the end is better than writing nothing. It gets me into the story and the world and gets me excited about the whole thing. Besides, the way my brain is failing these days, if I don’t go ahead and write the ending, I won’t remember it by the time I get there!
Plus, as I’m writing the ending, a lot of the story is filling in behind it. Since I rarely work from an outline, I don’t have much to go on. But as I write the ending, I get to know my characters and the world. Since I’m seeing everything in its final form (usually destroyed and miserable in my case), I’m answering a lot of questions about how things ended up in that state. By the time I’ve finished the ending, I have a good idea of how we got there and it’s easier to go back and fill in the rest.
What I’m trying to say is that working backward can work. Don’t fear it or immediately say, “Hell, no, I’m not starting with the end,” even if you can clearly see it. Every project has to begin somewhere. Start with what you know. If that’s the beginning, great. But if all you know is where the road ends, write that. By the time you’ve written it, you’ll probably know a lot more and can fill in the rest.
And if it doesn’t work? No harm done. Go back and start at the beginning. There are no writing cops that are going to drag you out and beat you if you write backward, forwards, or sideways. The goal is to end up with a great story. There’s no judgment as to how you get there.
(Photo courtesy of geralt)