The Wrong Place to Start – Beginnings and Endings

When I set out to tell a story, I usually start at the beginning. I’ve come up with a seed, and I start writing there. That seed could be a character, a place or a situation, but it’s always something that gets me going strong – and the words surge onto the page.

I recently learned I may be doing it all wrong. Recently, at the Tony Hillerman Writer’s Conference in Santa Fe, I learned some new things from two different speakers. I learned what a beginning of a story must do, and I learned what the ending of a story must do. I also learned which one of those should be written first. And guess what – it’s not the beginning.

Screenwriter Kirk Ellis says that before you – the writer – begin to put a story down on paper, you must have two things firmly set in your head. The FIRST is what your ending is; the second is what your beginning is. His suggestion, to start thinking about your story with the ending, is intriguing. Ellis says that the writer needs to know where the character ends up before he even begins to tell the story.

For those writers who sit down to write with no story in mind and let the story tell itself, this suggestion can cause great anxiety. If you are like this – an organic writer – letting the words just flow – this goes against the grain. However, if you think it through, you will begin to understand that whether you put any of the words down or not, having an idea in your mind of how the main character(s) will change as the story unfolds can make writing your story a lot easier. You will know the state of the character at the beginning, and the state of the character at the end. This is known as the Character Arc. All that remains to figure out is how the character gets to the point of making that change, and how it happens.

I believe it was Agatha Christie who used to write an entire mystery ‘in her mind’ before she put a single word down on paper. I am amazed by the idea that she  could remember all of the intricacies, the plot twists and turns, by the time she actually put pen to paper.

Ellis went on to say that its a good idea to work your story in a limited sphere, meaning a short time period, or limited locations. As a writer, you’ll still have plenty of opportunity to put in details to illuminate the character and the story/plot. This limited sphere should not limit your creativity.

So now you know where to begin your story – with the end. In future posts, I’ll share more about beginnings and endings.

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