Creating the idea for a show or movie starts the honeymoon period of creativity, but it will soon dissipate unless you know how it will end.
Coming up with a premise is half the equation for a good story. The other half is coming up with the ending, and I argue that this needs to happen sooner rather than later because, well, the hardest part of writing your story is coming up with a satisfying ending.
Some people like to classify writers as pantsers and plotters. If you don’t know, pantsers are people who write by the seat of their pants (i.e., with little to know planning before they start writing), whereas plotters are people who meticulously plot out a story before starting to write it. Most of us are somewhere in between, but wherever you are there should be two things that you need to know before you start cranking out that first draft.
First, you need to know where the reader will enter the story. How does it begin? What is the world-building that needs to happen to draw the audience into the story? Who am I going to be following and, quite frankly, why should I care about this person/protagonist? This is usually tightly coupled with the premise of the story, and is the one thing both novice and veteran writers tend to be the best at.
The second thing you need to know is how the story will end. Now, Stephen King has famously said that knowing how your story ends is like having the icing before eating the cake, but I don’t think this is good advice. All writing should be adding momentum toward a specific conclusion; stories are, after all, mutable, and must end sometime and somehow. If you don’t know how your story is going to end, then you don’t really know what your story is about.
Knowing how your story will end gives you a direction to face while you are writing.
All scenes, dialogue, and plot points can now be oriented toward taking the characters from an original state to an end state.
As stories are about change, knowing how change will occur — in the environment, in the societies, in the individuals — will better guide each scene as you write them.
Additionally, it’s easier to analyze whether a scene is important or not if you know how far along the story’s journey it is — and you can’t know that unless you know how the journey ends.
You might think that knowing how the story ends is detrimental to your creativity. I promise it’s not. It just takes practice getting into your characters’ heads in the moment they are currently in.
Think of it like being an actor: you’ve already read the script; you know how the story ends; you know what will ultimately happen to your character.
Armed with this knowledge, you can now perform in ways that offer contrast, irony, hypocrisy, and metaphor throughout the story. These are the tools of a great actor as much as they are the tools of a master storyteller.
Finally, if you know how the story ends, you can write a better first draft.
The next time you come up with a concept for a story, challenge yourself to work on the ending. How could you provide an emotionally adventurous closure to the premise that you have created?
Figure out where you want to end up, then you can focus on enjoying the journey.