Ten Key Steps In Writing Your Novel #2

The # 2 Key Step

I’m a great believer in having the last line or last paragraph of my novels in mind before I start. I don’t know exactly how I’ll get there, but I have a destination.

Joe Heller who wrote, as you know, Catch 22, said “I can’t start writing until I have a closing line.”heller

The short story writer Katherine Anne Porter put it this way: “If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last line, my last paragraph, my last page first.” In fact, she wrote the last page of her only novel, Ship of Fools 20 years before she finished the novel.

Interestingly, in the summer of 1962 she gave a talk at a writer’s conference at Georgetown University. Our Peace Corps Training for Ethiopia was also being held at Georgetown at the same time so I sneaked into the hall to hear her. (Yes, I cut my Amharic class to hear Porter talk about writing Ship of Fools. Don’t tell the Staff.) In her lecture Porter said her famous line about writing the last line first, and then in a Q & A admitted she didn’t get the ending right, that after the book was published she wanted to go back and rewrite the final chapter. So, go figure.

However, what is important in your book is that you know where you are going….what is the direction? The final outcome?

In other words what do you ultimately want to say, what do you want to describe, what puzzle or mystery in your book do you have to solve?

That’s your goal.

Think of your narrative as an arrow you are aiming at a target. You want to hit that target .

Your struggle, of course, is as E. L. Doctorow has explained as: “Like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

So, take the wheel and Drive On! Oh, remember to turn on your brights.

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  • I love that E. L. Doctorow quote. It always reassures me that if I keep going, eventually I’ll get somewhere. Not always sure where, but in memory of Gertrude Stein, there usually is a “there” there.

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