Stephen Covey was right. In his bestseller, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the habits he recommends is, “Start with the end in mind.” This applies to writing too. Whether you’re writing a novel or a short story, start with the end in mind. More specifically, don’t be afraid to write your story or novel out of sequence. We know every story has a beginning, middle, and an end, but there are no rules as to which has to be written first.
I started my first novel in linear fashion. I quickly wrote the beginning and slogged through to the middle. That’s when I hit the wall. Then a funny thing happened; the ending came to me. Suddenly, I abandoned the middle and wrote the last scene in the novel. Since I made the mistake of not outlining the novel first, I was adrift in the middle. Without an outline, I was not only sailing in unchartered waters, I was lost at sea. Writing the ending helped me envision the balance of the novel and propelled me to finish it. What did I learn from writing out of sequence? Three things.
1) Write where your energy is. The day I wrote the last scene of my novel all of my energy was in the ending. I could see it. I could feel it. I could hear it. My characters were speaking to me. I could feel her disappointment as the relationship between her and the protagonist dissolved. I could sense his resolve to let her go as she struggled to sort out her feelings amidst the love triangle that encircled her. I wrote with velocity and clarity because all my energy was in the ending. If I didn’t write it then, it would be lost forever.
2) Writing out of sequence can enlarge your perspective on the entire story. I could now see the story from a different vantage point. Now that I understood the end, how would that reshape the middle? From this perspective, I could conduct a side-by-side comparison of the beginning and the end (without worrying about the middle) and see the extent of the transformation of the protagonist from an angry, bitter son to a man willing to forgive his father for a life of reckless abandonment. This allowed me to gauge just how much transformation would be necessary in the middle to make the ending resonate with the reader.
3) Writing out of sequence can help you craft your characters. In his recent bestseller, Safe Haven, Nicholas Sparks wrote all scenes featuring the antagonist before moving on to other characters. This way he could keep this character consistent throughout the book. This complex character was an unpredictable alcoholic domestic abuser.
If you’re an experienced writer, you have written out of sequence before. If you’re just getting started, it may be a new concept to write the end before completing the middle. Nevertheless, when you feel ready, try it. It may help you see your story in a non-linear fashion. It will let you focus on your main character and best of all; it will allow you to write where your energy is.
Like so many other goals in life, as a writer, it helps to start with the end in mind.
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