Whether novelist or screenwriter, Bang2writers are always coming to me with the same two sad laments. These are:
- ‘I need to get this novel/script written FAST!’
- ‘I’m in plotting HELL … I don’t know how to get out!’
Two very different problems … but what if I told you the answer to both was THE SAME TIP?
Well it’s true my little grasshoppers, so make sure you’re sitting comfortably so you can pay attention!
The Punchline Approach
Whether you want to get out of Plotting Hell, or you want to get your draft written fast, I advocate what I call ‘The Punchline Approach’. With jokes, it’s the ENDING that is most important, right? Everything else leads to it, via Set Up and Pay Off.
I once talked to a small-time comedian in a pub. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember he was wearing a horrible bow tie and that he loved pork scratchings (he flicked them at people one their way to the loos, which were behind us). I also remember this timeless advice he imparted:
‘You want to write a decent joke? Start with the punchline and work backwards to find the Set Up.’
You can apply this to storytelling generally. Seriously! Check this out:
If you like The 3 Acts, like I do, you can see that going backwards doesn’t really CHANGE the midpoint at all (which is probably the most important bit of your plot, especially in terms of the arc and your characters’ journeys).
On this basis then, starting with the ending means you can ‘find’ your beginning, so you NEVER have the problem of starting ‘too early’ (probably the biggest problem of the spec pile). I’ve become so enamoured of this method, I’ve actually started seeing ENDINGS FIRST when I come up with new stories! Furrealz! And yes, it really has made my life muuuuuuuuch easier.
So, start with your ending and work backwards. I double dare you.
Your Ending Is Everything
This is the thing … If you know where you’re GOING, then you can work out where you should START. It’s simple really when you think about it, but can make ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
Most screenwriters know they shouldn’t start a draft without an ending, but they infrequently work backwards from that ending. Instead, they’ll begin in a linear fashion, which means that very often they will start too early.
Now, novel writing is slightly different in that you *can* start a draft without knowing the end. That said, if plotting is difficult for you, or you want to get your draft written FAST, then I recommend following The Punchline Approach.
It will also mean you have the best chance of writing an ending that has real impact too. Since audiences and readers report that endings REALLY, REALLY MATTER, can you afford not to focus on it?
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