“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!
7 thoughts on “Write your novel’s ending first”
I love perfect timing! Thank you for sharing these thoughts, Tauri!
My little faerie story has been playing hide and seek in my mind for a few weeks now. So, I sat down last night for the third time to write a little bit on it. The first writing session included a few thoughts on the general concept. The second block allowed me to jot down one scene’s dialogue and begin building a few characters’ personalities as well as an attempt at outlining. Last night was—if I’m being honest—procrastinating some other work; but it ended up being an amazing experience. I wrote a full scene—what I see now to be my opening scene. And then, the writing gods whispered to me the fate of one of my characters and the book’s ending. I did NOT see that coming (and really wasn’t emotionally ready). Knowing these two details coupled with envisioning the book’s genesis has opened up a brand new view in my mind. Before I wasn’t sure I would know the end until I reached it, and I was okay with that. Now, I can’t imagine not knowing it!
Holding this secret in my mind allows me to write more deeply with more control than I ever imagined possible, and I’m thrilled to continue this journey! As I write I will be able to consider how the outcome will affect each character, and I believe that will allow me to develop them much more fully than I could have done otherwise!
Thanks for sharing your writing journey!
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Wow that sounds like an experience! I wish you the best of luck and am so glad you find it helpful!
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What a wonderful concept. I admit the ending was something I thought of a long time ago and I have even found the perfect soundtrack to go with it. I’ve just been putting it off since I like doing things in order but if this insightful article didn’t just convince me otherwise….
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Yay! Good luck and let me know how it goes!
This is great inspiration for those of us who get stuck along the way. Thanks for the great post!
So glad it was helpful!