BLAISE PASCAL ONCE OBSERVED, “the last thing one settles in writing a book is what one should put in first.” In other words, writing a novel is the opposite of life. Or better put, good fiction is written like life in reverse.
On a more modern note, George Lucas realized what the beginning of Star Wars should be during post production. The finished product starts with the once familiar 20th Century Fox fanfare missing from films since the 50’s. And then – five silent seconds of black screen with ten simple words … A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …
Boom. The largest logo you’ve ever seen fills the screen, its yellow outlines nudged right up to the top and bottom of the frame, the color a deliberate contrast with the blue of the preceding ten words. It is accompanied by a violent orchestral blast in the same key as the fanfare, B-flat major. Both were placed there by Lucas.
Chris Taylor ~ How Star Wars Conquered the Universe
Steven James, thriller writer par excellence, says this is the reason he never outlines his story. In his stellar work on the craft of writing, Story Trumps Structure, he observes, “if you know the ending of a story, you’ll know the beginning, but if you know the beginning, you won’t necessarily know the ending.” Ponder the concept yes, flesh out where you want the story to end up, no doubt. But always be prepared for it to end up and perhaps start in places you never expected.
Perhaps that is why I am wired to write suspense and speculative fiction. Backward engineering has always been my forte. When I was a child, give me a manual on how to design and build a clock and my eyes glazed over. Give me a clock or better yet, let me find a clock I wasn’t supposed to tinker with and watch my eyes blaze as I tore it apart. The only thing hotter was my butt when my father caught me – discovery always carries with it a price. Sometimes I wish I could go back and write the beginning.
Unfortunately, life does not work like a good seat of the pants suspense novel. Nor does it play out like a perfectly plotted mystery. We start out with great promise, sure of what the ending will be. But more often than not, the story we write with our lives ends up as what is often called these days, a mashup. If only we knew with certainty how that last page will be written and could backward engineer everything before that.
Or maybe not!
Did life make it to this point like I thought it would when pen first went to paper? Will it conclude with the perfect ending? “No” on the first count and “who knows” on the second. But for me, there is an epilog that was settled long before this story called life began. My father loved and lived by its words …
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.