Do You Know How Your Story Ends?

By Posted in - On Writing on July 1st, 2010 11 Comments

I love the story that I’m writing, but I often worry that I don’t have the talent to do it justice. Every time that thought really begins to gnaw at my enthusiasm, I remind myself that the first draft is just that. A first draft. The first draft will disappoint me and that’s okay. Books don’t get written, they get rewritten. It’s with the later drafts that we’ll begin to make our books shine. But without a first draft you can’t begin that process. The first draft is the necessary clay. The subsequent drafts are the opportunity to mold the clay into a thing of beauty and power.

So how to tackle this problem? I start by figuring out how I want the story to end. Try it. It makes all the difference! What do you want the reader to feel when they put down the book? What flavor of thought do you want them to roll around in their minds?

If you have the ending, you’ll know what journey your protagonist needs to take to achieve the growth that gets him or her there.

I’m sure this is why my agent asked me for a one page synopsis, or even just the blurb that goes on the back of the book jacket. I thought I’d never be able to accomplish that until I’d written the book itself, but now that I’ve done it I realize why she suggested it.

It’s a lot easier to correct a flawed one-page synopsis than a full-length novel. And it’s easier to see the flaws, too, undistracted by details.

If you can complete a compelling synopsis that intrigues, where an endearing or fascinating character experiences an event that makes it impossible for life to remain as it was before, an event that compels her to form a risky plan of action that thwarts the opposing plan of an equally fascinating antagonist, then you’ve got me hooked for starters. If that antagonist is a formidable opponent I’ll feel even more strongly for the protagonist, and for what’s at stake if she fails to win the day.  I’ll be more invested in her pain as she realizes the old ways won’t work and forms a new, even riskier plan that shows significant growth. Now I’ll believe she deserves a happy ending and, whether or not she gets it, I’ll be right there with her.

But the key is in knowing the ending. You may be a pantser, you may prefer not to plot in cold blood. I totally get that. But you don’t want to be fumbling around in the dark, do you? Really?

Figure out the ending, the point of telling the story in the first place, the reason the conflicts have to be what they are, generated by a specific and  particular antagonist, in order to get her where she needs to be by story’s end.

If you can’t figure it out, it’s because you don’t have a story yet. Or, even worse, you have one that doesn’t stand up. Better to fix it before you’ve spent years, brain cells, and foregone a social life to bring it into being.

Let me know how you get on!


(11) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Birgitte Necessary - Reply

    July 2, 2010 at 1:11 am

    I know how my story ends! LOL It's the getting to the end part that's got my knickers in a twist. I NEED a synopsis NOW. Gotta get this last chapter submitted to crit group and then start focusing on a syno. The way my story lays out, I actually need 2 synopses, one for the present day tale, and one for the past. Right. Let's just make life really easy, huh?

  • Lia Keyes - Reply

    July 2, 2010 at 1:22 am

    Birgitte, are you splitting your story in alternate sections between the past and present? I think that's one of the things I loved about A.S. Byatt's POSSESSION. The unfolding of two stories, the past having impact on the present.

    Even if that's not the way you're going, if the past is significant, it's still a great idea to know it so completely you can produce a synopsis, or at least a chronological order of events, which is not the same thing.

    A synopsis shows character growth, usually follows three act structure, and is a complete tale in itself. For most backstory you only need to know what happened in the past (a chronological list).

    Either way, good luck! Your story is becoming more rich and interesting each time you update me on developments!

  • Rachna Chhabria - Reply

    July 2, 2010 at 1:43 am

    Lia, I remember very clearly you giving me this advice when I first met you. You asked me whether I had the ending for the story I was writing, because you felt by figuring out how I wanted to end the story would make my protagonist's goals and journey more defined.
    I will never forget that invaluable piece of advice. Nowadays I try to figure out the ending as soon as an idea ferments in my mind.

  • Lia Keyes - Reply

    July 2, 2010 at 3:01 am

    Great, Rachna! Because if you can figure out the ending, you also know why you're telling your story. They are one and the same thing.

  • Birgitte Necessary - Reply

    July 2, 2010 at 4:08 am

    Yes I'm alternating past and present, and each has it's own arc, the past informing the present, the present being "healed" through the journey of the past. They relate directly to each other.

  • Lia Keyes - Reply

    July 2, 2010 at 4:11 am

    Oooh, fun! You do like a challenge, don't you? 🙂

  • Birgitte Necessary - Reply

    July 2, 2010 at 4:13 am

    Yeah, let's make life REALLY complicated!!!!!!! LOL

  • Tee - Reply

    July 2, 2010 at 4:22 am

    Ah, yes, the desert before the main course. You know I love doing this and I have found it to be very helpful. I call it a Rowling-esque way of writing. Epilogue/end chapter first so you know what you're shooting for.

    I, like Birgitte, have issues with getting to that ending. Middles kill me and I know that's because I lack conflict in those instances. My writing mentor told me that perhaps when I can't find the middle, maybe I've got the wrong ending. Maybe that ending, is my middle.

    Food for thought, anyway.
    Great post!

  • Lia Keyes - Reply

    July 3, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Tee, what does your ending reveal about the theme of your novel? And in what ways did your protagonist have to change and grow in order to get there? The middle of the book consists of the mistakes or flawed plans that she carries out until she figures out that she needs a new plan, one that she's never tried before. This signals that the necessary growth has occurred. Similarly, how clear are you on your antagonist's goal and the way in which he blocks your protagonist's goal so he can achieve his? Do these two opposing paths deepen your theme?

    If theme, goal and opposing conflict/viewpoints are not your problem, where do you think the problem lies?

  • Tee - Reply

    July 4, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Thanks, once again, Lia for giving me something to think about!!! You are the best!

  • Sheryl Gwyther - Reply

    July 20, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Excellent blog, Lia. It's so logical when you think about it – it's like having the 'big picture' before you start so that you can slip off into lateral plotting safely. 🙂

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