Friday, April 26th, 2013

Writing Prompt: Starting from the End

TypewriterI had lunch with a writer friend yesterday, and as usual, we talked shop.

I finally asked him if he wouldn’t mind looking over a short story I’m writing, because I seem to have written myself into a corner. It’s science fiction, which I love reading, but never seem to get around to writing.

Absolutely he said yes, but then he offered a nugget of advice while plotting: write the last line first.

His method is to write the last line, ask himself how the characters got to that point, then ask how they got to the point preceding that, and so on.


I’ve never suffered from “writer’s block” because (as I tell anyone who asks) I always “know where I’m going” when I’m writing. How can you be blocked if you know what’s coming next?

Starting from the end is the nth-most point of this. Now, why didn’t I think of that?

(Thanks, Carl!)

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a poem, a short story, a scene or vignette by writing the last line first. Think: how will this end? And start from there.
  • Think of two story/scene/poem endings, then think of how they each begin. Switch the beginnings of each idea and then write one of these ‘twisted’ stories.
  • If you’re having trouble thinking of endings, here are a few ideas you can steal (re-write them once you get to the end!):
    • Like thee, may New Switzerland flourish and prosper–good happy and free! – Johann Wyss, Thw Swiss Family Robinson
    • “Now, that’s something like! Why, it’s a million times better than pirating. I’ll stick to the widder till I rot, Tom: and if I git to be a reg’lar ripper of a robber, and everybody talking ’bout it, I reckon she’ll be proud she snaked me in out of the wet.” ~ Samuel Clemens, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
    • Then he closed his eyes and humbly surrendered his vanquished throat to the comfort of the blade. Miguel Torga – The Bull, from Farrusco: The Blackbird and Other Stories
    • I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before. ~ Samuel Clemens, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    • In this vessel, after a long voyage, I arrived in England, June 11, in the year 1687, having been 35 years absent. ~ Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Good luck!

Photo by | Dreamstime Photos

4 comments to Writing Prompt: Starting from the End

  • Kelly, well very work doesn’t it but, end the from starting of idea your tried I.

  • Thanks for the shout-out, Kelly!

    Here’s the first story I tried using the “memento-style” of writing — I put the paragraphs in the proper order so it makes sense, rather than leave it as originally written:

    . . . “Another Time” . . .

    He made one last adjustment to the spring tension and shut the brass cover to his device with a satisfying click. He gathered up his papers, the culmination of a lifetime’s work, and locked them away before turning on the device. He told himself that he was only going to be gone for a week, then return in triumph to announce to his peers that he had done it. Time itself would bend to the will of man.

    The future wasn’t how he’d imagined – it was better than he’d dreamed. Wondrous contraptions filled the air with music and moving images, carriages whisked along in dizzying streams of color and sound, and enormous buildings reached toward the heavens themselves. And the crowds-

    he’d never seen so many people in one place, each moving along like ants at a picnic, with not so much as a second glance at the marvels that passed. He stood and watched them unseen, still trying to grasp what he was seeing until a voice at his side asked, β€œAre you lost?” He looked down at the child, a young oriental girl wearing a petite satchel on her back, clothed in denim jeans and matching jacket with unusual embroidery along each lapel. She shrugged at his silence and stuck a think white cord back in her ears which seemed to be emitting some tinny sounding music. He tried to answer her, but she left without even saying goodbye. He thought it rude, but realized as the day wore on that it was somehow the cultural norm.

    After a few days of careful observation, he thought he was ready to make himself known to the strange new world in a way that wouldn’t get him locked away as a madman. It took traveling back to the same day one week earlier three times before he was able to convince the news woman that he wasn’t a trickster, then two more times on camera to convince the world.

    He stayed longer than he’d originally planned, meeting with influential leaders, celebrities, scientists, whoever asked. Some where curious about life in his era and his impression of how things turned out, but more than a few seemed solely interested in his mode of travel. He answered their questions as truthfully as he could, except for the machine – he realized now what a delicate thing time was, and too much meddling could cause both worlds to unravel into chaos. But the damage was done. Toward the end of his time, their curiosity turned to suspicion and veiled threats. He announced his intention to leave in the morning and privately readied his device for an earlier departure.

    The last thing he saw from the curtained window of his room was the chanting crowd waving placards and banners in the streets below, straining against the police barricades that would not contain their fear and pent-up anger for long.

    The next morning, he burned his notes in the fireplace, setting each page ablaze by one corner and allowing the flames to creep along its surface until it was fully engulfed before dropping it into the fire atop a pile of shattered brass gears.

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