Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The End is Near . . . or is it?


The majority of the stories and novels I write start with an image. Occasionally, I hear a few lines of description, narrative or dialogue, but it's usually visual, my own silent movie scene. This moment, while often the impetus for the work, is not always the opening scene. Sometimes it falls in the middle or even at the very end. It can change slightly but it rarely disappears. It's sort of like a hidden mental hook I hang the whole story or novel on.

The Camp NaNo novel I'm continuing to work on has that. It's got lots of characters, too many plot threads to count, and some scary (I hope!) blood-and-guts-but-not-too-gory scenes. What it doesn't have? An ending.

I pretty much always have some idea of how the work is going to end. It might be vague, but it's there. Not this time. I've got loose and frayed plot lines that need to be knotted up. I've got characters moving toward an end point . . . but none of us know what that end point is or what will actually happen when we get there. And I don't like it. I like to know where I'm going, how long it will take to get there, what happens once I do. (Why, then, am I a writer, with all its unpredictability and uncertainty? Probably a post for another day.)  

So, as my characters and I move toward the cliff's edge with no rope bridge in sight, I ask what you all do with your stories and novels. How do you start? Does a character speak to you or does the plot present itself first? Do you know the ending ahead of time? Or is it always a surprise to you?

16 comments:

Emily R. King said...

Funny you should ask because I've been toiling over the ending of my rewrite. It's all new, and I wasn't sure where I should end this book because it's part of a trilogy. I stayed up late writing what I thought was the final chapter last night, then I realized it was the first chapter of the next book. Sometimes it's hard to know when to end, but I do like to have an idea in mind of where my characters are going.

Starting a new story can be hard. Often I need a break to get my old characters out of my head and focus on new ones.

Tara Tyler said...

funny you should ask! my friend marcy just listed some great questions to ask characters when beginning a novel!
(mainewords.blogspot.com)

i use an outline. my characters dont always follow it, but thats how i start!

Elizabeth Twist said...

I think my stuff works best when I do have both the situation of the story (what is the problem here, what is the conflict, or more vaguely, what is the story about) and the ending. When there's a clear cause-and-effect between those two things, I find writing much easier.

I don't always have that. Sometimes I'm figuring it out as I go. I confess that I am, more often than not, unsure about whether my endings make much sense at all.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Emily - that's an interesting point re what to do when it's a trilogy. I think that's tricky because you want somewhat of a cliffhanger but you also want the first book to be whole in itself.

Tara - thanks for the link. I use the term "outline" loosely for what I sketch out. :)

Elizabeth - it really is a cause-and-effect scenario. Maybe I need to apply that reasoning to this ms. Hmm...

Laura S. said...

Every story is different. Sometimes it's a character, a situation, a line of dialogue. An idea just pops into my head for a new project and I hurry up to write it down!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Laura - ah, the writing it down part! One of the most important pieces of the puzzle. :)

Leigh Covington said...

I know exactly how you feel. I got to the end of my first draft and was completely stuck! I was so annoyed with myself.
So... I started on revisions without worrying about, then... it finally hit me. Now I as I work on the rewrite, I know how much it helps to have the end in mind from the very beginning!

Jillian Schmidt said...

I completely empathize, because I never seem to know the ending as I'm approaching it and that drives me INSANE. It got so frustrating when I tried to rewrite my NaNoWriMo novel that I'm actually not letting myself start/restart a novel until I have at least some idea of how it should end (or so I tell myself). I'm more flexible with my short stories, but I still feel so much better if my initial inspiration (which is usually a first line or a general concept) at least gestures towards an ending.

Best of luck with that cliff!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Leigh - it's nice to know I'm not as alone as I often feel... :)

Jillian - I'm more flexible with my short stories, too. I wonder why that is? Hmm. And thanks - I think I see a few strands of rope I might be able to weave into...something that looks sort of like a bridge...

Jillian Schmidt said...

Well, my reason for being flexible with short stories is simple: if I'm at a complete loss for an ending and have to abandon the story, I've usually only spent a few days on it instead of the month(s) a novel draft takes. So potentially problematic short stories are a risk I'm much more willing to take!

Here's hoping your rope bridge holds...

Nick Wilford said...

It's good to have a vague end in mind, but your characters might have other ideas! I know how you feel, though. But look on the bright side - if it's a journey of discovery for you, then it sure will be for your readers!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Nick - good point about it being a journey of discovery for everyone involved. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't envy you, Madeline -- because I'm there most of the time myself. Seldom do I have any idea how my stories or novels are going to end; usually, the endings present themselves naturally, and it's always an adrenelin rush when things work out. When they don't...I resort to banging my head against the wall.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Milo - my poor head is already bruised from all that banging. Maybe I need some bubble wrap... :)

Mina Lobo said...

I generally know the end of a tale ahead of time, but at least once, in a short story, it changed, catching me completely by surprise. This pivotal moment meant the ending had to be radically different, and I'm happier with the road taken. I reckon our stories tell us where they want to go, eventually. :-)
Some Dark Romantic

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Mina - I'm hoping my novel tells me very soon where it wants to go... :)