By Martha Alderson
(Martha Alderson will be teaching at the Writing For Change: Worldwide Craft Conference September 12-13. For more information, please visit the Writing For Change: Worldwide website. Or register here.)
Every book is made up of a beginning, middle, and an end. Usually writers start writing at the beginning of their books, a logical place to start. If, however, by starting this way you find yourself stuck at the end of a darkened alley or frozen by writer’s block, I suggest you turn things upside down and start at the end rather than at the beginning of your book.
Begin by imagining what the protagonist will do at the end of the story. At the climax or triumph scene at the end just before the resolution, she takes action she is unable to do anywhere else in the story. When you have a firm or vague idea of what feat that might be, you’re then able to go about deconstructing the character.
The action the protagonist takes at the climax reveals what traits, knowledge, clues, and/or skills are necessary for her to prevail. Evaluate the action she takes to establish what she needs to possess in order to prevail at the end. Determine her strengths, talents, gifts, and beliefs that serve her in achieving her ultimate goal(s).
Once you have a sense of her character emotional development at the end, decide which of those character traits will be missing or undeveloped in the beginning of the story. These then become her flaw(s), blind spots, and false beliefs you introduce in the beginning quarter of your story.
The lack of those same qualities are what trip her up and serve to create setbacks and conflicts, generate tension and suspense in the middle of the story, and prevent her from achieving her goals anywhere other than at the very end.
To prevail at the end, first she needs to relearn or rediscover strengths and insights through suffering reversals from self-inflicted or otherwise created obstacles, challenges, and missteps throughout the middle. Many of these skills she’ll learn in scenes for the first time, but the true skills necessary for success at the climax are often rediscovered after having been lost or buried due to her backstory wound.
This is a backward approach to developing a character by deconstructing who the character is at the end to determine who she is at the beginning. Keeping your eye on the character at end helps save you from falling into the trap of giving all your focus to the beginning of the book. Yes, beginnings hook readers and agents. Keep in mind however that endings create fans.
Before you begin writing a nonfiction book, especially a nonfiction book for change, first determine what gift you want to leave your reader at the end of your book.
You may begin writing for yourself. You wish to share what’s on your mind or are writing to answer a question you’re puzzled about or unravel a need you have, sort through an issue, explore a topic, solve a problem, or you simply write what you enjoy. Eventually though you’ll want to turn your focus to your reader.
Who Is Your Reader?
Imagine whom you hope to reach with your ideas. After you’ve asked yourself what will interest them to pick up your book and bring them benefit, follow up with asking what is their ultimate reward for having read all the way to the end? When you’ve answered that question, you then are able to breakdown and analyze the tasks and steps needed to achieve that goal.
Before I started writing Boundless Creativity, I knew I wanted the reader to be transformed at profound level by the time they reached end of the workbook. To accomplish that, I deconstructed the steps toward transformation. Then, I introduced exercises and inner work in the beginning and deepened in the middle, taking the artist or writer step-by-step through the process of transformation from self-doubt to confidence.
In the same way, before I started Writing Blockbuster Plots, I knew I wanted the writer at the end to have a complete and satisfying plot for their novel. To accomplish that end, I deconstructed the steps toward developing a plot and creating a satisfying structure for their readers. The book then became a step-by-step guide to mastering plot, structure, and scene.
Join me virtually at the Writing for Change Worldwide Conference Weekend Craft Session—Structuring Your Book—on Sunday 9/13 at 10:15am Pacific. #W4CW2020
Learn more at sfwritingforchangeworldwide.org
MARTHA ALDERSON, MA is known as the Plot Whisperer for her best-selling The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. She writes novels for readers, plot books for writers, and most recently Boundless Creativity: A Spiritual Workbook for Overcoming Self-Doubt, Emotional Traps, and Other Creative Blocks for anyone looking to enrich their lives with more creativity and inspiration. Her other books are Writing Blockbuster Plots and Writing Deep Scenes (with Jordan Rosenfeld), The Plot Whisperer Workbook, The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts, as well as several ebooks. Her latest novel PARALLEL LIVES A 60’s Love Story is now available for pre-sale. She lives and writes in Santa Cruz.