Friday, 2 May 2008

Knowing the beginning from the end

In the nine months since finishing the manuscript of The Infinite Day I have been busy teaching and also involved in an editing project for a friend that, though worthwhile, has been very time-consuming. But that – and the teaching – is shortly coming to an end and I am beginning to think about my next fiction project, which has the working title of the ‘Seventh Ship Series’. I envisage it as another trilogy, though on a slightly more restrained scale than the heavyweight Lamb Among The Stars series. I have already compiled a lot of notes but in some spare moments over the last few days I have been trying to clarify that most important of things: the ending.

Yes, that’s right, it’s half a million words away from being written, but I want to know my ending. In fact, I’m not really sure I can properly start writing until I know, at least at a very general level, where I am going. I’m sure many fiction writers feel the same; there needs to be a goal, a fixed point to which we can write. It is however certainly not true of all such writers: I have certainly read many books (and given up quite a few more) where it was evident that the writer really didn’t know where they were going. Rumour has it that Robert Jordan’s enormous and unfinished Wheel of Time series that stretches on for 11 or so books attained its gargantuan length because he didn’t know where it was going.

What is so significant about the ending? Three things strike me. The first is that it allows you to distinguish that which is essential and that which is irrelevant. In fantasy, where an infinite number of things are possible, you need that discipline lest you become lost in endless subplots. The second thing is that creating a solid architecture like this allows the build-up of tension and its release at the key moment. I sometimes think of books as being like those situations where you have a thousand dominoes all lined up and then you just tap the end one and they all tumble down in a most satisfying manner. Knowing where you are going helps you set up that situation. Thirdly, the ending confirms, in a deepest sense, what the book is all about. And be assured, my books are about something more than just the tale.

Well I’m not sure that I have a proper ending yet. I’m in no hurry: I want it to be good. Popular wisdom says that ‘Coming events cast their shadows before them’. Maybe. Another and truer saying may be this ‘You can’t know where you are until you know where you are going.’ I suspect that may be true of life too.