Nothing satisfies like a good ending.
I am reading Michael J. Sullivan‘s series, The Riyria Revelations. I’m a couple of nights away from finishing the series. And though I don’t really know how it will end, based on the two first books (originally split into four smaller installments), I trust that Mr. Sullivan will wrap up the plot satisfactorily, leaving his readers with a surprise and the urge for more adventure. Anticipating the end is half the fun of reading his series.
And until I re-read Pixar’s 22 Storytelling Rules in preparation to write this blog post, I didn’t realize that.
Let’s review their seventh rule:
Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
For the pantsers out there, this may seem counter intuitive. How can you write the end before you know the middle?
Yeah, that can be tough for those who like to discover the story organically, but there’s still no reason why you can’t figure out the end before hand. Chances are you know the beginning pretty well, and have ideas on the sorts of struggles you heroine will suffer for the middle. So, just act like you have written the middle, and hone in on your end. If you don’t know where you are going, how can you ever possibly get there?
For those of us who outline, if you are like me, I get excited at the start of every project. What usually sparks a story is a single idea, so strong that I feel I have to spend more time on it. I jot it down, pull out my three-act template and fill in the appropriate blanks. Then I start coming up with cool (in my mind) sub-plots, sinister characters, and amazing revelations for the middle part. Towards the end of my outline, I get a bit tired and tack something on that is a glorified version of the words: The End.
In other words, I have no idea how my story will end. Regardless, I plunge ahead with my half-assed outline, figuring lightning will strike to deliver a perfect ending sometime while I write.
Well, that’s not true. Sometimes I do figure it out. And sometimes my story is sparked by the final scene to begin with. But that’s just pure luck. In those cases, it is as if the story writes itself. (Side track: I’m not saying anything I write has a good ending, but I have stories that end better than most of what I produce.)
Anyway, the ease of writing comes from the fact that I know exactly what and how the emotional journey or arc of my protagonist will be. No, I don’t know the specifics, exactly, but I do know how and why she’ll beat the odds to reach her goal in the end. And that makes everything else really easy.
Of course, it doesn’t always work that way, but I’ve found that having an endgame does help.
So, how about you? Do you write your endings first?