A question posed last night by a Facebook friend: So where do you start, outside characters on a page? The eternal question, I know …
This was my answer:
1. A vague idea, generally built around a character or a couple of characters.
2. A clear idea of how it starts.
3. A clear idea of how it ends (true story: In both cases, I’ve known what the last line of the book was going to be when I sat down to write).
Now, that last part is a bit unusual, from what I gather. Stephen King, for instance, believes that a writer should never know what the story is going to be and instead should sit down and let the story go wherever it wants. I have no standing to argue with Stephen King. He is the man. But twice now, I have known what the ending will be.
However, in both cases, my vague idea has undergone a pretty serious transformation in the course of setting down 80,000-plus words. With the most recent one, in fact, the biggest twist to the story occurred to me halfway through, prompting me to rewrite the beginning and a good deal of the middle. Even the ending was different from what I expected when I started, but the last line — which in many ways compelled me to keep thinking about the idea and finally commit to setting it down — remained.
Finally, I’ll say this: Some writers disdain outlining. Some writers spend as much time on the outline as on the novel. I made countless attempts at writing novels and never succeeded until I used an outline. Mine are crude, just a few scattered thoughts to keep me on the path, and as I indicated above, not rigorous enough to keep me from changing my mind as I go. I simply don’t know how I could manage to keep the pace and story arc moving at the right speed without one.
So, really, that ends up being the answer, both to the question you asked and to the larger question of how does one finish: any way you can.