Starting from the End

Thursday, May 10, 2007
I'm looking for surprises as I tell a story . . . my favorite writers say that in their best stories they didn't have any idea they'd turn out the way they did. It's a good lesson . . . not to plan a story ahead of time but just to gather what's important and start out on it.

Rick Bass
Passion and Craft: Conversations with Notable Writers

There's no doubt that my muse has a mind of her own. Of late, my efforts to tame her have consisted primarily of "We will write at least one page for potentially paying work before you can play." For the most part, it has worked. She's being difficult by not focusing on the novel I want to be finished, but I learned long ago not to force her into directions where she doesn't want to go.

One recurring thing she does is decide how the story ends, often before I'm even sure how it begins. This happened with Battlefield and now, again, with the novel version of Emerald Flight. In both of these cases, I've written most of the key final scenes in the book, so evidently she knows where the story needs to go—and she's making her wishes perfectly clear from the onset.

In a lot of ways, this kind of feels like writing without a net, not having the story completely mapped out. I suppose, though, that knowing how the story ends helps since I know ultimately where all the loose ends need to be tied up.

I have discovered that writing in this manner does allow the story to move and the characters to behave in often unexpected and revealing ways. I think it makes for a more interesting story, as terrifying as it to be working without the safety cushion of a detailed outline. As Robert Frost said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."

I guess, in the end, that's really what it's all about.