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Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Ending Your Beginning

Sunday, November 2, 2014

And now we come to the point at which we actually discuss finding your beginning in the ending of your story. (And only the sixth post of the series? So soon?) 😉

Readers of the Lost Arcs

When you finish writing the ending of your story, ask yourself these questions:

  • How did my characters get here?
  • What change(s) did my characters make in order to journey from the opening scene to the last?
  • What change(s) do I need to make to characters in the opening scene(s) in order to make sure they have a character arc that drives the story logically to what happens in the last scene?

We’ve all had this experience: You get to the end of a book and all of a sudden, a character does something completely unexpected, completely out of the blue, something that leaves you scratching your head wondering how in the world that happened, because nothing else in the book pointed to or set up that particular ending.

What happened is that the author forgot to analyze the end of her story to see where her characters ended up and go back and revise (or out-and-out rewrite) the beginning in order to put the story on the correct path to the ending she eventually wrote.

No matter how meticulously you’ve plotted and pre-planned your story, new scenes, new plot ideas, new characters crop up as you write. So much of our creativity comes from our subconscious processes that our stories at times seem to take on a life of their own—we become a conduit for the story that’s taking shape on the page, and we’re almost like spectators watching a movie or reading someone else’s book. And these new ideas and twists can change the tone, theme, or even plot of the story once you get to the end. How can you weave setups for these new scenarios into the opening scenes when you go back for revisions?

What are some hints and clues you can go back and
pepper into your opening scene to foreshadow
the events that happen later?

Then there are the books we read where we know from the second paragraph of the opening page exactly what’s going to happen on the last page. And I’m not talking about “these two characters are going to end up together” knowing—I’m talking about knowing exactly what the main conflict will be, how it will be overcome, and how these two characters will end up together. Because the author gives too much information, does too much setting up, drops too many “hints,” includes too much foreshadowing.

Do you reveal too much in the beginning
and take away from the reader’s joy of discovery?

After finishing your first draft and then setting it aside for a while, when you go back and re-read it before starting your revisions here are some questions to ask yourself, some things to make notes about:

  • Is the character the same at the end as at the beginning or is there growth/change?
  • Does the character’s growth/change happen throughout the story or suddenly at the end?
  • Does the ending fulfill the promise of the opening scene?
  • Does the ending make anything in the opening unnecessary?

.

Piece and Content-ment

Even if you’re a revise-as-you-go writer, you can’t revise your “story” until the whole story is written. If you concentrate too much on polishing a piece here and a piece there (e.g., focusing all of your energy on polishing and repolishing your first three chapters without having written your ending to know if it will affect what happens in the beginning), you’re going to make your manuscript choppy and inconsistent. Some pieces will have been polished to the point at which they’re worn thin, while others are going to still be rough and raw from not receiving enough attention.

Before a book is published, it goes through not only copy editing but also content editing. A content editor looks at the “big picture”—the whole story—from which to make their revision suggestions.

Something I find helps when going into the revision process (and it helps in writing your long synopsis, too) is to go quickly through the manuscript and write a one- or two-sentence summary of what happens in each chapter. This will give you a good working map and timeline of what actually happens in your story. You can follow this up by doing the same thing but for each scene in the story. This will show you if your scenes are in the correct order, if they advance the plot, or if they need to be revised and/or removed.

Writing your synopsis before starting your revision is a very helpful exercise in figuring out what your story is “about” before you start trying to polish it into a gem shaped like that.

Parting Words

Remember to allow yourself to write a first draft. Story FIRST—structure and craft later!

More important than polishing your opening or crafting the “perfect” first line . . . FINISH YOUR FIRST DRAFT!!!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Monday, November 3, 2014 7:42 am

    I’ve directed several of my followers to your Writing Series Index. I learned so much from you, thanks.

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. Writer-Talk Wednesday: Beginnings, Middles, and Endings | #amwriting #2017WritingGoals | KayeDacus.com

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