Beginnings and Endings

Started by Qwerty, November 13, 2020, 09:33:37 PM

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A few years ago, I began writing my first novel. After 40 chapters or so, it became painfully obvious that I had no idea where my story was going. My predicament reminded me of the saying... "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." So I stopped writing and started reading how other writers solved that problem or managed to avoid it altogether.

One said I was suffering from writers block and said he had the cure but the side effect was plagiarism! Several told me they let their characters lead the way and called that discovery writing. And some said they outlined their story from beginning to end.

Writers block? I wasn't blocked from writing. I was blocked from knowing where my story was going. I was blocked by not believing that characters I had made up in my own head could show me the way to the end of my story. I was blocked from believing that I could outline my story when I had not yet discovered or planned its ending.

One writer, however, punched through my doubts by saying she uses free writing to discover a possible direction for her story and then uses outlining to organize what she discovers. Despite the validity of what the other writers had said--except for the cure that led to plagiarism, of course--her advice helped me combine discovery and outlining to develop my own criteria for moving my story from beginning to end. To my surprise, that helped me write the opening and closing paragraphs of my story. I had a beginning, a place to start, and an ending--a finish line to aim for and write towards.

For what it's worth to those of you reading this thread, I'd like to post a brief summary of the process that led me out of the woods, so to speak. Eventually, I'd like to post my opening so you folks can give me some feedback on that. Meanwhile, here's my summary. I hope some or all of you find it valuable in one way or another... cheers!


Ignite the reader's curiosity by foreshadowing the coming attractions without laying all my cards on the table.
Know how my story will end so its beginning sets an exciting, relevant stage for its middle and its end.
Know what must happen between beginning and ending to make Jack, my main character, want that ending and pursue it.


What does Jack want, or thinks he wants?
What prevents him from continuing to pursue that goal?
What does he do to return things to way they were or wanted them to be?
What motivates him to restore his status quo or change what he wants?


Jack is transitioning between one kind of status quo to another;
He's between the world he knew and the world he wants, in two ways...
He's retiring from the solitary life he knew as a spy to begin a solitary life as a civilian;
Terrorists have zapped the world he knew back to the dark ages;
He's falling in love with one of the people he meets on his way home;

External Conflicts

Dealing with the world as it is now to survive from one day to the next;
Fighting terrorists who are killing people in the Antelope Valley

Internal Conflicts

Struggling to choose between the solitary life he wanted when he retired to go home
And the friendships he'd discovered with those he'd met on his way home;


Something powerful enough to justify Jack changing what he wants;
Minor character is killed... not strong enough reason to keep him from going home;
Major character is killed... strong enough reason for him to get on the road to his cabin in the mountains;
Linda is kidnapped by terrorists to make Jack stop killing them...
Makes him realize what he had been missing in his life—friendship on fire;
Words go together in zillions of ways--some ways go shallow and some ways go deep. ~ James Dickey

Jo Bannister

Congratulations.  You've drawn yourself a road map.  You've figured out that you want to do more than just go for a drive: you want to end up somewhere worth going, and now you know - at least roughly - how to get there.  That's a lot of the hard work involved in writing a book already done.  Now you can start enjoying yourself!

Different approaches work for different folkses, but this is detailed enough to keep you on track if you falter, without being too much of a strait-jacket if you see a side-road worth exploring.  Good luck with it.  Let us know how you get on.


Thanks for the feedback. I like your phrase road map. Yeah, a road map. And you're right. Not wise to get so narrow in your approach that you don't see other ways to get there. Like Yogi Bera said, "When you come to a fork, take it." Well, maybe... or like Frost said, look down that road as far as you can see and then take the one less traveled by. Struggling with this first novel reminds me of George Orwell's comment that "Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."
Words go together in zillions of ways--some ways go shallow and some ways go deep. ~ James Dickey