Friday, April 12, 2013

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling: Rule #7--Come Up With Your Ending

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

Beginnings are important. They set the stage, draw in the reader, and present the problem. Often they have catchy first lines, hilarious boy-meets-girl moments, frightening she-might-die conflicts, and dozens of compelling questions we want answered. Middles have raising stakes, surprising twists, and character motivations revealed in ways that make us desperately wish they get what they’re after. But endings. Endings. They are the payoff.

We read for the journey, right? The complete experience. Following along after Augustus and Hazel. Watching Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy overcome their pride. Trying to figure out what happened to Jason Bourne before it’s too late. It’s less about where they end up and more about how they get there.

But that’s how we read. If writers wrote that way, we’d have a directionless path winding forever onward, and eventually, readers would bail. When we write- wait for it- we have to take aim.

As a farm girl, I’ve done my share of target shooting. Sometimes I’d use my brother’s .22, but most often it was an air rifle that fired BBs or this wicked little BB pistol I had. Not a real gun, I know, but that was kind of the point. I knew I wasn’t likely to accidentally kill anyone. Plus, BBs are cheap. So, sixteen-year-old me would tie a soda can to the fence and shoot away until I cut the can in half. When I took aim and pulled the trigger, I had a target in mind.

From the very beginning of the story, writers need to aim at their target. Sometimes the target changes, and that’s fine, as long as the writer adjusts for it. Aiming at the target gives the story a journey, makes it progress, and pulls the reader onward. They are going somewhere, not wandering.

When I started writing DINAH, I didn’t know the beginning. I still need to work out a chunk of the middle. But I’ve known the ending since I started plotting: a seventeen-year old girl standing in the town square, with a gun to the head of the man who took away her land and killed her family. (What happens next is top secret.) As I plot and write scenes, I’m aiming to get my characters there. Everything leads up to that moment and the aftermath, the echoes of the shot she does or doesn’t take.

Figure out your ending. Pick your target and aim for it. Chances are you won’t hit much of anything if you fire wildly into space. It’s rare to hit your target if you don’t take aim.

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