Thursday, March 10, 2011

Panel Discussion: Do You Know the End of the Story at the Beginning?

Debora Geary
Heck no.  Sometimes I think I do.  I sat down to write A Modern Witch, my first novel (coming soon!), and expected my main character to end up in a relationship with her witch trainer. Ha. Not. There's a romance, but my main character doesn't get to play.  A four-year-old witchling was supposed to be a minor character in one early scene. Yeah, he's the second most important character in the book now.  
I thought a novella might be more obedient—less time to go off track—but Matchmakers 2.0 didn’t end the way I expected either. The ending took a turn literally as I was writing it.  Finding out how things will end is one of the biggest motivators to keep me writing.
contact info is for my first book, and generally.

Tiffany Turner 
Writing seems like a fluid journey that can sometimes even surprise the writer. I usual never have a clear ending in mind. So, I usually start out with a problem for my story, and then I let my characters lead me to the solution. The story draws me along until I reach the ending. In my first book, I had a different ending in mind. But as I wrote it, something else meshed with the events and I realized everything I envisioned would not work. The ending completely changed as I fell into this new ending. It worked out better than the first ending I had pictured. Sometimes, writing is like that. You think one idea will work, and it turns out another ending is much better.
Gaelic Harp and Irish Storytelling

Terrence OBrien
If I didn’t know where I was going with a story, I wouldn’t have any idea how to get there.  I wouldn’t even sneak up on the keyboard until I knew the ending. Every event and episode in the book should be part of a series of unbroken chains that can trace their way to the end. If something happens in the book, and it can’t be linked to the end, then I’d have to ask what it is linked to and why it’s even present.

So with that attitude, maybe you can understand why I think knowing the ending is crucial to everything before it. We might even ask the same question all through the book. What are the milestones along the way that events link to? And how do those milestones link to the end?

If I’m stuck, or am bored senseless by what I just wrote, the cure is often to move forward and write the milestone, then move backward, writing each episode so it has a direct connection to the milestone. I find writing the ending chapters first provides a clarity and direction I might never find by starting at the beginning and going inch by inch to the end.
Author Website:

Daniel Arenson
Yes.  I always do.  The beginning of a novel, I believe, should present a conflict laced with a moral dilemma.  Sometimes this moral choice is unclear at first, but once the climax is reached, the pieces come together, and suddenly the beginning makes sense.  Therefore, I don't think I can write a novel's beginning without knowing its end; the two are always linked.  For example, Tolkien always knew Gollum would bite off Frodo's finger, fall with the ring in his mouth into the lava, and thus undo Sauron.  Tolkien knew this when he let Frodo spare Gollum's life, hinting that some good might yet come of it.  I'm sure he knew the ending even when writing the early scenes in Hobbiton.  At the novel's end, all the pieces come together, and we understand why Frodo had to spare Gollum (and, similarly, why the companions spared Wormtongue).  I see my novels as intricate clocks, and every piece must fit and be understood in advance.

Adam Graham
I usually have a general idea of where the story will end, though I lack details. It is only as I go through the process of creating the story that I get an idea of the exact details. One story idea I have is set in an alternate world and ends with the lead character overthrowing the Ice King and becoming ruler of the Yukon . That’s the end, but exactly that will be brought about is something I won’t know until I actually begin to sketch out the story.

Dawn McCullough-White
I guess the answer is, sometimes.  When I was writing my second novel Cameo and the Highwayman I knew exactly what would happen at the end, and in a way it really made writing the book easier for me.   The thing is, with every book I write I envision it as scenes.  Scenes that I string together.  These are really the most important set of things that will happen in the story line.  The big reveals, the beginning, the ending... the emotional bits.  Everything else is just holding it all together.  And these are my basic outline for the book.  These are also changeable.  I'm currently writing the third and final installment in the Cameo Series and I have changed the ending several times now, but what leads up to the end hasn't changed at all.  So, yes, I usually do have an idea of what the ending is going to look like, but I'm flexible with it, if the story starts to move in a slightly different way than I'd expected I allow that to happen.

