“Wait… Surely she’s not saying that I should write the ending – or climax – of my novel first?”
Well, actually yes. Yes, I am.
I know it seems counter intuitive. I know all you pantsers and anti-outliners out there are going to either panic or stop reading here.
But don’t! First, let me explain…
In my humble opinion, the essence of every story is the battle between what your character wants in the moment versus what he/she actually needs in the long run.
You, as the author, know the difference. Your character – at least in the beginning – doesn’t.
For instance, at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings series, Aragorn is in hiding, and his short-term goal is to get Frodo safely to Rivendell. But at the end, he realizes that in order to save Middle Earth and fulfill his own personal destiny, he must accept his lineage and become King of Gondor.
These two stages are also known as specific steps in the hero’s journey: the inciting incident and the resurrection. Also known as – you guessed it – the beginning and the end of a character’s journey.
Still think I am crazy? Let’s have a little debate…
Don’t I need to work up to my story’s ending?
Yes! But the groundwork needs to be there first. Your opening and climax are actually two very similar scenes. In fact, some say that your opening scene should foreshadow the entire thing. If you know where you are headed, you can set up the opening scene to then mirror and/or contrast your climax.
For example: In the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we see an orphan boy struggling to find his place in the world. In the end, he defeats Voldemort with the power and knowledge that he was actually loved more than he ever knew, and that love can manifest itself a physical power against evil. Would that have been as powerful if we hadn’t seen him unloved at the beginning and continually reinforced throughout the novel?
If Rowling didn’t know the ending, she might not have played up that theme and character wound as much, leading to a not-as-satisfying resurrection.
But I don’t like to plot my novels.
Lots of people don’t. Several famous and successful authors don’t outline their novels. But they’ve also been writing professionally for much longer, and I am convinced that there is at least an outline in their subconscious.
Plus let’s face it. Most of us aren’t Stephen King of George R. Martin. Unfortunately.
I am not saying you need to plot your entire novel – in fact, I don’t think you should. But if you have an ending and a beginning, think how much easier it will be go back through and connect the dots!
What if I don’t know my story’s ending yet?
That’s okay. Just write one anyway! Starting at the end doesn’t mean your ending can’t change and it doesn’t mean you can’t swerve a little as you go. But having your climax written will give you a target, and if you find yourself straying too far off path, it’s the perfect thing to reel you back in with the added benefit of hindsight.
After all, you don’t set off on a road trip without a destination, do you? You might miss so many exciting things on the way.
Try it out and let me know how it goes!