“‘Start as close to the end as possible,’ suggested writer Kurt Vonnegut.”
Today’s prompt is brought to you by Plinky, only it was December 15’s prompt, and I hung onto it in my inbox because I thought what a great end-of-year post it would make. Unfortunately, the end of 2012 saw us up to our necks (figuratively) in snow, so I’m only now getting to it. Hence, the title of this post.
The rest of the Plinky prompt was to “write something that does that without spoiling the ending.” See, this is why this kind of prompt doesn’t work for me as a writer: I never know the ending of my books. If I were a mystery writer, I would need to know the ending so that I could litter my writing with clues for the reader, and if I were writing non-fiction I would have to keep the point of my text in mind as I wrote. But I am neither; I write about fictional relationships, and people’s growth within those relationships. And even when people’s lives appear to have an ending, they don’t (or else, why bother calling yourself a Christian?), so how can a book about relationships really have an ending? One episode can end, but the people live on and on.
One of the characters in my favorite television show, NCIS, is an author as well as a federal agent, and one of the episodes dealt with a book he was writing: Someone was getting hold of his copy and committing murders on the basis of his book. Towards the end, his boss tells him that he needs to find the killer and let him know how the book ends. “I don’t know how the book ends!” exclaims the writer, and that pretty much describes my style of writing.
What I find is that people live inside my head – a whole family of them, plus peripheral characters. Periodically, they have a story to tell, and I’m the lucky duck who gets to tell it. Every once in so often, I’ll think of something that happened to me, or an anecdote I’ve heard, and think, “That’d be a really neat thing to have happen to So-and-so.” But So-and-so doesn’t think so, and that’s when I get writer’s block. Then I have to go back to the point where the writing was going smoothly, clear everything else out of my head, and let the character do the talking. I can edit, once the character “powers down” for the session; but there’s actually very little creativity involved.
Not knowing the ending is how one of my characters who started as a stereotypical “dirty bird” became the guy who saved the day, while someone I had intended to be a true gentleman turned out to be the worst sort of cad. Meanwhile, the hero of the story is just trying to keep his head above water throughout the book! This is how I stay engaged in my own tales; if I don’t know where it’s going, neither will the reader, and if that’s what keeps me writing, then – theoretically – that’s what will keep my reader reading.
One more writing-related anecdote (which I freely admit I may have told before, but it describes the writing life so perfectly): A writer wrote of accompanying his wife to church one Sunday, and afterwards, the pastor said to him, “You need to get out and meet more people.” “At that particular point in time,” wrote the author, “I was intimately involved in the lives of no fewer than eight people, all of whom lived inside my head, and meeting more people was the last thing I needed.”
I can relate.