Let’s talk endings.* If you’re writing, then there’s a good chance you know where to start your piece. But do you know where to end? Do you know where the hell this thing is going? Or are you kicking it into gear without any sense of what direction it will take?
There’s multiple opinions on this, but I’m going to go ahead and give you mine, since this is the internet and I can do that: you should have an idea what the ending is when you start.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m stifling your creativity just like that humourless prick of an English teacher you had back in high school**. What about freedom? What about spontaneity? What about the ability to create on the fly as the ideas come to you? Writing should be a road trip without destination, where you’re free to take the turns as the mood takes you, and every destination is a surprise.
Which is true. And that surprise destination might be a wonderland of rainbows and chocolate unicorns***. And it might be a backwoods cabins with a family of insane crypto-taxidermists intent on turning you into the front half of their stuffed centaur.
Most likely, though, you don’t get anywhere at all. You just run out of gas somewhere on a back road, lost. And you give up.
This is why I think it’s a good idea to have an ending in mind: it helps prevent the middle-of-the-story confusion that sinks so many manuscripts. Everyone I know who writes eventually reaches a point where they look at the tangled mess they’ve created and say, “Where in the name of Christ’s holy cock and balls was I going with this?” The ending you conceived back at the beginning becomes a signpost then, an arrow saying ‘this way’.
But before you all pout over lost creativity, you don’t need to know everything about the ending. You don’t even have to stick with it, if you decide later that it doesn’t fit. Going back to the road-trip analogy, if decide halfway through you want to go to Santa Monica instead of Seattle, then put the pedal to the floor and drive, motherfucker. But at least you’ve given it some thought. Otherwise, you might drive aimlessly for days, or weeks, or months, and never get anywhere.
Write with an ending in mind, but allow the story to evolve as it needs to. That might just be enough to prevent a fate darker than being part of centaur-taxidermy: writing a bad ending. There might be worse sins, but that one sticks with you a long time. A good story with a bad ending is like getting food poisoning from a great meal: it might have tasted good at the time, but likely you’ll never be able to look at that sushi joint again without thinking of all that time you spent worshipping the porcelain god.
So get an idea before you set out. Doesn’t have to be a big one, or a complete one. But if you give it some thought before you fire up the word engines, you lessen the chances of ending up writer road kill.
*No, not yours. You haven’t done anything that bad to me. Except you. Yeah, you, in the back. You know what you did. And you know what’s coming.
**Really no complaints here. Most of my school teachers were great. School administrators, on the other hand…good god, I spent a lot of time in detention. On the upside: uninterrupted reading and writing time.
***In my head, the chocolate unicorns are not only not an endangered species, they actually look forward to being eaten. Like it’s a rite of passage for them. Or maybe they’re just really high. Dunno. I have a cold. Shut up.