Write The Ending First

Writing the End First

So, I was cruising Pinterest today, like I do when I get off work and unwind, and came across a bit of writing advice.  Which was ‘write the ending first’.  I wanted to talk about that because it’s a solid piece of advice that’s helped me finish the last few stories and bits of flash fiction I’ve churned out.

I used to be a panster, a seat-of-the-pants writer with no real structure, plot, or end goal in mind when I sat down to write.  That works for a lot of people, but it took me a while to figure out that I am not one of them.  I blame it on my stubborn nature.  Aries child, over here, I gotta find out the hard way after exhausting all resources at least ten times, so believe me when I say that, for me, writing towards a set end scene made all the difference in the world.

1. It gave me something to work toward.

I have spent close to 1,000,000 words meandering around, getting stuck, getting written into a corner, and thoroughly derailing stories without a clear end scene in mind.  Some people can work with a foggy playing field and discover the story as they go.  I can definitely use one to do that, but I will never finish the story.  Won’t even get close, so it becomes a laboring behemoth staggering around drunk and half formed, and in the end it’s too much work to untangle and so I leave it to fend for itself in the Haunted Woods of Abandoned Projects.

2. It showed me how far I had to go.

If I know what note I want to end on I can guesstimate how many scenes I need to get the characters there.  I’ve been writing long enough to know what I can stretch out, what I can shorten, and I know my characters well enough to gauge how fast they will move through obstacles, so reaching a certain note gives me a frame to work within.  It also frees me up from the weight of the entire story (since I’m writing a series).  The end scene for one book tells me, okay, I need these set of things to happen to get there, and I can focus on just those things for the writing.  During the editing I can open my mind up to the full story I have planned and plant seeds and arcs where they’ll work best.  That takes off a lot of pressure to get EVERYTHING in where it should be right off the bat.

3. Anticipation trumps surprise.

I used to argue that knowing the ending ahead of time spoiled the story for me, but in practice I find I’m much more eager to connect story dots to the known ending.  It’s like deciding to get strawberry ice cream for a special treat and saving your money and waiting for the set time to go and get it.  Then you have it and it tastes ten times better because you were actively looking forward to it.  Endings are now my strawberry ice cream, and I will churn out 10,000 words in a day when I’m eager to sink my teeth into that scene.

4. They aren’t set in stone.

Anything set down during the first draft is totally replaceable if it doesn’t work out, ending included.  If it doesn’t fit or isn’t right for the story, you can change it, and you now have an entire first draft to work with, to boot, so you don’t have to start over from the beginning.  Editing words that exist is easier than editing a blank page.

So how does writing the ending first work?

Well, I’m doing it on stories I’m already familiar with, but I think you can employ the same method on a new story with new characters.  It all boils down to: what kind of ending do you want to write?  Are you feeling like laying down some angst?  Something hopeful?  Something mysterious with a cliffhanger, or maybe something daring with a cliffhanger?  Do you want something fluffy and heartfelt, or maybe something introspective?

Figure out what you want.  What greases your wheels.  What makes you think, oh yeah, I want that.  That, my dear, is your strawberry ice cream (or insert your favorite flavor).  Now that you have an idea, sketch out the scene.  Write as little or as much as you want, just make it solid enough to be an ending with enough information for you.

When that scene is done you can start throwing around ideas for the structure of your story.  What needs to happen to get you from Point A to Point Epic Ending?  Come at it from any angle you want.  I’m a fan of reverse engineering the characters from, taking the end actions/knowledge/mental space and working back through the emotional peaks and canyons they’d need to traverse to arrive at the desired ending.  So, if you have a character committing a murder in The End, what drives them to it?  What makes the End Murder worthy to be the end scene?

When you have a frame laid out you can set a word count.  I’m really liking the novella length for my stories, so I plan for anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 words.  That gives me enough room to spread out a story that’s not as overwhelming as a 100,000 word novel, but not as restricting as anything under 10,000.  Or I can plan 5 to 10 chapters for that length.

With your ending, story frame, and word count goal, you now have a loose but semi-sketched map with wiggle room and a destination.  Then you can start actually writing.  Make sure you keep copies of this plan, whether you draw it out, write it out, use something like Coggle, or whatever.  You’ll need it for reference.

You can use this method on any kind of story, from flash fiction to novels to entire series.  The possibilities are endless, I believe, and this is what helps me.

What about you?  Do you do this, something similar, something different?  How have they worked for you?

Other Resources:

Count Your Crows: Available on Amazon

Character Roulette: The Art of POV

Literary Bean Dip: Layering the Story

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