A thick manuscript topped with a pen

Developing Your Manuscript by Starting at The End

In all my years of plotting and developing character arcs for my manuscript, it was just this morning, as I crawled around the floor, rearranging the sticky notes depicting scenes (yes, it was a sight to behold), I had an epiphany: I develop a manuscipt the same way I train for an Ironman triathlon.

I start at the end.

Runner seen from the back crossing the finish line of the Wildflower triathlon, similar to the finish line of a manuscript

Why is This Important?

So far, everything I’ve learned about thriving in the writing industry has been from training for arduous, long-distance races, like the Ironman triathlon. Like finishing a manuscript, these races take an incredible amount of commitment, sacrifice, and time (along with a great deal of mental toughness).

And just like a manuscript, it’s important to know where you’re headed from the very beginning.

Why Start a Manuscript at The End

Training for a race (of any length) without knowing the distance to the finish line would be ridiculous. If I start training for an Ironman race without understanding that I need to be physically and mentally able to complete a 2.4-mile swim, plus a 112-mile bike ride, plus a full 26.2-mile marathon in 17 hours, my training would be directionless. My race? Very likely a disaster.

If you can envision where that story is headed, or at least a general idea of the character arc, you have a reasonable chance of grasping the overall goal you need to develop.

No, It’s Not Plotting!

This may sound a bit like plotting, but it isn’t. It’s really just determining one data point, albeit an important one, and developing a global sence of the main story conflicts. Knowing where you’re headed is just the first step to understanding your task. The hard part comes next.

Embracing a Timeline

Trust me, if I didn’t pay an entry fee and actually commit to a race, I might happily continue mid-distance practices (i.e. the fun ones) forever, never really having the drive or reason to push for those longer, more uncomfortable training days. With a target date, I can develop a plan that gives me a reasonable chance of not just starting the race, but also finishing it.

With manuscripts, I’ve known people that are still working on their stories years after the inception. Some are still trying to figure out where the story is leading them. And that, really, is fine if the goal is to sit back and enjoy the writing adventure. But if you truly want to finish that manuscript and publish it, having a defined timeline to reach the end of your draft can keep you tasked and on track.

What’s Next?

Ask yourself how your character will get to the end you’ve envisioned? There are two main components here:

  • Start from the end scene or the end of the character arc and work backwards
  • Define those inner and outer demons

Walking The Manuscript Backwards

Planning Ironman training is a bit formulaic, at first. I take the number of miles I need to reach in each discipline and divide by the weeks available to train. If I have 16 weeks to get to a comfortable 100-mile ride, I can backtrack the weeks, taking a look at what needs to occur at each step along the way to be successful.

Inner and Outer Demons

Even with all the fancy numbers on my spreadsheet, to really understand how to get to the finish line, I need to know more about what drives me as a person. It involves defining my weaknesses, inner demons, and outer demons. If running is my weakness (it absolutely is), I need understand that and work more on running over the training season.

a sky at sunset with hot oranges, red, and blacks intermixed in the sky hovering over a distant, dark mountain.
Phoenix Summer Sunrise

My inner demon? Open water swimming. I do great in a pool, but come race day, open water panic will set in. This knowledge drives me to seek lakes to enhance my training. (Unfortunately, I haven’t solved my procrastination demon quite yet). My outer demons? Training in the 115-degree Phoenix desert can lead to heat stroke and be lethal. I have to plan around that demon with 4 am runs, swims during the hottest part of the day, and indoor bike rides.

Everythinig I do in each week of training is compelled by those personal issues. It’s my personal plot line, really. And on race day itself, how much I’ve grown to conquer my demons will determine if I make it out of the lake to the next portion of the race, or if I end up with a kayak rescue. If I haven’t dealt with my weaknesses, I won’t be able to complete the run that takes me to the finish line.

But there are no kayak rescues for a manuscript if the main character arrives at critical plot points without having been challenged by his weaknesses and demons, growing along the way. As he heads toward that finish you’ve envisioned, you need to also understand the barriers that he faces. And tackling those barriers will help drive your character logically toward the end.

The Wall of Dominoes

By starting at the last scene or the end of the character arc (D), and taking one step back at a time, you can get an idea of what must happen to get to D. It’s like collapsing a row of standing dominoes. For D to happen now, C had to happen first. For C to have happened, B must have already occured. But the character has a real issue with B, so he had to also have some other event impact him to get past B and grow. Even just to get to B, and pull himself out of his content little world he started in (A), some big thing must push him out of his comfort zone and onto his adventure.

And while some may argue this is really starting to sound a lot like plotting, it is a lot more like logical brainstorming. There is a lot of plot that hasn’t been addressed yet, but some of those major plot points and that climactic ending have begun to take shape.

Ready, Set…Write!

All that thought and preparation for me as an athlete culminates in standing at the start and following a pre-determined race course to the finish line. There is no deviation allowed. But as a writer, it means I’m ready to dive deeper into my manuscript- to head down some what if’s. At this point, a plotter, if well on the way to deciding the inciting event and main plot points. Pantsers will have a better feel for how to let their character lead them through the story.

A sandy beach with the capital letters dug in spelling the end
Michitogo, Pixabay

Reaching THE END

Most of us are aware that getting to type THE END on a manuscript is really just another beginning: editing, getting beta readers, editing again, querying. But getting to the end can be much easier to envision, when you know what it will take to get there.

Resources

Here are some additional perspectives on using THE END to develop your story:

Getting stuck or frustrated along the way? Here are some resources to help get you back on track:

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Drop a Comment

Do you have tips for getting a manuscript started? Share them in the comment section below.

Happy Writing!

The End

Here’s that blog hop link. Go check out some other writers and see what tips they have to share.

10 Comments

  1. Hi, Miffie! I’m not sure if this is June’s post. I can’t seem to find a date, but that’s probably my ineptitude with technology. Regardless, this was a persuasive and worthwhile post to read. You make an excellent case for starting at the end! I hope you’ve been enjoying IWSG Day. Happy creating in June!

  2. An incredible post, thank you so much for sharing! Your perspective on writing is such an interesting one, and I love the idea of relating the writing process to other projects and challenges we may undertake in our everyday lives. I really resonated with what you said about writing being driven by our inner demons and internal motivations. I feel that everything I write is a piece of myself, almost as though I’m baring a little bit of my soul to the world. And thank you for the resources you shared! I learned a lot from your post.

  3. Miffie, what a GREAT post. Sometimes, I start at the beginning of a story and then jump to the end because I know where I want the story to end. You have great points here. Thanks so much for these tips. And bravo to you for enduring the Ironman…or should I say Ironwoman? All best to you!

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