1. GaleSkies
    Offline

    GaleSkies Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2012
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Now and then, here and there

    Starting At The End. What do you think?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by GaleSkies, May 7, 2012.

    I can't remember where I heard/read this advice, but it came up again recently when I was flipping through some hand written notes that could have come from anywhere in the past 5 years.

    "The best stories start as close to the end as possible and rush headlong to the finish." -Unknown

    I have a few questions regarding this:

    Do you guys agree with the quote? To build a good tight story it seems like the most practical manner if you identify the necessary elements for the finale and develop them right from the beginning.

    This could have been a quote from film study. Would you apply this advice to a short story? a novel? a script? Would you introduce the conflict at the beginning regardless of the medium or do you feel exceptions are in order?

    I'm a bit of a world builder when it comes to writing. After applying the advice to my current project I find myself with 9/10ths, or possibly even less, of all the information I've gathered. Would you use this advice from the ground up adding subplots as you go and fitting in the relevant pieces you have? I have half a mind to apply this advice after I've completed my project as a form of editing before the next round of rewriting. I know its up to me, but I'd like to thoughts outside my own brain too.

    Finally, the question that's itching at me the most. Anyone have any idea who would have said this quote. I don't think it is verbatim, but I get the feeling that its something a famous author would have said. As far as I can tell, even Shakespeare introduces the conflict right from the get go. Who said it, or even better, what is the earliest example you can think of for "the best story " that starts as close to the end as possible.

    Thanks for the help.
     
  2. AmyHolt
    Offline

    AmyHolt Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2011
    Messages:
    475
    Likes Received:
    17
    Location:
    Warsaw, IN
    I agree with the advice but I think it means don't start with the normal world. Start with the inciting incident, the thing that changes your MC's world and throws everything to the fan. You can still build a world in your book but start the story as if your reader already knows the world and leave hints about what the world is like instead of spending (wasting) your readers time telling about the world at the beginning. Reader are able to gasp a story world and accept strange difference between real life and the story world without having to be told about them. If you start a book with a plant eating someone, I'd automatically assume that is a normal part of this world without anyone explaining about man eating plants or having to tell me that you have to be careful in this place because the plants will eat you.
     
  3. GaleSkies
    Offline

    GaleSkies Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2012
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Now and then, here and there
    ^ I guess what I was getting at isn't really where to start. More like, if I have 3 large plot arcs the first two disappear if I focus on what's necessary for the finale and climax. A lot of the built in technology comes off as fluff with no purpose in the ultimate goal.

    Also, found a quote if not exactly the same. Ain't google a bitch. "Start as close to the end as possible." - Kurt Vonnegut regarding short stories. Now that I found it, it seems like I picked it up on a link from this site... Hahahaha
     
  4. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    I think it's a good approach, but it's not always necessary to take it to that extreme. I believe in starting a character in crisis, and escalating to the climax, but I also think you can write a great story in which the real threat is not revealed immediately.

    As long as you can maintain tension and keep keep it rising until the climax, you're good. You can even have it build in waves, with ebbs in between, as long as you maintain enough tension to keep the story in motion.

    The problem comes in when you try to maintain the same tension with the same threat. It rarely works. If the threat remains the same, the urgency declines with time, and your tension weakens. So you need an influx of new challenges to escalate toward the climax.

    I don't know if you'll find a single source for that advice. It's a natural progression from the time-worn advice to begin in media res (literally in the middle of the thing), which basically says start when events are ripe.
     
  5. killbill
    Offline

    killbill Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2012
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    24
    Location:
    where the mind is without fear...
    If this means "introducing the conflict right from the get go" I always do it in my short stories, you just can't afford to waste words without some hint at the conflict in the beginning. I may start with descriptions, or may be with dialogue, but the goal always remains the same: to introduce the conflict in some way.
     
  6. GaleSkies
    Offline

    GaleSkies Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2012
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Now and then, here and there
    Awesome, awesome, and awesome! I swear, reading the things you guys say make me minimize my web browser and pull out my word processor. It hardly matters which thread I peek at anymore. And I haven't even gotten to the older threads yet.

