Please don’t tell me how the story ends.


WE ALL WRITE our novels differently.

What works for me may never work for you.

What works for me may never work for anybody.

I’m a pantser.

I don’t know the story or any of its twists and turns when I begin.

I have no idea how the characters will interact with each other.

I have no idea how the characters will meet.

Generally, other than my protagonist, I don’t even know who my characters are.

They just wander into the story the way strangers wander into our lives.

Don’t expect them.

Don’t know why they show up.

Don’t know if they are friends.

Or enemies.

They’ll let me know.

And, more than once, I’ve been disappointed.

In real life.

And in my stories.

When writing a novel, I take the backward approach.

I write the last page long before I write the first.

It’s like traveling.

I decide on a destination.

And then I go back and try to figure out how to get there.

The shortest distance between two points is not always the best way to go.

That gives me one great advantage over my characters.

I know how the story ends.

They don’t.

But it always amazes me that they wander around until they find the same ending I wrote.

How do they do it?

I have no idea.

Once the last page is written and the first page is written, I’m only a spectator, standing on the sidelines, watching what happens, eavesdropping and listening to what the characters say to each other.

Who’s mad?

Who’s frightened?

Who wants to escape?

And why?

Who’s the good guy?

I think I know.

I’m usually wrong.

Will he fall in love?

Will he even meet a girl?

I think I know.

He usually falls in love with the wrong girl.

Where did she come from?

I have no idea.

I can well understand the thoughts of John Irving when he said: “I have last chapters in mind before I see the first chapters. I usually begin with endings, with a sense of aftermath, of epilogue.”

In Place of Skulls, I knew who was the final target before I ever knew why the shot was fired.

In Little Lies, I knew a betrayed woman would seek and exact revenge, but I didn’t know why she felt betrayed.

Did she have a good reason?

I watched her life being torn apart for more than two hundred pages and discovered she had a damn good reason.

In Secrets of the Dead, I knew the mission, but I had no idea how Ambrose Lincoln could find the photographs or smuggle them out of Baden Baden during the Night of Broken Glass.

I found out when everyone else did.

It shocked me.

It made so much sense I wondered why I didn’t see it coming.

And so it goes.

For me that’s where life is so much different from novels.

I don’t know where I’m going.

I don’t know when the final word will be written.

I have no idea what it will say.

In real life, I’m like the lines from an old country western song: Please don’t tell me how the story ends.

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