Start By Writing the Final Chapter First

by Dax MacGregor
My pantser ways led to insurmountable plot holes, which led to writer's block, which I resolved by writing the final chapter first.

As I described in my post, Pantser to Plotter, I started writing my first novel as a pantser. I planned to write a short story, but the story grew into a novel.

As my writing progressed, one of my characters did something unexpected, and the entire story evolved in a new, tantalizing direction. This development excited me, and I spent the next month expanding this new storyline. But as I worked, I gradually realized the new narrative created holes in the plot.

Plot Holes Lead to Writers Block

When I discovered my plot holes, my writing stopped. I spent weeks working on pursuing solutions. I rewrote earlier scenes but found those created additional plot holes. Finally, after writing and later discarding several rewritten chapters, I stopped writing and resorted to making notes on a whiteboard where I could quickly record (and trash) new ideas.

I spent weeks without finding a solution. Eventually, I set the story aside and worked on other projects.

Solution: Writing Final Chapter Provides a Clear Destination

Then I read in Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer that J. K. Rowling started the Harry Potter series by writing the final chapter of the last book. But, of course, as a pantser, that option never occurred to me.

So that’s what I did. But before I could write the ending, I needed to bring the story to the point of closure in my head. Sure, I knew where the story led. But I had several alternative concepts on how to wrap things up.

When I roughed out the final chapter, I thought: This is like an epilogue. Where’s the excitement? Where is the climax? It took a week of sketching, trashing, and recycling ideas before finding the ending I wanted.

Once I’d completed the final chapter, I found my mental obstacles had vanished. With the destination defined, writing became so much easier. After all, now I knew where I was going!

I realized the branch of the story, which I had spent a month writing, had to go. But, instead of grieving the loss of that material, I found excitement in being able to write again.

Afterward, I recalled the words of Lewis Carroll: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

Writing the last chapter first cured my writer’s block.

Now I Start New Projects By Writing the Final Chapter First

Now, I sketch out the story’s key points and outline the final chapter before writing the first chapter. The process provides clarity and dramatically improves my productivity.

What’s your opinion? Please share it below.

Comments

11 Comments

  1. Eve

    That does sound like a great way to make sure you have a firm grasp on the direction of your story. If I use that method, I’d have to do away with my reader’s mentality, i.e. not wanting to know the ending until I arrive at it.

    Reply
  2. Dax Macgregor

    Eve,

    You’ve hit on the classic pantser vs. plotter conflict.

    I live with a foot in both camps. The story I’m writing now has so many moving pieces, I have to plan ahead to tell the story effectively.

    But all the while, I bristle at having my creative wings clipped.

    Reply
  3. creativedeeds

    Since I haven’t actually finished writing anything substantial, I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment. However, I am in the process of writing a book that I hope to one day finish. During the process I woke up one morning remembering a dream I had about the characters I was writing about. The only problem was that the scene that I remembered couldn’t happen until several chapters – lots and lots of chapters after my current chapters I was working on. What choice did I have but to write what I remembered while it was still fresh in my mind. It wasn’t quite at the end, but it was close enough to relate to this article. Did it help my process so far? The jury’s still out on that one, but it did make this article a lot more interesting.

    Reply
  4. Dax MacGregor

    Creative Deeds,

    It looks like you are off to a good start with your blog. I like the nautical theme.

    You don’t have to be qualified to leave comments here. First Manuscript is a place where aspiring and successful authors share ideas.

    You’ll have to stop by later and update us whether this helped or not — and fill us in on your progress.

    Thanks for stopping and taking time to comment.

    Reply
    • creativedeeds

      Thanks Dax. For both responding to my comment and stopping by my newbie blog. Hopefully I can keep up with it and write something interesting from time to time.
      I guess “qualified” wasn’t exactly the right term. Maybe I should have said “experienced.” What I really meant was I didn’t know if I had enough background to leave an educated comment that would add to the discussion. Just wanted you to know that it was a timely enough article for me at this stage in my writing. It helped me to realize that writing out of chapter order isn’t such a bad thing.
      I’ll definitely be stopping by again!

      Reply
      • Dax MacGregor

        Creative,

        Comments make all the work of maintaining the blog and writing quality content worthwhile.

        When someone leaves a simple Thank You, it lifts my spirits. When they leave positive comments, my head swells (that’s not necessarily a good thing, it’s already two sizes too big).

        Even when someone disagrees or leaves critical comments, I appreciate those, too — because they challenge me to think more deeply about what I’ve written or perhaps they offer information I’d been lacking, which I can study and learn.

        The absolute worst thing is to slave over a blog entry and get no comments. I know from the site stats that people read it, but I have no idea what they thought.

        This is a long-winded way of saying that any comment is welcomed. Thanks.

        Reply
  5. Linda Burke

    I think it is a good way to start; otherwise, how do you know which “trail” to follow.

    You might find Larry Brooks books and website helpful (storyfix.com). He is definitely a plotter.

    Reply
    • Dax MacGregor

      Linda,

      In a different thread, another reader turned me on to Larry Brooks. I’ve recently read his book, Story Engineering.

      I’m currently applying his ideas. I’m excited about my progress. I’ll blog about the results once I’m done. Stay tuned.

      Thanks for visiting and taking time to comment.

      Reply
  6. HRHAngelique

    Lovely article. Where can the fact that JK Rowling wrote the last chapter of the 7th Harry Potter book be found?

    I realize it is in the book you mentioned; however, I’d like to know what the cited reference for that fact is.

    Thank you,
    HRH

    Reply
    • Dax MacGregor

      HRH,

      The author doesn’t quote a source for this information. Here is the exact quote from the book.

      So I was not surprised to learn that J. K. Rowling began writing the Harry Potter series by crafting the final chapter of the last book and has even revealed the last word: “scar.”

      With a little googling, I found a BBC interview where she says this:

      She told the Richard and Judy show that she had long known how the series would end, because she had written the last chapter “in something like 1990”.

      Later in an Oprah Winfrey interview, Ms. Rowling shares this:

      Winfrey: Did you know ‘all is well’ was going to be the last line?

      Rowling: Yeah, I did.

      Winfrey: And you always knew that?

      Rowling: Well, that’s a really good question because for a long time the last word was going to be ‘scar’. It was just worded differently but I – and I had said that to fans. The last word would be ‘scar’ and then I changed my mind. I just wanted the last words to be ‘all is well’.

      I hope this helps.

      Reply
      • HRHAngelique

        Thank you so much for your response, it helps immensely. Apparently, I wasn’t entering the proper keywords and could not find the interview(s), resources, or references.

        Cheers,
        HRH

        Reply

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