Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The End In the Beginning?


T.S. Eliot said that "The end is in the beginning." 


I’ve always heard that it is not only wise to plant the ending of a story in the beginning, but necessary. Not in an obvious way, of course, but subtly. The beginning of a well-told tale should at least hint as to where that story is going, and perhaps where it will end.

This is one of the many reasons why, for me, much of writing is revising. I outline and yet, because I don’t force myself to stick to the outline (it’s more of a safety net), I often need to revise my story based on what the first draft ends up becoming. I almost always need to adjust my story beginning (adjust often being a nice way of saying rewrite) to suite my story ending.

How about you? If you are a writer, do you try to allude to your story endings in those story beginnings?

If you are a reader, do you appreciate how the ending of a story is sometimes reflected in the beginning of that tale?

57 comments:

  1. This was the key to the ending of my second book. It originally ended earlier, when one of the MC's secrets comes out and he deals with the consequences. But the book starts at a waterfall and I thought it should finish there ... and when I went there, I found out the second MC had a secret of her own.

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    1. This is interesting, Jenn, especially since I really liked how you ended that novel. The waterfall felt like an important element/symbol in the novel.

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  2. I love that quote, and your point about planting the seeds of the ending at the beginning. I also love it when a story ends as a mirror of how it began in some way, so the contrast of the change in the characters circumstances and character really stand out. There's something especially satisfying about that structure.

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    1. Thank you! I, too, love it when a story ends as a mirror of how it began as in sort of a circular story structure. This doesn't always work, but can be powerful, I think, when it does.

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  3. Hmm. I have to say, I don't think so. Not consciously, at least, and I don't think on read-throughs I've found strong hints of the end at the beginning.

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    1. I like how you wrote "Not consciously". It's amazing how much of my writing isn't necessarily conscious. : ) Thanks, JeffO.

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  4. I agree about the 'not consciously'. By the time I'm done, there is usually a subtle connection. I don't know if readers notice or not. I think it's more evident in my short stories than in my novels.

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    1. That's impressive, Carol. I think "subtle" is important, too.

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  5. I totally agree with this! This is why I'm a plotter. Also, I think revisions really help pump up the circular feel of a book. Growth is key, but you don't always see it unless you have your reader look back at how far the MC has come.

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    1. Yes, thank goodness for revisions! : ) Thanks, Emily!

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  6. Agreed! That's why like Emily (above) I like to plot my stories. I like it when all the storylines are skillfully interwoven--the ending is much more satisfying that way.
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. I agree, Nutschell! And a satisfying ending is so important.

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  7. I, too, plot my stories. It gives me a "skeleton" from which to hang the "muscle" of my story.

    I love your comments about the beginning of the story alluding to the ending. I like to think of it like bookends for the storyline. Thanks, Cynthia!

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    1. Bookends--what a great image, Victoria. Thanks!

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  8. I'm kind of a pantser who writes 50,000 word outlines. lol I usually know where I want the story to go but if it takes me in another direction, I try to be flexible enough to take that path. Like you, I figure I can do what needs to be done with the edits. It's easier to foreshadow once you know for sure what you're foreshadowing.

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    1. You make such a great point about foreshadowing, Donna. Most of my foreshadowing comes in the revisions.

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  9. I may not know the exact details of the end, but I have an idea of where the story's going.

    One of the best plot outlining advice I ever got was to start with the end and work backwards. It sounds strange, but it works like a charm. ;)

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    1. Starting at the end. . . that IS interesting, Melissa. I can see how that could work.

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  10. I agree that there does need to be some foreshadowing about the ending. Otherwise, it feels like a cheat. It's like those detective novels, where the guilty person isn't even introduced until the last 50 pages.

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    1. Good point, Doralynn. I'm not a huge fan of those detective novels. : )

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  11. I did do that in my most recent WIP and wow the difference it made. Hmmm. I need to adjust my outline for my new project now that I think about it. :)

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    1. It's always good to find a technique that works, isn't it?

