Beginning with “The End”

“The end is where we start from,” T.S. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets.

I’ve been intrigued by this line ever since I encountered it my sophomore year of college. I was a new transfer student, still recovering from bulimia and anorexia, anxious over starting classes at a secular university (a first for this Christian-bubble-grown girl). My art history professor assigned this poem, though I can’t remember why, and asked us to find the relationship between an end and a beginning.

Both endings and beginnings signal change in the status quo.

“What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.”

 Often the very first page of the novel is connected somehow to the very last page. The author has written something—an image, a word, a phrase—that connects the two, joining the most important parts of any book. The first page sells that book, writers are told, and the last page sells the next book. But it’s not only sales. It’s also more satisfying if the last morsel of the novel confirms what we knew the first moment we tasted it: this is a great book. Like a fabulous meal, it’s memorable and satiating.

Enough about food.

I’ve been stumbling over the rough draft of this current novel. I’ve had a decent beginning, which I will cringe over later, and now I’m stuck in the middle. I’m a pantser, not a plotter. Though I have several scenes in mind that will occur at some point in this middle-muddle, I’m baffled how to get from Point A to Point B, never mind the various Points C-Z.

Then I stumbled over Julianna Baggott’s advice on Writer Unboxed.

“If you know the ending in any way, shape or misty form, write  it.”

That way, no matter what, you have some destination in mind. It may be lousy; lousy can be fixed. But the important part is that the action is done. Completed. There’s no guessing about whether or not I’ll reach that end because I already have.

(It’s like reading Genesis directly after reading Revelation; the first reading will influence how I read the next one, which ordinarily I’d read first.)

It grants me courage. I don’t have to fear the middle—of my book or my life—because I know what happens in the end. I know who wins.

With all the little scene-snippets running in my head, I do have a vivid ending fixed in those brain cells. In this case, making an ending—the grand finale of the novel—makes a beginning because it throws light upon that dark path from the narrative hook, through the middle, and on to the end.

And so, I’m off to write the end of my novel.

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12 thoughts on “Beginning with “The End”

  1. I often take this approach when I write stories, Laura. In fact, my in-progress tween novel already has a completed ending (if that’s not redundant), and I am currently working on filling the gap between the first 1/3 and the last 1.3, I feel like I’m stretching an elastic band & hoping it doesn’t snap! I think the ending will likely undergo some changes, but I had this strong feeling of where I wanted things to go. And you’re right: you can fix lousy, but you can’t fix what isn’t written. So I totally get this!!

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      1. Not a problem for me, though I guess it should be .33333333(etc.) and not 1.3. (But I think I just mixed decimals with letters, and probably my math teacher from high school would frown!)

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    1. Good luck on filling that gap, Jeannie! For me, the middle is always the hardest part: beginnings feel exciting, endings feel relieving, but middles? It feels like I’ve been thinking/imagining/writing this forever and yet it’s still nowhere close to “The End”. I wrote this post about a week ago, and since then, I’ve written a good portion of that last section. Now I understand certain things about the characters that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

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  2. Wonderful counsel! I’ve often thought that knowing the end, the destination helped move things along.
    On another slightly related note, I’ve personally never been a lover of suspense, although I can appreciate a well-done suspense point. I have never been able to understand why some critics rave about a book as suspense filled, as if readers were always waiting to meet the unexpected. In my experience, that’s not at all true.
    I love to see a good story unfold and develop, but I dislike unexpected twists and turns thrown in that don’t advance the development of the story. Now, I tolerate a lot of plodding or unexpected twists or an episode that I don’t immediately see the reason for; what I dislike is the sensationalistic bang that is only meant to wow the reader with a novelty or change-up.
    It’s why I stopped watching TV series _Lost_. That series never had a realizable destination, and the authors seemed to delight in confusing the reader. On the other hand, _Small-ville_, though it had many twists and turns, did have a destination and worked well throughout it’s season and as it came to a close.
    So, I consider Baggott’s counsel to be sound advice. 🙂

    P.S. _The Four Quartets_ is one my favorite T.S. Eliot poems.

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    1. Sometimes, I read the ending of a novel before I finish the middle section. If I read a long classic novel, I almost always read a synopsis of the plot; it’s really helped in my continued journey through Bleak House, and it hasn’t diminished my enjoyment to know what will happen. (If anything, it has heightened the irony of certain incidents.)

      Like you, I dislike the “sensationalism” of many plot twists. I like suspense, but I want to know that it will pay off: I will understand a character better, have a deeper appreciation for what happens later (or what has come before), and ultimately, be reminded of some truth about life. Of course, it’s far easier to critique what other authors’ do right/wrong than it is to write a suspenseful, genuinely moving, and truthful story!

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  3. I have a book I have been writing too- a “pantser” as well… Maybe I do need to think about writing the ending too…. a destination is there in my head a little… I will think about that. thanks so much!

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    1. Good luck on the book! I’ve never done this with a novel before, so I’m not certain how it will work. My first novel had a foreordained ending, something that was inevitable, but I didn’t write it until I got there. The third, though I had a vague idea of where I wanted the protagonist to be emotionally, I didn’t know anything until I wrote it! (The second novel was a complete disaster, so it doesn’t count.) With this one, I’ve done a lot more plotting.

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  4. Beautiful. As a confirmed plotter, I have always written my stories in order – but I realized I still always know the ending before I start. And knowing the ending of my life story – that’s the most reassuring thing of all.

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    1. Knowing the end of my life story, even when I don’t know the how/when/where/what of the physical end, is very reassuring!
      BTW, I have read a few of your recent posts, and I have thoughts to share on your site. But this is my first day back to dealing with comments/blogs/etc., so I’m trying to pace myself on how much time I spend online versus how much I write of my own stuff. But I will comment!

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