Beginning at the End

I may offend or confuse some of you pantsers out there, but I’m really becoming a firm believer in knowing the end of your story before you finish. Most any writer who outlines at all probably has at least a vague idea of how the story is going to end – otherwise, what’s the point of the outline?

If you’re a die-hard pantser (one who writes “by the seat of your pants” and never knows what the next scene of your story is going to be about), then keep doing what you’re doing if it’s working for you. And if you’re a hybrid plotter/pantser and it’s working for you, keep that up, too.

I’m not actually trying to change anyone’s mind or writing method in this post – or even give instructions, really. I’ve just made some observations recently about my own writing method, so I thought I’d share.

I’ve always been more of a plotter than a pantser, and lately I’ve been writing the endings to my stories fairly early on in the process. Not just outlining how the tale will end, but actually writing out the final scene.

I didn’t intentionally plan to do this, but as I was outlining the story and writing the first few scenes, I realized I knew how I wanted it to end. So instead of just putting the details into the outline, I went ahead and wrote out the scene. Now, by the time I finally finished the story and got to that final scene, a few minor details needed to be changed, based on what else had transpired during the story (and how much I might have deviated from my original outline).

I did this with the historical fiction novel I wrote earlier this year, as well as a sci-fi novella that I just finished up last week. And oddly, as I was writing a poem the other day, I had the last line of the poem in mind before I even knew how I wanted the rest of the poem to go, so I wrote that first. (I don’t know if that makes me a weird and clueless poet, or a genius poet, but either way, there it is).

Anyway, what I’ve discovered is that this process of writing out the final scene early in the story has helped me get through that dreaded muddle in the middle. I may be unsure of how to get to my destination, but I know what that destination is. I know how the main characters have been changed, how the world has changed, and what has remained the same. It’s helped me because, like a god, I can look down at my characters and know who they will become, and then the writing of the middle and main part of the story is simply me guiding them down the right path to becoming who they are meant to be.

I’d be interested to know what you other plotters – and even you pansters! – think about this process. Has anyone else tried writing out your final scene in full, and using that as your guide for writing the rest of the story? Do you have a different process? Please share!

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9 thoughts on “Beginning at the End

  1. I normally say I am both a plotter and a panster. Like you, I need to know the end, at least vaguelly. I’d never start to write a story if I don’t know how it’s going to end. Similarly, I’m very hesitant to start writing if I don’t at least know the climax of the story and a couple main plot points. That’s the beginning of my outline.

    I don’t write short stories outline, I just go with these basic ideas. As for novels, I discovered years ago that I can’t just go with the main ideas as I do with shorts, so I normally write down a synopsis that looks a lot like a short story of the novel.
    Now, the final novel will never look like this synopsis, that’s why I say I’m a panster too. Once I have the synospis, the main plot points and I’ve written the end, I know I can definitelly write that story. So I start all over again and at this stage, anything may change… except the main plot points. Episods, characters, reasons, episode order, chapter order… anything is fair game.
    I like to say that my synopsis is liquid 🙂

    But I’d never be able to do what you do. I need to write in chronological order. If a get a new idea, I take notes, I’d never just write it, because I need to come to that spot naturally.
    But hey, this is just me. I know every author has their methode and it’s fascinating to see how things work for others 🙂

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    • Thanks for sharing your insights and your method. 🙂 I usually lightly outline my short stories – although the last “short story” I wrote was so long it’s basically a novella, so I guess that doesn’t count. 😛 I agree that even for plotters an outline or a synopsis should remain fluid and flexible, because new ideas always come while you’re in the writing process. I haven’t always written the end first or written scenes out of order – just in the past few years. I’ve found it to be quite freeing, though, even if later on I don’t wind up actually using that scene.

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  2. Pingback: WISDOM was a “Pantser” | WISDOM NOVELS

  3. Fascinating topic! I realize it’s not exactly the same thing, but I’m a plotter when I pen blog posts. About 95% off the time (especially for non-outfit post entries), I pen my opening and closing paragraphs (which may be a few a piece) and then go back to focus on the “guts” of the entry, as such typically takes the greatest amount of time. I also feel more “on track” while writing when I know how something is going to start and end. Having that framework in place really helps me to enjoy the writing process all the more.

    xoxo ♥ Jessica

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    • Thanks for sharing your blog-writing process. Sometimes writing a blog post (or other non-fiction) can feel exactly like writing a story, and other times it’s completely different. 😛 I often write the intro and conclusion paragraphs to blog posts first, as well, then go back and fill in the middle. This method works especially well for me for articles and other web content that I write for my job and freelance writing work. It helps me stay on topic.

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