Linda Acaster
Absolutely. I might not know how it pans out in detail, but I know what it will contain and the reader reaction that I want to elicit. With my HistRom "Beneath The Shining Mountains" it was the ending that sparked the novel, and I had to work backwards to a beginning that would make sense to readers.

"Torc of Moonlight: Special Edition" was different in that originally it was a standalone novel, not the first of a trilogy (publisher stipulation; don't ask...) but when that fell thru and I could take control it went back to the drawing board. The original ending for the first book remained, but I had to add in slight tweaks to the emphasis of certain scenes so as to set up a continuation. I know how the trilogy hits its finale, but I won't know the route of the third book until the second is finished.
Beneath The Shining Mountains

J.M. Pierce
Yes and no. I do have a general idea for how the story will end, but it has a tendency to evolve itself a little on the way there. For me, that is one of the largest draws to writing. It’s almost as if your imagination can over-rule a conscious decision!

Valmore Daniels
I always begin at the end and work my way to the start. That's usually how ideas come to me, as an event, and then I wonder what events led up to that result. In a way, for me, writing a novel is like a 70,000 to 100,000 piece puzzle. I see the completely picture, but then I have the arduous task of putting the pieces together. Taking that a step farther, for my "Fallen Angels" fantasy series, I actually envisioned the final book before I even began plotting the first book, and I have an extensive roadmap of the plots of all five novels. It's the journey I find exciting, more so than the destination. Knowing the ending gives me a sense of purpose, so that when I draft the story, I can let myself explore my characters.
Angel Fire book icon

Joel Arnold
I don't generally know how my novels will end when I first sit down to write them; I have the novel's general frame in mind, perhaps a few scenes and characters competing for my attention, but an ending doesn't usually start to form until I'm at least halfway through the rough draft. I need to give my characters a bit of time to grow and reveal themselves to me before I know what sort of paces I want to put them through in the end. But once I'm about halfway through the novel, I know where everything's going to go, and by then my characters are marching toward their inevitable conclusions.

Michael Sullivan
I wrote the entire six-book fantasy series The Riyria Revelations before publishing the first book. I definitely knew where the story was going and structured the books to be stand alone episodes starting with a simple romp-like fun tale (The Crown Conspiracy) and the series gets deeper and more complex with each book.  Percepliquis (the last book in the series) is in final editing (anticipated release date April) and the first five books were really just the setup for this final book which is where all the fireworks come from.
That being said, I did have two or three different endings that I could have gone with.  Each one had pluses and minuses and it took me months before an epiphany hit me and I knew the ending I have now is 100% the right one.  Personally, I don’t understand authors that start and have no idea where the book is ultimately going. For me, I’d be afraid of getting stuck half way in so I HAVE to know the ending before starting.
Twitter: @author_sullivan


  1. I love how different we all are! I can't imagine writing with the ending firmly developed, and obviously some authors can't imagine starting as I do - with characters and an interesting situation :). Awesome, thanks for doing this, Debra.

  2. Almost every novel I've written began and ended with a specific scene that I had imagined before beginning to write. Of course, that doesn't mean that the scenes aren't modified and adjusted as the stories take shape, or that I'm not willing to discard a final scene that no longer fits the story or the characters.

    In the case of the first novel I wrote, WORDSMITH, I knew the opening and the closing before I began, and I figured that it would take about 200 pages to get from one to the other. Nearly 500 pages later--some 200,000 words in total--the characters finally allowed me to place them in the final scene. I was surprised at how difficult it was to move everyone into place so that they all met at the right time.

    Imagining the opening and closing scenes serves to keep my imagination moving in a fairly consistent direction. I will admit, however, to occasionally beginning a story with absolutely no idea where these people are going. The discovery is part of the pleasure.


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