Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. 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 an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Since finishing my latest manuscript, I've had trouble settling into reading again. I blame it on Newton. His first law of motion says that "an object in motion stays in motion" and that has absolutely been the case for me.
After several weeks of pushing to the end of my manuscript, I've been unable to stop my brain from whirring and spinning. I try to sit still, try to rest--something I thought I had mastered--but my hands want to be busy, my legs twitch, and I find myself simply skimming the words of books instead of actually reading them.
There's not much to do but wait it out, I think. I'll get reading back. It'll happen. I just have to wait. There's a lot of waiting in writing. Did you know that?
Anyway, as I've been unable to sit still, I've been doing a fair amount of walking. And listening. To podcasts. To lectures about writing. To instructional videos. And one thing that's been surfacing again and again is this idea that you can (should?) start drafting your novel by writing the ending first.
I've touched on this idea before. There's conflicting advice out there--and that's totally normal--but it's never been easy for me to start my stories by writing the ending first. If I know how it ends, I get bored with the writing. I feel the ending should be earned by all the work that comes before it--both by the story's protagonist, and by me, the author. I fight my way there and it's a struggle I enjoy.
That said, the more I write, the more I choose my habits with self-preservation in mind.
"What do you mean?" you ask.
The truth is that the more you write, the better you get at it. And, in my case, the more I write, the more I realize I don't like rewriting scenes any more than necessary. Oh, I love editing. But editing my seventh or eight edit? That's a bit painful. And writing chapters and chapters that I'm going to end up cutting? It's almost like hacking off an arm.
It's not even about the words that I love. It's about the time that I lose. I hate losing time.
And so, from a self-preservation standpoint, the idea of starting at the end is an interesting one. Because when you start at the end, you know exactly where you're going. And you write to that moment. And, ideally, you don't waste too many words getting there.
Author Victoria Schwab--read her stuff, seriously--picked up video blogging again and in one of her recent videos she talks about how she writes the ending first. She does this for several reasons--go watch to find out--but one of her reasons beckoned to the self-preservationist in me.
She writes the ending first so that she can reverse engineer her characters.
Now, I do this too. Only, I do my reverse engineering after I've written an entire first draft. The idea of tackling it from the outset is compelling and I just may have to try.
Reverse engineering is practiced in all sorts of different fields. It's the process of taking apart a completed product to understand how it's put together. By doing this you can explain, and possibly replicate, what's been done.
When we talk about reverse engineering a character, we're talking about looking at that character at the end of the story and working backward to develop a story arc. I've done this, to some extent, for most of my books. And it does take a little practice.
So that's what we're going to do today.
1. Pick up a favorite book and flip to the last chapter--this is so you don't spoil a new book for yourself. Read that final chapter through.
2. After you've read it, create a list of questions that can be asked based on the information in this chapter alone. Do not attempt to answer these questions. Simply let yourself ask them.
3. Leave your list of questions in the comments section below--PLEASE DO NOT GIVE US THE TITLE OF THE BOOK (and, if the characters have unique names like Katniss or Peeta, please replace the names with pronouns like he or she). We're not in the business of spoiling books here.
What we're looking for is proof that endings, inevitably, give us story fodder simply by existing. I think they just might.
Remember!!! If you participate in the writing exercise, you can use the Rafflecopter to enter our drawing. A winner will be selected next week and will have the opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for an upcoming episode of Go Teen Writers LIVE.