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  12. Cynthia,

    It's amazing when you think about how much plotting and scheming :) a writer has to do to accomplish something like this. I sometimes hint at the end when I write short stories and that works for me.

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    1. It's amazing how much plotting and scheming a writer always has to do, Joy! LOL!

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  13. I do love when those endings echo the beginning. I'm not great at it yet, but I'm learning!! :)

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  14. I do like when certain things come full circle. I didn't know to do that when I first wrote, but I do now. Maybe one day I'll land an agent and find out if I'm any good at it.

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    1. I bet you are good at it, Theresa. As I wrote to Jemi: Practice makes perfect (or so we hope).

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  15. I do like to plant the end at the beginning. I think that's a great storytelling technique. Loved this post, Cynthia. Thanks for it.

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    1. Aww, you are most welcome, Lee! I'm glad you liked it.

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    2. Came back to give this another read. Nice reminder of how to do a helpful post.

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  16. I don't usually know how my stories will end when I start, but often times when I do get to the end, I find that hints of the ending are often there in the beginning already. Maybe my subconscious knows more about where my stories are going than I do.

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    1. I've always found that my subconscious can do wonderful things. This is always a nice surprise. ; )

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  17. I'm the opposite. My first endings are rarely strong, so I need to adjust the endings more than the beginnings.

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    1. That's interesting, Lynda. Either way, we all end up revising. : )

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  18. I love books that come full circle. Yes, I do think a beginning should reflect the ending. Richard Peck says he throws his first chapter away UNREAD when he finishes a draft, because you don't know what your beginning has to be until you know the ending. His quote: "The first chapter is the last chapter in disguise."

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    1. Yes, I've heard him speak about this, Marcia. This is always a treat. He's amazing!

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  19. You know, I just finished rewriting the beginning of my lastest WIP to do just what you said because of the ending. I scrapped the first two chapters and put in a small insignificant something at the beginning that winds up being important at the end.

    It's learning to do these things consciously that's the trick for me.

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    1. Wonderful, Bish! I think we are all learning something about writing all the time.

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  20. VERY interesting. I try to make lots of things tie in throughout my novels and at the end too--but you're right that often you have to write the entire book first before you can reflect it in the beginning. I'm a plotter but I just know generally where I want to go. Once I get to the end and figure out the whole roadmap, then I can tweak/revise accordingly. :)

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    1. I work much the same way, Carol. It's always interesting. : )

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  21. Hi again, Cynthia. I've left you an award on my blog, one which I feel you deserve!

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  22. A novel should not come full circle as such, but more like a spiral, ending a level above where it started.

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    1. Above where it started? I'd love to hear more about what you mean by this, Mark. I'm interested. : )

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  23. Hey Cynthia! Dropping by to say hello.
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. Hello back to you, Nutschell! *Waves* Thanks for stopping by!

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  24. Sometimes I don't even realize I've done some foreshadowing until I go back and read through. Cool when that happens!

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    1. Very cool! I think that shows that you've absorbed writerly lessons and are now putting them to good use. Hurray for that! : )

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  25. One of my CP's mentions the circle that is the beginning and end.

    I usually end up rewriting the first chapter in a massive way.

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    1. I also end up rewriting my first chapters, Medeia. Always more than the rest of the novels . . . Always. : )

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  26. I rewrite the first chapter more than any other part of my books. Probably at least 10, more like 20 times.

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    1. LOL, Shannon--I just wrote something very similar in response to Medeia. Those first chapters remain a work in progress for quite a while.

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  27. Which I presume is the way it is supposed to go? Writing and forshadowing and then going back and cutting it all out so not much backstory and information dump is at the beginning.

    Nas

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    1. I think so, Nas. Although, often, I end up rewriting my first chapters (or hunks of them) not as much to tone down backstory and info dump as much as to rework the first chapter so that it gently sets up the ending. In other words, my ending needs to be subtly reflected in the beginning and this doesn't always happen at first.

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  28. Hi Cynthia,

    Writing is an art. Editing is the craft bit....

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