I have begun hundreds of fiction books, but only finished a few.
I started on a writing career by wanting to tell stories. Like many, if not most, writers I wanted to write fiction; tell stories if you will. Somewhere along the way I started selling non-fiction. This all began when a friend who worked for a local newspaper asked if I could write an article about a controversial event in our community.
I wrote the piece and received fifteen dollars for my five hundred words. More such opportunities came my way and eventually I even had my own column. I began writing articles for magazines and eventually books. I still had a desire to write fiction though.
I kept starting stories, but hardly ever finishing them. Eventually I learned about scenes and discovered that many times what I thought was a story was actually only one scene. Sometimes I had chapters, but there was still that point where I wound up with a muddle.
I began a story recently and instead of just sitting down and beginning I did all the prep work first. This is where I had an epiphany. I finally realized that all the books I’d finished had one thing in common. I knew the ending.
Knowing the end enabled me to decide which route to take to get to that end. It isn’t unlike deciding to go on a journey. Sure sometimes people just go, but most of the time anyone beginning a trip knows where they are going to end up. Exactly. And this is what I need to know to finish a book. If I can’t write the last critical scene where my main character winds up after the journey then I shouldn’t bother starting the book.
This doesn’t mean I completely abandon an idea though. I do write it down and put it in a file so I can look at it later. But if I have an idea that I think might be a book I need to look at it carefully and decide, is this the beginning, end or a scene in the middle of a book?
Regardless of where the scene, chapter, incident or whatever is, I will write down a sentence or two about it so that the idea doesn’t get lost. For example; a horse escapes from a cross country transport after a fifty car pileup on an Interstate. He finds his way into wild country where he learns to live as a wild horse. An idea, a beginning, but where do I want the story to end? What happens to make this a whole story? Is he going to be a champion race horse like the Black Stallion? King of the herd as in Thunderhead? Rounded up and sent to the killers as in one awful story I read one time? Do I need to tell anyone that last scenario is NOT one I’m going be writing? At least not as the end of my story.
At any rate once I have an idea if I can write the last scene, the place I want my story to finish then I can choose my path to get there. I can begin to tell which roads will lead me to that ending. I can also see which will leave me stranded or looping in circles.
If you are one who begins first chapter after first chapter and somehow never quite manages to get to the last chapter I recommend that when you have a new idea write the last chapter first and then work your way back to what you think is your starting point. You just might find that you CAN finish that book after all