Beginning at the End
We all have ideas that don’t pan out. The ones where putting your pen to paper has a result closer to sticking a dagger in their hearts. It’s part of the job. Sometimes it’s no big deal because you know that eventually someone else will think of it (if they haven’t already). Other times, though, it makes you ache with loss. So how do you combat sudden plot death?
One almost flawless method I’ve discovered is knowing your ending before you start.
The thing about a good concept is that for it to be appreciated it needs to be complemented by a good plot. Otherwise, your genius will be obscured by silly events or unrealistic characters. But if you give your concept the advantage of an ending, even if it doesn’t ultimately end how you first thought it would, the knowledge of how it could end can help spur you on while writing. Keeping sight of the finish line makes you less likely to run out of steam, because by that point you will have taken care of two major things: what your story is about, and where your story is going. Now you would just have to fill in the blanks.
So simple, right?
Obviously not, but I’ve found that if my concept has a purpose, then I do, too. The purpose can be a theme, an event, a state of a relationship, even just a feeling. I have a whole bank of endings stored in my mind that zip to the forefront whenever I think of a way to cause them. Some are generic, ranging from “And then everybody dies!!” to the much more down-to-earth “And they all go home and continue living.” A few have to do with a specific kind of heartbreak, namely, love thwarted by definitive things like death, and others are more bittersweet, with lessons learned and people made wiser.
The trick is matching one of these with your idea. When inspiration strikes, and you’re filled with a need to write, ask yourself: What do I want to tell? And I mean this question as less about events, and more about the human condition. In the end, how does your idea affect the characters and the world of your book?
If you can answer that question, then I really think you can overcome sudden plot death. Because once you know an ending, the journey becomes less of a rambling thought process and more of a puzzle. If you sit down and say, “At the end of my book, the boy character is killed,” the question that immediately follows this statement is, “Why?” And if you connect the ending with your concept of, say, evil fairies taking over human bodies, a whole slew of possibilities are opened up.
Maybe he’s killed because his conspiracy to retake the earth has been found out. Maybe he’s killed because he falls in love with a fairy imposter and he’s lured to his death. Hell, maybe they’re genuine lovers and they both die so they could be together in death without judgment. Or maybe, in a surprise twist, he’s not dead at all. And then you’ve got a Book 2 idea as well.
Then the how’s, when’s, and what’s are explored without even having to consciously ask the questions.
The fairy story is a trite example, I know, but my point is that having an ending forces you to stay on track. It forces you to give form to your plot. You stop waffling about where your story is going, and your writing becomes streamlined, with all the events and character developments heading towards a common goal. And even if you find yourself struggling against the goal you’ve set and really wanting to go in a different direction, one that you might even be able to see more clearly than your current one, the beauty of the thing is that you can change the ending.
Which I know seems to go against everything I’ve been saying, but the point of knowing your ending is to start writing without condemning your concept to death by vagueness. Hopefully, by the time you get to a place where you’re sure you want to change it, you will have already carried your idea to term.