Beginning At The End
One of the best writing tips I’ve heard for novelists goes something like this: “Know the ending before you start.”
I love that. It just makes sense. That’s not to say there isn’t other ways to write a novel. I know many authors take the “go where the characters lead” approach. But it just seems much easier to know where you’re going before you start.
With A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh took that approach, which he explained in an interview with The Paris Review in 1962.
Have you found that the inspiration or starting point of each of your novels has been different? Do you sometimes start with a character, sometimes with an event or circumstance? Did you, for example, think of the ramifications of an aristocratic divorce as the center of A Handful of Dust, or was it the character of Tony and his ultimate fate which you started from?
I wrote a story called The Man Who Liked Dickens, which is identical to the final part of the book. About two years after I had written it, I became interested in the circumstances which might have produced this character; in his delirium there were hints of what he might have been like in his former life, so I followed them up.
As I’m still reading the book, I obviously don’t know the ending, but it sounds like things don’t go well for Tony.
He ends up in bad shape and Waugh took on the task of determining how a wealthy aristocrat from Britain can wind up half delirious and nearly dead in a Brazilian jungle.
Sounds like a pretty good story, eh?
The TV show Lost did a great job of this a few years ago. After season three (by far the worst season), the directors came out and said the show would end after season six.
Lost had an expiration date, and I think that helped them move the plot forward, though some of you might disagree with whether it had a good ending or not.
Anyway, if you’re a writer, I think it’s a great idea to follow Waugh’s approach.
Begin at the end.