Monday, December 23, 2013

Start at the End

Good afternoon from drizzly, 11°C England! (No snow in sight.)

In my first post, I promised to mention some interesting tips from the world of screenwriting that could be used to improve novels. While there are many helpful principles used in screenwriting, for this post I'll focus on something that really caught my attention.

Note: My study of screenwriting came after completing my fourth novel (The Treacherous Trail). Thus, the points I'm going to share are ones you might not find in my writing up to this point.

Start at the End

Whether we find them in books or in films, in fiction or in fact, good stories are about change. The bad guy is caught, or the good guy dies, or the powerful tyrant is overthrown. William Bradford leaves his home to brave the dangers of a New World, Johanna-Ruth Dobschiner survives WWII and is converted, empires fall, or Scotland wins its independence. Sometimes change is subtler than that, but it needs to be there. Why?

1) Well-constructed change means suspense (because the reader doesn't know what will happen next).

2) Suspense means the reader is dying to find out what happens, and will continue until he gets the answer.

And that is exactly what you want.

One way to help yourself map the path of change in your story is to start at the end. How do you want the story to end? By definition, this is the final part of the tale, and the part the reader will (probably) reach last and remember. Instead of the hero only learning a lesson or feeling a certain way, can he do something to show the change more strongly? (e.g. The prodigal son didn't stay with the pigs; he took action, returning humbly to his father. This was powerful, outward proof of his learning and feeling---his inner change.)

Once you have some idea of your ending, you could think of ways to make the beginning as different as possible to facilitate the most change. If Percy Blakeney is revealed as a brilliant mastermind at the end, you could make him seem a thoughtless fool at the beginning. If Valjean becomes a righteous man, you could make his redemption seem impossible at the start. If the Titanic sinks . . . okay, well, maybe that's just a little too far-fetched. The Titanic could never sink! :)

With these ideas of the ending and the beginning in hand, you could write them down somewhere to remind yourself as you continue planning the route between those two points. They will probably change as you go along, but that's okay. They're there to help you and give a reference for your starting point and desired destination. Hope this helps!

C.R. Hedgcock
Time to celebrate the Saviour's birth,
Goodwill to men, peace be on earth.
Wishing you every joy of the season
Because Christ came; yes, He is the reason.


  1. Great post! And a Merry Christmas to you all from 45°C Australia!

  2. An interesting idea. I like to work myself up to the finish so I can cry and be thankful and happy it's done... But this definitely a good idea!

    Merry Christmas from an unusually warm (though snowy) 36 Fahrenheit in mountainous New Mexico, USA!

  3. Thank you for the comments! Just to clarify, I don't mean writing the story backwards (that would take too long :D ), but rather having an idea before writing starts of what the end will achieve and how the beginning can provide a contrast to it.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. I've gotcha! (Purely American term meaning "I understand". How's that for a proving My Fair Lady's conviction that we Americans don't speak English? Heeehee.)

  4. I've thought of settling on the end of a story first, but I didn't realize how much it could help you with your beginning! It is a very good idea, especially if you have trouble with either the beginning or the end of a story. I've lately become interested in studying screenwriting to improve my fiction, so I look forward to hearing more of what you have to say about it!


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