Writing Advice: Start at the End

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Today’s writing advice comes to us from Kurt Vonnegut. We all know that he’s a good writer and he is hailed as one of the very best writers that has ever lived. I certainly believe that; I read Slaughterhouse Five in just one afternoon because it was so engrossing. Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Great Story have been posted on the Brainpickings website, which is a great place to go if you’re looking for insight on writing from the greats. Vonnegut’s tips are all terse and to the point and they are all rather interesting. But one tip in particular caught my eye as something I would never have put on my own list of writing tips. Tip number five on Vonnegut’s list reads, simply:

Start as close to the end as possible.

Aside from going against everything I’ve ever done as a writer, this piece of advice simply boggles my mind. How would you go about beginning near the end? If you were to write an outline, would you begin with the final scene and work backwards? When you sit down to begin a writing project, would you write the climax first, then move backward to write the build-up, and then finally the resolution?

Logically, this does make sense to me, though I can’t see myself ever putting it into practice. Take, for instance, your favorite scene in your most favorite book of all. Is it somewhere near the end? Because Harry Potter is so universally known, I’ll use that as an example. My favorite scene in the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, takes place when the truth about Sirius Black is revealed. This scene is one of the final chapters of the book. I love this scene because of the resolution that it offers and I appreciate it because of the build-up it took to get there. I can envision J.K. Rowling possibly plotting this scene first and then working backward to see how she could end up there with her story.

So, when writing, think of where you’d like to end up. Think of that final scene of resolution and picture it in as much detail as possible. Imagine what information will be revealed, who will be revealing it, and what purpose it will all serve. Then all you have to do is fill in the gaps of how you’re going to get there. Give it a try — start near the end.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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