Beginning at the End

Route 66

As mentioned previously, I’ve been working my way VEEEERRRRY SLOOOOOWLY through Holly Lisle’s ostensibly three week course on How To Write Flash Fiction that Doesn’t Suck. It’s taking me closer to three months. This is partly because making the time to write has been quite the challenge lately (and has become even more so since I started my job search); but I think it’s mainly because I’ve been going through it in order, doing all of the exercises, and nothing has been coming together satisfactorily, because the part I actually needed to read and do first is the part that was saved for last: figuring out the ending.

Some writers can write a story without knowing how it ends. Many even prefer it that way. They enjoy not knowing where they’re headed until they arrive there. I am not one of those writers. For me, a story is more like a road trip. Just picking a random direction and taking off with no clue where I’m headed would make me anxious. I need to have a destination in mind. If I know I’m driving to, say, Jacksonville, Florida, I can take as direct or as meandering a path as I want, sticking to the Interstates or getting off to check out all of the mountain overlooks and Navy battleships and reptile and ‘gator farms between here and there, stopping at every Stuckey’s along the way. As long as I have a road atlas and I know I’m headed in the general direction of Jacksonville, it’s all about enjoying the journey.

Sometimes I only have a fuzzy idea of the ending. Sometimes the ending changes on me halfway through the book. Sometimes, I know a good portion of the story, but can’t see the ending. Sometimes, I’ll start writing it anyway, and the ending will come to me once I get started. But sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why I haven’t been working on Radium Town lately. I’m stalled out because I don’t know where I’m going with it. I know the characters, I know the monsters, I know that there will be an epic confrontation somewhere near the end, but… I can’t see it, or what happens afterward, how everything wraps up. Which makes telling the story difficult for me, because without knowing the ending, I don’t really know what the point of the story is.

And good flash fiction, I’m coming to understand, is very much about getting to the point, which you have to drive home in about the space of a tweet. I did the exercises for the beginnings and the middles. I had characters, I had problems, I had complications… but I didn’t know the point until I got to the Endings lesson. And once I knew the point of the stories, I realized that everything I had previously written was wrong. Wrong protagonists, wrong POVs. Some of the stories I’d started were just wrong for this format.

Apparently, for me it’s best to write flash fiction backwards.

So now I’ve got two of them done [UPDATE: Make that one — I just submitted the other one to a local coffee shop e-zine]. I’m pretty happy with them, currently. The other three (the assignment was to write five), I need to throw out entirely and go back to the drawing board. But this story collection is finally starting to come together, so I’m happy about that.

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