Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fun Ideas and Tips #9: Using the Ending to Create the Beginning

A couple of people hit me with a new concept this past week. This first comes from James V. Smith Jr. in his Writer's Digest article on The Dos and Don'ts of Novel Endings. He has lots of great advice on creating a good ending for a novel but the one point that jumped out at me was this: "Do Mirror your final words to events in your opener. When you begin a journey of writing a novel, already having established a destination, it’s much easier to make calculated detours, twists and turns in your storytelling tactics. When you reach the ending, go back to ensure some element in each of your complications will point to it. It’s the tie-back tactic. You don’t have to telegraph the finish. Merely create a feeling that the final words hearken to an earlier moment in the story."

Creating those bookends, if you will, that hold in the rest of the story. If I can take a story I've written all the way through, and analyze the beginning not by itself but also based on how the book ends, can I make my beginning stronger, better, and more significant? I know it's important to make every detail you spend time on count. How much more powerful they might be if the ending echoes or expounds upon the beginning.

The other concept came from someone who is not a writer. He asked me: "Do writers ever try writing their stories backwards? You know, starting from the end and finishing with the beginning?" Of course, I couldn't answer for everyone. I knew I hadn't tried that before. I also knew that sounded like a fun challenge. To take cause and effect and work backwards with it? Crazy - yet strangely brilliant.

Not everyone knows their ending when they start out, of course. And sometimes the ending we conceive ends up disappearing along the way while writing everything else and evolves into a new creature. Sometimes it's best not to mess with that first draft or have any tightly held ideas about it, even if you outline. But on the first round of revisions? That would be a sweet spot to try these ideas out. We'd already have a pretty good idea of our ending and beginning, and now we could go back through and make sure cause and effect are working and that the beginning and ending tie-in someway.

Have you ever tried or applied either of these concepts? If so, what were the results?


  1. Very good post, Joyce!

    I have to say I did this with my epic fantasy. I started and ended with the main character in exactly the same setting (lying in her bed) and with exactly the same companion. In the opening, she was lonely, at the end, she'd found her heart's desire.

    Did it work for me? I'm not sure anyone else noticed, but I did it deliberately.

  2. Excellent advice, Joyce. I know that when I got the ending of my novel, which was where I always knew I wanted it to go, once I really knew the scope of the story and the turns it took to get to the end, that the opening needed revising to reflect where the story did actually go. I think you can't really do an effective opening until you know the whole story. Then the opening can play to that. And should.