Rule #7

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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.

Not!

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?

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15 thoughts on “Rule #7

  1. Maybe it’s just me, but I think deciding your ending before the middle is written puts on pressure to find a way to reach that ending; like constantly focusing on the results you want in life, instead of what is at that moment in time.

    I don’t think a story could be all that exciting for an author to write if they know where it is going. I watched “Stranger Than Fiction” last night (actually, until about 2am today), taking special note of Emma Thompson’s character’s realization of how to end her story: “Like anything worth writing it came inexplicably and without merit.”

    1. I hear ya. I have run across that a few times, but not for all my stories, as odd as that may sound. Sometimes knowing keeps me from writing and sometimes it doesn’t.

      What I do know is that I often I have a hard time ending a story if I don’t have an end in mind. It just keeps going and going and going (well past the 100k word mark). So, for me, it seems to help to have some idea of where I want to end up with my characters.

  2. Hmmm… I generally do not figure out the end until I get to the middle. I often come up with about three or four potential endings during the course of a novel and by the time I’m about 2/3 of the way through I have chosen which I prefer.

    Short stories are a different matter. I tend to write them when I get there… unless it is one of those rare occasions where I’m writing with an ending rather than the beginning in mind

  3. I usually start with a rough idea where I’m going, and it’s certainly true that you can make revisions easier by knowing your ending. You can build in complications that apply to the ending, rather than prune out material that ended up not pertaining. However, I think it’s also important that the writer have the joy of discovering things they didn’t already know, WHILE WRITING. My plots almost always have twists and thematic meaning that I hadn’t planned in advance.

  4. I’ve discovered that 90% of the time, I can only finish my stories when I have an ending to write toward. It also helps me decide the overall theme I’m looking for in my story – redemption, justice, vengeance, etc..

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