Today I’ve been working on the final scene for my third novel, out in January 2017. About half way through the process of writing a new story, I receive a picture, clear as day, of what the characters are doing on the last page of my novel. This gives me a sense of direction, makes the novel feel real and gives me a wonderful shot of motivation to keep going.
I’m often asked whether I plan extensively. I answer, ‘yes and no.’ I’ve heard that some novelists spend six months researching and planning and six months writing. I find that doing the two simultaneously works better, and prevents me from going down too many rabbit holes (a few are fine – a few are great!). So I usually have a very clear sense of the opening scene. And I have some strong ideas about how the story will end. For the latter, I set up a page in my notebook entitled ‘Final Scene’ and add thoughts to it as I write. And then I go to the beginning and start planning and writing chronologically. I plan each scene before I write it and I stop to research on a ‘need to know basis.’ And I keep going like this, until I get that nudging feeling that it’s about time to have a go at writing that final scene.
Right now, I’ve written 75,000 words of novel three (many, many will go in the editing). I feel my characters strongly enough to know what I wish for them and what I fear for them, as well as what they wish and fear for themselves – which might be different things altogether! I know what tone I want my novel to end on, almost literally, like a note sounded on a piano. And I’ve reached the stage where I know that planning and writing the final scene will add real energy to the story I’m writing.
I want to look down the telescope.
So that’s what I’m doing right now, today, over the cup of coffee steaming in front of me: I’m mind mapping in my usual A5 notepad, with lots of colours and underlinings arrows in preparation for that final scene and, in a few hours, I’ll have a go at writing it.
I’d recommend you do the same, at whatever stage in your writing project you are. Sometimes, writing thec closing scene before you’ve even started can reveal a great deal about the story that needs to be written. Below are some ideas for how you can do this.
What makes this exercise work?
Planning and writing the final scene of your novel will give your writing direction and energy and will deepen your understanding of your story and your characters. The beginning and endings of novels hold a special energy, a concentration of emotion and ideas – and they are, of course deeply related, to each other and to the rest of your story. As the wonderful T.S. Eliot put it:
‘In my beginning is my end….in my end is my beginning’.
1. Make notes on the following – you could do a mind map, like I do:
- Decide which character(s) is going to be in your final scene. Are all those people present throughout the scene or does this change? For example, in the final scene I’m writing, it starts with a whole cast of characters and then ends with just two.
- Decide where it is going to happen: a location from your novel or a new location altogether.
- Decide what is going to happen: what is the action of this scene.
- Does this scene echo your opening scene in some way or is it a complete departure from it?
- What time of year is it? How might this create a particular tone to your novel?
- Imagine your scene like a final shot in a film – be visual for your readers.
- What is the dominant tone, note, emotion you want your readers to experience as they read the final pages of your story?
2.Now write the scene.
- Don’t worry if there are lots of gaps in your knowledge, if you haven’t fully worked out what’s going to happen in your story or which characters are going to survive or be killed off or culled from the manuscript altogether.
- Just write, using some of the notes you’ve made in your planning above, but also allowing your imagination to take you to unexpected places.
Taking it further
- Put this scene away, don’t look at it for a while, and go back to the beginning or middle or whatever stage of your novel you reached before you started writing this scene. And notice how writing that scene affects your narrative.
- Set up a ‘final scene’ page in your notebook and add it when you get ideas while you’re writing. These ideas might flesh out the scene you’ve written or might take you in a new direction.
- In a few weeks and months, re-read that final scene and see which bits are still relevant, whether they can take your current narrative further and deeper and whether you can add to that final scene now that you’ve written more. It’s all an organic process.