A question I am often asked is, “Do you know the endings of your books when you begin?”
There is not a simple answer to this question. Now and again I do know with some clarity what I expect the ending of a book will be. That, however, is rare. More often than not, I have a general sense as to where I am going. I hasten to add that writers differ a great deal in this matter. An editor once told me of an important writer who did not set down a word until she was certain of the book’s last line.
Another fine writer told me she did not begin writing until she had thought out the whole book. Then again, I have listened to writers who say ”I just begin and see what happens.”
Hey, whatever works …
As for me, I do not do outlines when I start a book (I did in my early years) but often these days, when about two thirds of a way through a first draft I tell myself I MUST organize my thoughts and do a rough sketch as to where I am going. I just did that for a current project.
But, let me emphasize, I would much rather discover an ending, than plot one. Which is to say I want an ending to flow out of the plot as a whole, and nothing gives me more pleasure than to be surprised. I think my best writing occurs when the text tells me where to go—as opposed to my forcing the text into a box. It is that old John McDonald notion, “Better to be pulled by your text, than to push it.”
It is not usual for me to approach the ending—as if approaching the edge of a cliff—then back off, and take a run (from the beginning) to see what ending evolves. Leap of character logic, if you will.
That said, if I don’t feel emotion with my ending, I know I have not got it right.
Then there is my own doctrine: I can’t write a good opening sentence until I write a good closing sentence. All of which is to say a successful book is one that has unity start to finish.
And that, dear friends, is always hard to do.