Write Your Novel From the End?

sunset  It’s not something planned, but I always imagine the end of a story I’m writing before settling on the beginning. How do I want my protagonist to have changed for the better? Which other characters do I want to appear with her in the final chapter and scenes? Just how bittersweet do I want the ending to be, and who or what do I want her to have lost when the end comes?

My personal library of books on the writing craft has grown to include several by James Scott Bell. The latest is Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between, and it’s a great tool for someone like me who is a “tweener.” I don’t write by the seat of my pants, but neither do I outline. Chapter summaries work best for me because I like to write the beginning, middle, and end and then fill in to tie them all together.

That’s where Mr. Bell’s book has been helpful. He describes the middle of a good story (novel or movie) as having a “magical midpoint moment.” The main character looks at herself “in the mirror,” either literally or figuratively. This is a hard look, one in which she reflects on the kind of person she is or has become, how she might (or might not) be responsible for some of her own troubles, and what she might have to do to overcome her challenges. In a plot-driven novel, that mirror moment must show the protagonist considering the awfulness of the antagonistic forces against which she must fight and risk death of some sort–physical, professional, or psychological.

“Mirror moment” is so descriptive, it’s one of those elements of story that I will probably never forget now that I’ve heard the term used. I will look for it in others’ work as well as my own.

If I know why and how, and at what cost, I want my protagonist to change by the end of my novel, it makes sense to set up a “mirror moment” for her somewhere in the middle as soon as possible. It’s the place where I should see (and later the reader will see) the entire narrative pulled together in one character. If my writing has somehow failed to place the reader in deep point-of-view with the protagonist anywhere else in the story, I certainly don’t want to fail with this opportunity!

Do you recall a mirror moment from a favorite book or movie? Have you ever created an ending for a story before writing the rest of it?

 

 

 

Love is Contagious (More From Mitali)

Last Saturday I posted the first half of an interview with Mitali Perkins. Mitali has written several books for children and teens, two of which I’ve read –Bamboo People and First Daughter – and several more are on my to-read list. Her writing spans many cultures. Not surprising, since Mitali has lived in several countries.

 

As a person who was born in an Asian country yet America is her home, have you experienced the prejudice that Sparrow experienced in First Daughter?

 

Mitali PerkinsMitali: To some extent, yes, especially when we first arrived and I was the foreigner/new kid in school. But everything gets intensified in the celebrity limelight, so Sparrow’s situation was unique.

I had introduced myself to you by sharing that I had also moved more than a dozen times while growing up with an Air Force dad, so I knew what it was like to always be the new kid. If it’s not too intrusive, may I ask what position(s) your parents held that caused you to move all over the world?

Mitali: My father is a civil engineer so he worked to help build ports and harbors.

 

 

Many readers of Scriblerians are also writers. They’re interested in some of the minutiae of publishing. For instance, book covers. I’ve displayed several of your covers here. I think the art on both Bamboo People and First Daughter is excellent. It gives a sense of the flavor of each story. Bamboo People is full of shadows, and First Daughter shows a hip, South Asian teenager sporting a sweet and cheerful smile. Do you design the covers yourself, or do you get to approve what other artists create?

First_Daughter_Extreme_Makeover

Bamboo People

 

Mitali: I have little say in the covers. In the beginning of my career, I had none. Now I get some input. But I am in awe of artists since I neither paint nor draw so it is monsoon summer 2hard for me to be critical. I do scrutinize them for cultural accuracy, though.

Secret Keeper

Do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? I would guess that Bamboo People needed a detailed outline, but perhaps First Daughter skipped through some unplanned adventures.

Mitali: People come first in my stories, with place a close second, and then I wrestle with plot. A growing edge for me is increasing tension in my stories. I want the reader to keep turning pages. Pacing is also a challenge. The passage of time is tough – “days passed,” “three hours later,” etc. seem stiff and heavy-handed so how do you move your characters through time naturally and easily?

What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

Mitali: Unforgettable characters, I hope. Mirrors to see themselves reflected and windows thrown open into lives that are different than theirs.

You have certainly accomplished those goals! I was amazed that I could sympathize with both sides of the conflict in Burma. Kind, decent characters could be found in the city, in the jungle, in the military. And in Sparrow’s world, even the most obnoxious people possessed something golden within them.

A just-for-fun question: if you could meet one of your characters in real life, which one would it be, and what would you do together?

Mitali: I would like to have coffee with Sparrow and take Chiko to see a good doctor here in the States. But all of them are dear to me.

Maybe that’s the key as to why I enjoy Mitali’s stories so much. She loves her characters. And I end up loving them, too. Because love is contagious.

Two questions for our followers and any readers exploring Scriblerians: What characters have you fallen in love with? Why do you think you were so passionate about them?”