Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Where Does It End?

Last Monday I posted a snippet from Grahame Greene --

A story has no beginning or end;
arbitrarily one chooses that moment of
experience from which to look back
or from which to look ahead.

The End of the Affair 1951

We had a discussion on where we begin a story. Roland had a fabulous counter-question after reading my post -- where do we end the story?


Do we linger too long, milking the afterglow of the story. Or do we end too abruptly once the crisis is averted or overcome?

Many teachers of creative writing stress not to begin writing until you have the ending clearly in mind

so that you can head to it with skillful foreshadowing and firm precision, not meandering until the end just comes to you.

I think that approach also helps you to know when to begin.

If you know the ending with its transformation of the main character, then you know where to start your story ...

and you get a sense of how to bring your protagonist to his destination.



So my question to you -- Do you know the ending before your beginning? Or Do you let it just come to you?

35 comments:

Christine Danek said...

Great question. I actually knew the ending first for both WiPs that I'm working on. In my WiP #1 it's changed a little, hence my massive rewrite. I do think you need to know at least a little about the ending to write it. That's what I think.
Have a great day!

Deniz Bevan said...

Great question! I usually have a sense of what the ending should accomplish, or vaguely, what the theme of the ending will be. But the actualy plot version of the ending is never what I expected! Trying to write mine as we speak...

Anne Gallagher said...

Christine -- I know the endings for all my Regencies. Of course it has to be HEA. But I had no clue about Genna's story. The characters kept arguing with me. You know how that goes.

Deniz -- Yeah, plot versions never are as we think they'll go.

DL Hammons said...

The ending comes in as a close second to the beginning. I definitely know it before I sit down to write anything. :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Really good question. I'm a plotting by nature (though apparently I'm a panster while writing each scene--groan) and I tend to have an idea how the book will end when I start outlining the book. But mostly because I've let the idea simmer in my head for a while before I start outlining.

Ted Cross said...

I'm writing my second book now, and I have several more stories lined up. I haven't known the endings of any of them ahead of time. I was getting a little nervous heading down the stretch of my first, but it finally came to me and I think it worked wonderfully. The ending is pretty much the only thing I don't know about my stories!

Tracy said...

Awesome question! I always know how I want the book to end. Sometimes that's the only thing I know, and then I have to plot backwards to figure out where my beginning is.

Linda G. said...

Nope. If I knew how the story ended, it wouldn't hold my interest long enough to write it.

Granted, this means I often have to go back and tweak my beginnings to make them fit the ending I eventually get to, but that's okay. :)

Anne Gallagher said...

DL -- I think I do this too. I need to find the ending while coming up at the beginning at the same time.

Stina -- I've just done my first 'real' outline and its helping somewhat. It's hard to work with one when you've always been a panster.

Ted -- I'm so glad you've finally started work on the second.

Tracy -- Oh yes, plotting backwards. How much fun is that. Been there too.

Anne Gallagher said...

Linda -- Wow. I don't think I could start a story without somewhat knowing the ending. Just wow.

Summer Frey said...

Sometimes yes, most often no. Though as I'm growing in my fiction-writing, the endings are becoming more clear. For the NaNo novel I just finished and am now revising, I knew the ending before I knew the beginning.

Anne Gallagher said...

Summer -- sometimes it just works better that way. Working backwards.

Saumya said...

Wonderful point. I have a vague idea of the end but it has definitely changed since I've gotten to know my characters.

Em-Musing said...

I never know the ending. I'm always amazed what happens. Editing is where I move things around to make sense.

The Las Vegas Writer said...

I only know the beginning and the ending of any idea of mine. It's the middle that frustrates me!

Laura Pauling said...

I don't always know the ending before the beginning. But I know the ending before I start writing. Of course, it can change, but I have an idea.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I knew the ending of the last two manuscripts I wrote before I really started writing it. I just didn't know how exactly I was going to get there. With the manuscript I'm working on now, I have the ending but I know it will change some because I'm not perfectly happy with it.

Laurel Garver said...

I've found that diving in without having a clear picture of what the story resolution will be has made me totally blocked! At the moment, I'm backing off drafting to plan and outline more thoroughly.

Patti said...

I loved this line:

Do we linger too long, milking the afterglow of the story. Or do we end too abruptly once the crisis is averted or overcome?

I think I have a good idea of my ending, but sometimes not sure how to get there.

Shannon said...

Excellent question. I usually think I know the end, but I'm usually surprised by the time I get there.

VR Barkowski said...

Great question. I write thrillers & mystery so I have to know the major conflict going in, and it's a pre-gone conclusion it will be resolved. The question that remains is, how?

By the end of a first draft, I know the how, but it's too early for foreshadowing. The problem with adding foreshadowing in an initial draft, at least in in my genre (and I've seen this over and over with thriller/mystery writers), is that it's too obvious. Foreshadowing must be done with a careful, subtle had. There's nothing careful or subtle about an early draft.

Falen (Sarah Ahiers) said...

I know where it ends plot wise, but the last line is always a surprise and 90% of the time it is awesome

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Ah, great post and question. I always know the ending - at least so far. You will want to keep an eye on the lit lab on Friday. We're talking about this stuff and posting our stories that were an experimentation of how we write.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think I know my ending first.

Shelley Sly said...

I do know my ending before I start writing. Sometimes I end up changing it, but I always keep the same mood that I originally planned (whether happy or melancholy, etc.) I always know how the big plot questions are answered. The little details sometimes change.

Great question! I hope you're doing well, Anne. Sorry I haven't been by your blog much, life is crazy busy. Missed you!

The Words Crafter said...

For my nano story, I had the husband, then the wife, then the ending. The ending was beautiful, perfect and sublime.

Then, the husband went and screwed it all up. Now, I have at least three ways to finish the story when I pick it back up in January. Sigh....

Rula Sinara said...

Like you, I know it'll be a HEA, but there are usually different ending scenarios that flit through my head as I write. Just possibilities. Nothing concrete. The deeper I get into my story and characters, the more interesting my ending gets. I've tried writing a synopsis at the beginning of this last manuscript, and the ending (amongst other things)ended up changing a bit.

notesfromnadir said...

I may know my ending when I start a novel, but sometimes the characters know it better than me.

E. Elle said...

99% of the time, I get the ending first. It rarely changes as the story unfolds.

Liza said...

Remember, I'm a novice here...but I knew my ending before I started writing. Now, let's see if it changes.

Eric W. Trant said...

My stories almost exclusively start with two things: The title + the ending.

Everything else is written around those two things.

- Eric

Donna Hole said...

I almost always start with an end. Some of my flash fiction only has a beginning, but the shorts and novels have the endings set. I'm usually pretty good at writing towards it with very little deviation.

The only plotting I do well :)

......dhole

Elliot Grace said...

Anne, you and Roland can fire up one juicy debate:)
During outlines, I always think I know how the story ends...and I've been wrong each and every time.
Once characters are brought to life, a story growing wings and yearning to soar, the ending can sometimes take several attempts before success is reached. For that's the beauty of it. No rhyme or reason...just start painting and see how the pictures take shape:)
EL

Donna Hole said...

Anne, I have an award for you - if my blog post will load correctly.

.......dhole

MB Dabney said...

In a basic way, I know the ending before I start. But I don't decide on the specifics until I get to the end.
My problem is that by the time I reach the end, I am tired and I tend to rush the ending. In later drafts, I have to go back and fill in the gaps leading up to the end so that it doesn't come too abruptly.