In the pilot episode of the television show Lost, which aired in 2004, main character Jack opens his eyes to discover that he has survived a plane crash and is currently surrounded by chaos. He immediately jumps up and into action, helping other survivors.
Once things have settled down, Jack and his companions take in their surroundings on the tropical island. Quickly they realize that not only have they crashed, they are now in a place where things are not as they seem…nor are they safe.
It’s one of my favorite episodes of television.
It is so exciting, filled with drama and intrigue and seat-of-your-chair tension. The people on that island – and the viewers – wonder, what’s next?
I don’t know about you, but starting writing a novel kind of feels like this. Not the survival part, but the excitement. The possibilities. The fear. The adrenaline. What will come next? we ask ourselves as we dive head-on into our opening scenes.
If you watched all six seasons of Lost like I did, you’ll know that despite a brilliant beginning, the show went off the rails a bit and left viewers overwhelmingly unsatisfied.
How can we prevent that for ourselves? How can we keep ourselves from inserting random polar bears that are never explained? Or taking our readers on a journey that leaves them more confused than clear?
By knowing the end from the beginning.
There are two reasons that knowing in advance how your story is going to end is beneficial. First, knowing the end in advance gives you a target to aim at as you write. Second, it will save you time, because you can ask yourself “does that mysterious hatch in the woods actually help me get where I’m trying to go?”
A couple of tips:
➡️ Remember the point of your story. The main character understanding the point is where you want to end your story. What will that look like?
➡️ Know that the ending can change. Just because you make a decision now doesn’t mean that you can’t change it later. There is freedom in giving yourself a bit of constraint.
Here is what I’d urge you to do this week. Decide how your story is going to end. You could even play with writing the final scene. This is not as hard as it sounds, especially if you remember that you are just fulfilling the promise you are making at the beginning.
Remember, there is no “right” way to write a novel, but there are some things that can help.
I hope you find this useful. Let me know what you think, either about the tips OR about Lost! 😉
Hello writers. One of my all-time favorite pilot episodes for a TV show is the first episode of the show Lost, which aired back in 2004. The opening scene is immediately after a plane has crashed on an island, and we’re seeing the wreckage and chaos through the eyes of one of the characters, a doctor who immediately jumps in to start helping people. Over the course of the episode, the chaos calms and the survivors start to take in their surroundings, which is an island that definitely has some mysterious characteristics. It is so good if you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend that episode, but like many people I stayed with that show through to the end for six seasons, hoping that the many, many, many mysteries would finally be explained. Some were and some weren’t. The ending was, well, it wasn’t great. Now, although the original creators of the show have said that they knew how it would end all along the winding road they had to take to get there because of the popularity of the show made the ending pretty unsatisfactory for a lot of viewers, and I love to use it as an example of why it is so important to have a clear idea of the ending of your story before you start writing, because you can end up with unexplained polar bears that you’ll have to deal with in revision, and nobody wants that.
So in this episode, we’re going to talk about how and why to know the ending from the beginning of your writing process. But before we do, I wanna make sure that you’ve taken the Novel Foundation’s quiz. The truth is you choose your ending based on decisions you have to make before setting out to write a novel decisions about your character arc, your key plot events and more. Having a solid foundation for your novel is crucial, and this quiz, which takes less than two minutes to complete, will not only give you your best next step, you’ll also get a customized toolkit of resources to help you on the journey. There is no right way to write a novel, but there are some things that can help. The link is waiting for you right at the top of the description, so be sure to head over there after this video.
Making the decision ahead of time where your story is going to end is a crucial element to keeping a story moving forward. After all, when a reader starts reading, we expect that we’re going to get an ending, right? That all of these events and emotional change in the protagonist is going to lead somewhere satisfying. Whether it’s an ending with all loose ends tied up in a bow, or one that leaves the reader with some questions, you as the writer need to know where this sucker is going to end up. And I wanna be clear. I mean actually logistically, physically and emotionally end up, not some vague sense of resolution, an actual ending where, when, why, and how. There are two reasons that knowing in advance how your story is going to end is beneficial. First, knowing the end in advance gives you a target to aim at as you write, and second, it’ll save you time.
We’ll come back to this one in a minute. I want you to imagine a large old deciduous tree, one that has lost its leaves for the winter. At the base of the tree is the start of your story. As you move up the trunk, you have large branches which you could follow choosing one, you follow it up to where it too begins to branch off in multiple directions. Then those smaller branches branch off, etc. At the bottom of this tree is a squirrel. He sees that one lone seed is still hanging up there, it’s at your chosen ending, but the squirrel doesn’t know that. He just knows that he wants to get up there, and he trusts that the tree, the story in this messy analogy, is going to get him there. The squirrel is your reader. The tree is your story, and you are the one who is choosing where that seed is, thus illustrating the path to get to it.
There are two things you’ll wanna keep in mind while you plan the ending of your story. First, remember the point of your story. This is the promise that you made to your reader in the beginning, that the protagonist wants something and is going to work toward getting it, whether with positive or disastrous results. Along the way, they’re going to grow emotionally and realize something about themselves and the world. The ending needs to fulfill that promise. It’s the seed that the squirrel is expecting to get, even though he might not know exactly how it will taste. The second thing to remember is that the ending can change. You might plan your ending, then realize mid first draft that this story isn’t doing what you want it to do, but like with everything else you might change. This needs to be a conscious decision. The danger lies in shiny object syndrome, right?
The offhand thoughts that another track might be better for this protagonist or that redirecting the emotional growth is a smart choice. This is where you’re writing will go off onto a branch that you didn’t intend or perhaps fall off the tree altogether. I’m gonna stop with that analogy now, <laugh>, my suggestion is that if, while writing, sleeping, driving, showering, whatever, you have a sudden thought that pointing toward a different ending is a great idea, write that thought down and sit on it for at least 24 hours. If it still feels like the right thing to do, then make that conscious decision. But if after the thrill of a better idea has worn off, revisit your original plan for the ending and recommit to it. So I think that the assertion that knowing the ending gives you a target to aim at is pretty self-explanatory at this point.
But what about the idea that it will save you some time? Well, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re likely going to take the wrong path more than once. You’ll get up that one branch and think, wait, I don’t like where this is heading. So then you’ll have to back up and start a new one. Can you see how much potential for going the wrong way there is? This backing up and starting over is inefficient, it’s frustrating, and it damages our confidence in our ability to write. So why not give yourself the gift of a clear end point and a shorter path to getting there? Here’s what I would like to urge you to do this week. Decide how your story’s going to end. You could even play with writing the final scene. This is not as hard as it sounds, especially if you remember that you’re just fulfilling the promise you’re making at the beginning. Remember, there is no right way to write a novel, but there are some things that can help. If you like what you heard here, be sure to subscribe so that you’ll be notified every time a new writing tip is available. And if you know someone who might enjoy it or could use some support with figuring out their novels ending, please share this video with them. I’ll see you next time. Happy writing.