Every end has a beginning
When we started writing our contemporary adult novel in February this year, me and my co-author had quite a clear idea of how the novel would, or could, end, and we had a vague idea of how it would begin. We knew that our main concern would be the protagonist’s journey. We knew who the two central characters would be. We knew that there needed to be conflict between them, that the protagonist had to change in some way and that pivotal events would enable this to happen. BUT, we had no idea how the conflict would arise and we hadn’t got a clue what the pivotal, life-changing, events would be. BUT, we had the ending, which got me thinking about the way this novel has been written and why.
It seems natural to me to think of the end at the beginning. I wondered why, and came to the conclusion that it’s all to do with the journey of the central character and that this can be paralleled to a literal journey… after all, if you are going on holiday, you know where you’re going don’t you? I would imagine that most people don’t just randomly get on a train, board a plane or jump in their car and head off for ‘somewhere’. So by having the destination in our minds we can then work out how to get there.
The middle bit of the novel could be paralleled to the things you will need to get you to your destination and the things that could occur on route. If you are going to Wales (as we often do) you need to take waterproofs and sturdy shoes and you can more or less guarantee getting stuck in Stockport and every single traffic light turning to red on your approach, the affects of which will mean you will need to make an extra stop because everyone in the car is busting for a pee! If you are going to Turkey (as we once did – and boy, was it hot!) you need oodles of high factor sun lotion and sun hats, will want to chew your arm off in the airport lounge out of sheer frustration and boredom and may end up eating a double cheeseburger and feeling sick, just because.
My point is, if you know your destination, you know what tools you need to arm yourself with, and may have an idea of the pivotal events that could occur – although they are more likely to unfold as you make the journey, exactly as they would do in a literal journey. If you know the ending, you can begin to work out how to get there. Even if you don’t plan thoroughly (see my Plot Planner post of 9th February) you at least know if you are going to fly… drive… walk… camel (not sure camel is a verb, but oh well) and whether you’re heading north or south… etc. So, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Your end gives you a starting point.
But here’s an interesting thing. Once you have been carried along in this direction, have waded through the terrifying ‘middle bit’, have built up your momentum for the final quarter (or third, depending how you work) things may have changed a tad. This is exactly what has happened with our novel. Suddenly, with six chapters left, and the fourth and fifth already written, these two chapters didn’t feel right. The protagonist’s journey had progressed so far that he would no longer do the things we had thought he would do when we started the book. The end had to change! Although momentarily terrifying, this was also reassuring – change is vital in your protagonist’s journey. So, with six chapters left, I re-plotted. The two chapters were removed and six became four, with some of the ideas from one of the removed chapters being used in relation to another character in the fourth from last chapter, a chapter which had been flumoxing me. The original ending was discarded for something else. Suddenly, it worked, and it worked a whole lot better than the original idea.
Whatever our intentions were at the beginning, the themes and twists and turns didn’t become apparent until later… a bit like the traffic lights in Stockport! It’s only possible to see these twists and turns of your journey at a later point. And it doesn’t matter that these changes are made. What is important is that we have an idea of ending – this gives us the momentum to write our story and a point to be driven towards. It’s like walking through a tree tunnel ~ you can see the end in sight but you don’t always know exactly what will greet you. Ideas aren’t set in stone. Plots aren’t set in stone. They can’t be. By their very nature they need to be fluid. They have to grow in unexpected ways and we have to allow those wild, crazy, creative moments to swoop down and carry us some place else, and when they do we have to go with it, even if it disrupts our original idea. Because the new idea will be a much better one! While our protagonist makes a journey, we as writers make one too, and should always expect the unexpected.
Do you know your ending at the beginning?