Friday, September 26, 2014

Ending Your Story: Shan's thoughts

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Today, my friends, I thought we’d talk about endings. If you’re nowhere close to your ending, that is perfect! Thinking about these things now will help. If you’ve made it, if you’re creeping up on a resolution, also fantastic! The last words you pen are just as important as those first words and I cannot overstate the importance of an author feeling their story has ended just where it should.

First, we need to address a rather sticky matter. To plan or not to plan? I have my own experiences to share with you, sure, but I did a little research as well. And the truth is, like every other bit of advice, the tried and true authors out there are split on the issue. 

Take this piece of advice I found in an article called “Seven Extremely Good Reasons to Write Your Ending First” by Amanda Patterson.


Good advice, yes? Author Rose Tremain would beg to differ. Here’s what she has to say. 



So, what’s an author to do with all that? What are we to do when two very intelligent, very successful authors give us conflicting advice? The truth is we all write differently. And not only that, stories grow uniquely inside us. Some of them come to us with an ending in place, with the inevitable outcome sprawling before us. Others start with just a character or a scene and we build from there.

I do not believe endings can be told what to do. In that way, I agree with Tremain. I believe endings must be the inevitable outworking of your story. But, that doesn’t mean I disagree with Patterson. Because some of us can only reach that inevitable ending with a good dose of planning.

In my own writing life, as I’m sure you can already guess, I’m about half and half. I don’t write my endings first. I’ve tried. I’m not good at it and I end up with a bunch of stuff that has to be cut. I do, sometimes, write my endings before I write my climax though. Can you guess why?

It’s simple really. The final scene of a story leaves the reader with one last image. But until I pen it, it doesn’t exist for me. And while I’m writing that last reversal, that last teetering moment of decision, I, as the author, need to have cemented in my mind what the stakes truly are. Seeing the end makes that possible for me.

You might be different. I have a friend who plots the entire novel before she sits down at the computer. My brain doesn’t work that way. But the reason I know that is because I’ve tried. I’ve tried it her way and I couldn’t make it work.

So, maybe today’s advice is this. Be willing to try different things. Especially if you’re stuck. I wonder, how different would your story be if you wrote that ending first? How different would it be if you plotted the whole shebang? I don’t know. But giving one or both of these strategies a shot will certainly teach you something about who you are as a writer. AND! You may even stumble onto the perfect ending for that story of yours.

So, tell me! Have you tried writing your ending first? Do you plot before you begin? Or do you start with a single moment and build from there? Would you be willing to try something new or does that terrify the creature of habit that lives inside your head?

67 comments:

  1. I"M ALMOST DONE WITH MY FIRST DRAFT OF MY FANTASY! :D I tried plotting a story before, but it didn't work. Plotting doesn't work for me. I have no idea where I got the idea for either of the two books I'm working on XD

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    1. Congratulations!

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    2. Congrats!!! That's so exciting! :)

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    3. Thank you Linea, Sierra, and Mrs. Dittemore!

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  2. I use a variation on Mary Robbinette Kowal's plotting system. I brainstorm plot, setting, and character. Then I write out what I vaguely want to have happen in the beginning middle and end of the book. Then I work out my twists and mystery and then I write a LOOSE outline.

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  3. Great post! I am a very detailed plotter. I cannot start a story when I have no idea what will happen. For instance: I am writing a fantasy trilogy and am about two-thirds through the first draft of book one, but I have all three books plotted out pretty well. I always add scenes that I didn't have in my original plot, though.

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    1. You are a publisher's dream come true! When I got my contract for the Angel Eyes trilogy, I could only talk in grand sweeps about the next two books. When pitching a series, publishers LOVE to know where you're going.

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  4. Hmm. I'm a pantser, but maybe I just need to force myself to write an outline first. That may work better for me.
    Thanks for the suggestions!

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  5. I'm currently rewriting a story I wrote, so I already knew where I was going. Of course though, I knew I was going to have to change it. Or at least add on a lot to what I had, because what I had wasn't very...I don't know, it just needed work. :) Anyways, while rewriting I got stuck, so I switched to the last chapter. It really helped me! I let all my ideas flow onto the paper and now I have so many plot bunnies. XD
    Like you, I'm half and half. Sometimes I write the end first, very very rarely though, other times I just see where the story goes, because I'm a panster at heart. :)

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  6. I've never actually written the ending before, though I always have a tentative ending in mind. I like to have a general outline and go from there. :) Thanks for the post!

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    1. All you outliners! I'm a little jealous. I'm so bad at it.