    :-D Thank you writingforums.org
     
  7. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    I think I understand the spirit of that advice, and I think the spirit of that advice is good. But the literal advice is horrible. If I wanted to read a story at the end, I'd just read the last few pages.
     
  8. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,728
    Likes Received:
    4,826
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    I believe it was Vonnegut who said "Start as close to the end as possible," but remember that he wrote pretty short novels. There are other writers out there who have had huge success (James Michener, Norman Mailer, etc.) who started very early - in Michener's case (which may be unique), even in prehistoric times. And they often wrote huge tomes.

    Start where it makes sense to start. Get a draft done. Look at it, and see if it works. 'Nuff said.
     
  9. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Do note that the advice is "Start as close to the end as possible," not "Start right at the end." The "as possible" phrase is very important to the context. It doesn't mean, "Spill the guts of the story in the dustbin," it means find the "Latest point in the story you can tell the story without killing it."

    The writer still must use good judgment,. That is inescapable. But if you can tell the story beginning at time T, or at time T + t', start it at T + t'. And if you can push it a bit further to T + t" without losing the essence of the story, even better.

    Take a good, hard look at the events preceding each later start point, and ask, "Do I really need this?" Be brutal. If you think you need it, see if there's a way you can introduce it later.
     
  10. Connor Bible
    Offline

    Connor Bible Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2012
    Messages:
    27
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Port Royal, South Carolina, United States
    I prefer to write the story in sequence. It eliminates the hassle of trying to piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle. However, I'm prone to experimentation.
     
  11. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    The "as possible" does change it, and IMO, makes it come off as more of a gimmicky way to say very little.

    "Start as close to the end as possible!" "Start at the beginning!" Please, great way to sound like you're saying more than you are. START the story, damn it! Every time I've tried to start a story following advice like this, it's always been counterproductive. I understand WHY the advice is offered. But ultimately, I feel the advice itself just ends up sounding a lot better than it ever is. I start with the first word and so far, it's worked for me.
     
  12. KRHolbrook
    Offline

    KRHolbrook Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2012
    Messages:
    78
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Ohio
    I like the advice, I see what it means as do most people. Don't start it right at the end, but close enough toward the end where all of it starts. The trigger, basically. There have been a few stories of mine where I think of the end result of the story, then plan the intro from there. Some people I know even write the last sentence, before starting on the first and going forward.
     
  13. Faust
    Offline

    Faust Contributing Member Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2010
    Messages:
    206
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Amongst the Populace [Michigan]
    That is great advice, especially since I often have trouble starting off at the beginning. A great idea ^^
     
  14. GoldenGhost
    Offline

    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2012
    Messages:
    505
    Likes Received:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Vonnegut said, "Start as close to the end as possible." and he also said, "Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages." which I believe to be sound advice. More or less, if you really think about it, before you begin writing you have a general idea of what the story is about, or at least each characters goal. So, to re-qualify, even if you do not have the actual end figured out, you have the end goals or end motives for the characters and what they are presently driving at, as a guideline to make sure they are headed in the right direction. If you keep the end in mind, then you know where you are headed and when you trail off course.

    Poe was also another advocate for starting with the ending, The Raven, being an example, which he wrote about and discussed (though it has been up for debate for many many years, regarding just how specific his creation of that story was.) You could also look at it from the point of view where, when you start with the ending (physically), it leaves the readers in the dark as to how it got there, letting you fill in the blanks and forcing their suspense. You can toy with them and lead them in all kinds of false directions, while they are asking them selves "How the !@#$ does this lead to the ending" and if executed well, and you tie the knot, you just smacked them in the face and they are sitting there going, "Oh my god, how did I not see that coming?" A lot of movies do this, where the opening scene is the ending. American Beauty being a perfect example.
     
  15. GaleSkies
    Offline

    GaleSkies Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2012
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Now and then, here and there
    I don't think the quote was referring to some kind of flashback, out of sequence, non-chronological type beginning. If that is your interpretation of it then I would not consider it to be very good advice, or at least ineffective advice when applied broadly.
     
  16. GoldenGhost
    Offline

    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2012
    Messages:
    505
    Likes Received:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Not sure if this post was meant to stand on its own, or meant to answer mine.
    No it was not at all, which is why I made two different distinctions/examples when using the ending to write a story. The original quote, which is what Vonnegut said, and Poe wrote about, being about using the ending to drive the story, where as there are other approaches where the ending is physically used, as a means of starting the story.
     
