I have joined a number of writing groups over the years and have an understanding that is clear to writers but not so much to readers. In fact, some readers can be shocked to learn a truth about fiction writing: We don’t know how it ends.
This is common knowledge for most writers I’ve met and we often take it for granted as we continue to work our craft. We find a story forming in our head and get excited to put it down. I think of it like sitting down to channel surf. You sit there and flip through the hundreds of shows without much interest until one catches your eye. Maybe it has just started and you look at it thinking: “Wow! That looks cool. I think I’ll check this out.” Maybe it was an action scene or some unique twist on a common story… but you sit and watch.
That’s how it works.
We may be at our desk, in the shower or even taking a long walk when an idea comes to mind. We see it take shape and grow excited. Where will it go? At the moment it happens, it doesn’t matter. The story has begun. It might be smack dab in the middle of a tale or at the very beginning, whichever it may be… it reveals nothing of the end. Then, like an excited reader, we watch the scene unfold and follow the story until the end reveals itself.
True, there are some exceptions to this. Many stories have started with the end and then proceed to show what led to that dramatic moment. But even so, the events leading up to this ending are still a mystery. We can outline and plot ‘til the end of time but if the story decides to take a turn on us, we are helpless to stop it.
When you read a book, you may find the characters exciting and follow their journeys with anticipation at the bottom of every page. That is good. That is perfect! When we write a book, it is much the same. The big difference is… We are watching it unfold in our minds as we go. We’re not making it up from nothing, of course. We are making it up from the world we see and the ones we don’t. Like the reader, we have an inkling of what MAY happen, but in the end, even WE find some surprises waiting for us.
So the next time you are reading (or writing) a story, don’t assume you know how it will end. The boy might not get the girl. The hero might not defeat the villain. The story might not be as predictable as you think. After all, each of our lives takes a different turn each and every day and we cannot predict where our morning will take us by nightfall. It is always an unknown until the final word is written down and the ending is set before us all to behold.