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  7. I can plan a lot of things in my books, but I've found that even when I plan the ending it rarely works out like I think it will. Excellent thoughts, Shan!

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  8. I plan endings, but by the time I reach them, I discover the one I planned isn't the right one. Kind of like the verse in the Bible, "Man makes plans, but God directs his steps."

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    1. Oh yes! FOR EXAMPLE, I have an ending in mind for the book I'm about to finish, but I keep going back and forth on just which character will take the brunt of a very bad decision. I don't think I'll know for sure until I write it. Which . . . . I'd better get started.

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  9. I usually write down an outline for my book, then just start writing. I try to have at least a vague idea for an ending. I'm willing to try something new, though!

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    1. One of these days I'm going to want to see all these outlines you guys have. My outlines look like smooshy paragraphs attempting to be a synopsis.

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  10. If I be honest, I used to be ashamed of planning endings. I guess there was not much reason to be, but those wicked voices, such as Mr. Marion pointed out in his guest-post last week (on my birthday!), say things like, "You plan endings because they are the only part of your story that can possibly touch a reader." "You have no ideas for the middle so you just jump to the end." "You're doing it all wrong, silly. You start from the beginning. If you haven't reached the end, don't try for it!" But I do find planning endings more of my type of thing. I almost can't help it. I like to know when and where my story is going to end, so that I know what I am working to, and how to keep it in check. It's nice to see how one can be successful with almost any style or method of writing! Thank you so much for posting this!

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    1. Don't ever feel ashamed of your writing practices! We are all so different. When an author shares what works for them, it is in no way an indictment against you or how you do it. In fact, it's pretty amazing that we all work differently. It means we'll never, ever tell the same story. Trying new things that can stretch us is all part of the journey. Be free, friend. And write on!

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  11. I usually get the ending close to when I get the idea. I don't know why. It usually comes to me within the first few days. When I come up with an idea, I usually get the beginning, the end, some of the characters and an idea of the world then it grows from there.

    Stori Tori's Blog

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    1. I'm a little bit jealous, Victoria! This is the first time I've ever had a decent snapshot of the ending.

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  12. I usually have some idea about what happens- X marries Y, Z is crowned. But how it comes about is another question...
    B

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    1. Yes! So, middles! We'll have to talk about those some other time.

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  14. I rarely know the ending when I start. I get the idea of a character, a situation for them to be in, and maybe a vague idea of where I want the story to go, but I don't outline until a few chapters in. My "outlines" are just a quick sentence for each scene, just something I can look at when I get so sucked into a chapter that I forget what the "bigger picture" is. (And also because I'm OCD I'm constantly rewriting my outline so it still fits the story... LOL.)

    Thank for the post, Ms. Dittemore! I should go write my ending now... I've been procrastinating on it for days.

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    1. I work a lot like this too, Catsi. And I need to write my ending as well. Much luck, friend.

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    2. Ha! So I'm not the only one who feels the urge to edit her outlines! Except I like to outline my chapters in detail, so it gets to be a time-killer... However, if I write on paper, I'm less tempted to go and like, erase stuff, because that's messy. But the fact that it feels messy makes me less likely to outline on paper to begin with...

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    3. I understand. It's very hard for me to write when the world feels messy. Like, right now, I know that I have dishes in my sink and that's a crazy distraction even though I'm three rooms away. It's a pain being compulsive.

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  15. With my newest project I started it with a random scene and just kept writing random scenes until I wrote the final scene around page 20. And then I decided to go back and write it out traditionally with just chapter after chapter. So this book is very different for me because I usually don't do that.

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    1. That's an interesting method! I'll have to stash it away in my Ideas notebook.

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    2. I love that you're open to trying new methods!

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  16. I tried planning out the whole thing once. By the nail biting end I didn't want to write the novel anymore. Needless to say I don't use that method. I'm a pantser but I do make notes and got a few short outlines online to help me plan a bit but I barely use them. Creature of habit I suppose.

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    1. It's like Stephen King says. He says he writes to find out what will happen next. There's a gigantic part of me that gels entirely with that.

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  17. I remember reading an interview with Diana Wynne Jones where she said before she started writing, she always had the beginning, one scene from the middle, and the ending planned out. I have one story I am working on right now but I'm not getting anywhere and I know it's because I haven't figured out the ending yet. Endings can change as you write but I need something to work toward.

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    1. You're not alone. Many of us need to know where we're going. I like the idea of having a few plot points here and there to aim for and letting the rest come as it will. Very good plan.

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  18. I don't exactly know what my process, but after spending about eight months on a loonnnggg and meandering first draft with an ending that didn't really fit with the beginning, I'm starting to think that pantsing is not for me, LOL.