  17. GaleSkies
    Offline

    GaleSkies Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2012
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Now and then, here and there
    Oh, no. I am in complete agreement with your statements. Mostly just posting because several of the other posters sounded like they barely made it past the title before typing a response let alone glance at Cogito's sound logic.
     
  18. killbill
    Offline

    killbill Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2012
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    24
    Location:
    where the mind is without fear...
    Don't know about the earliest such books, but among the recent books I have The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is a good example. It starts with a funeral service and the police investigating the death questioning the moral character of the MC.
     
  19. emilyjane92
    Offline

    emilyjane92 New Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2012
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    Personally when I write stories or poems I don't think about the ending I always think just write- although I don't know if anyone has come across this but you can get stuck especially writing stories. I had a terrific idea for a story I started off in a blaze of glory and then got stuck 10 pages in, I thought I'd be smart and try and just add things into it but this only confused me more so now I just stick to writing unrhyming poems I have a few fans of my work so I guess it must be good haha :p
     
  20. GaleSkies
    Offline

    GaleSkies Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2012
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Now and then, here and there
    I wish I could do that. Unfortunately I'm stuck in the world of prose. The poetry I write is better off painted as graffiti than left somewhere in which it would actually be legible. (speaking of legible that last sentence barely made the cut)

    I remember the ten page hurdle. I think I hit a wall there once. Nothing I seemed to write could continuously follow the narration past that point.Then I started organizing plot landmarks and drafting in chapters with specific objectives in mind.I forget which book it was, but I was looking at one of Heinlen's novels, maybe stranger in a strange land, when the structure just zapped me. Still with a little more practice maybe I could emulate Crichton or Ludlum with their never ending fluid action.

    Still being able to "just write" without putting too much thought into sounds pretty nice. Maybe that is just some grass is greener syndrome catching up to me. And fans too? That just makes me more jealous.
     
  21. John Eff
    Offline

    John Eff Member

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2012
    Messages:
    77
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Norfolk, UK
    A lot depends on the way the original concept arrives into your head. Is it an interesting situation and you wonder where you can take it, or is it an outcome that you picture and wonder how to arrive at?
     
  22. GaleSkies
    Offline

    GaleSkies Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2012
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Now and then, here and there
    Depends on what I'm working on. At the moment I'm trying to apply this advice to a novel. In which case, I'm definitely working on the latter. So what is the depending advice in either situation?
    Or is it good advice if you are working toward the end and inapplicable advice if you are seeing where things lead?
     
  23. John Eff
    Offline

    John Eff Member

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2012
    Messages:
    77
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Norfolk, UK
    If you start off and see where an idea leads then you can't start it near the end if you don't know what or where the end is

    Not to say, of course, that you can't go back and edit to follow the advice, but that might be to the detriment of any spontaneity or natural flow. Then again, that's where the skill of the storyteller comes in, eh?
     
  24. emilyjane92
    Offline

    emilyjane92 New Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2012
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    As I said I don't always think when I write it usually starts with just a word or phrase- before I know it i've written a whole page, maybe try thinking of a word and just writing it down. I do sometimes feel it may be better for me to plan out my stories but most times I write as an escape from reality as an outlet, a fantasy world I can create and my characters have perfect lives ( I do admit not all my works are all happy go lucky a lot of my earlier stuff from when i was younger is very dark and somewhat depressing) and I have one major fan so I don't think that is anything to feel jealous about.
     
  25. dreamkeeper
    Offline

    dreamkeeper New Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2012
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    The quote "Start as close to the end" somehow reminds me of my thesis. Haha. Delimiting the problem or scope of the study. When you start as close to the end, you avoid unnecessary background info.

    I haven't been writing long, just started in 2010, and I am still a newb at this. But from my limited experience, plot bunnies tend to give me not only the basic idea of a story but also the ending. When I decide to pursue the story, I come up with an outline that would lead me to that ending or goal. From there, I would think of ways on how to best execute my narration in order to reach that goal without getting lost from all the detours ^^;

    -Keeper
     

Share This Page