    So for my next book I'll be sure to know my ending. But not write it first. Writing out of order, apart from *feeling* wrong to me, turns into a disaster of characters referencing events I decided to shuffle around in such a way that they haven't yet occurred at that point...

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    1. That's what I run into as well. You're learning who you are as a writer, though. SO IMPORTANT!

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  19. I'm definittely a panster. I'm not afraid to try new things. I've written the end of my story, only in my head.

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    1. Me too! Except I keep rewriting it. THIS WEEK THOUGH! THE END is almost my next thing.

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  20. I've plotted out a few novels before...and in that process learned I'm a half plotter half panster. :) The plotting went fine, but when I got around to writing the story, I was already tired of it... I've never written the ending before I got there, I don't think. I know how this story I'm working on is going to end, though! (As long as my characters cooperate...) Thanks for the post it was good! :)

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  21. I have been plotting stories in my head for years without actually writing them down. I mean, I'll write scenes as they come to me because then they are fresh and I get really into the characters' minds. But that doesn't work very well when it comes to finishing a draft. I'm finally writing one story from start to finish, adding and editing my pre-written scenes as I go. I have an outline and an idea of how it will end, just not written down yet.

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    1. You are so brave to not write them down! I forget EVERYTHING! Seriously. EVERYTHING. Like, I had this idea yesterday and I just knew I'd never forget it because it was THAT GOOD. But now? I can't even remember if it was for this novel or not.

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  22. I have done a bit of everything. I have plotted all of one story out... written one from a single point.
    Known what the end had to be and written to get there... at the moment I have the prologue, introduction and beginning of a chapter and I know what the outcome of the book will be, well what the MC will have to achieve, though at the moment I have no idea how!

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    1. Sounds like you're ready to just sit and go for it. Head down. Blinders on. Fingers on that keyboard and JUST DO IT!

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  23. I'm thinking maybe you should consider disabling anonymous comments...

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    1. We've done that before, since it significantly cuts back on spam. The problem is that it causes trouble for a lot of our regular readers. We do our best to catch the spam that slips through the filter as best as we can. Thanks for your patience!

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  24. I spend a good two to three weeks thinking before I begin. I normally have a general idea of what I want by then but sometimes I don't have an ending. Most of my endings are bittersweet.

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    1. I like bittersweet! Very much. I might be heading that way too.

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  25. I love outlining and planning almost as much as I love writing. When I start a new book, I tape 9 pieces of paper together and just start jotting notes in one corner. In a couple weeks it becomes an elaborate mess of character profiles, maps, chapter outlines, ect. Then, the first chapter outline gets elaborated and copied neatly onto my whiteboard and then finally, I can write. It is impossible to write unless I am staring at that whiteboard. When that chapter is over, the whiteboard is erased and the next chapter takes shape

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    1. I do something similar to your 9 pieces of paper: I get a legal pad and write notes all over the thing. It becomes quite a mess as well. :) At some point the notes are sorted and make it into a Word document or a three-ring binder.

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    2. You know what I love about this? You have a system. And that makes for so much freedom. You know what's next and I envy you that. Props.

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  26. I like to just write and write until I have a good base. Then I basically tear and edit all that up, after carefully planning it out. It does end up changing as I go along, though. :)

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    1. Free writing is one of the best tools in our box. Love this.

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  27. When I have a new idea I usually just start writing. When the newness of it goes away then I plot,flesh out my characters etc. So I'd be right in the middle. I do plan but I also to write on the seat of my pants as they say. (:

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  29. I agree with you, Shan. outline my story, then as I write things invariably change, but the beginning and climax are always the same from the plan to the actual writing. For the first few drafts, I revise the outline accordingly, and then in the final stretch, I just write and forget the plan until I go back for edits on continuity and everything else.

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    1. Don't you love the part where you're far enough along that you don't have to worry about the outline? LOVE THIS STAGE!

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  30. When I begin, I normally have an idea of how my story is going to end, though I've never actually written out the ending first. But often, by the time I get there, that ending has changed.
    On the other hand, I have tried plotting everything out before, but I can't really get into it. Half the reason I write is because I'm telling myself the story, and if I already know everything that's going to happen, I just can't bring myself to write it down. I utterly lose interest in the project and have to move on to something where there are still a few surprises.


    Alexa S. Winters.
    thessalexa.blogspot.com

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    1. I understand. I get bored a lot too if my characters are short on surprises.

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  31. I have two pages left on my 1st draft =) I am very happy. Thank You GTW

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