Last night, I was lucky to get to listen to Ann Hood and Elizabeth Berg speak about books and writing, and then I got to hear them read. I love listening to writers read their own words. Left Bank Books, one of those fabulous indie bookstores that are becoming far too rare, hosted them at an event celebrating book clubs. It doesn't get much better than that.
The best part, though, was when the moderator asked them if, when they start writing, they know what the ending will be. I was on the edge of my seat. This question is one I wrestle with. To know or not to know? I like knowing. It makes me feel in charge. Or at least not completely lost, grasping for a lifeline. But, sometimes I don't know. Can't know. And I'm trying to trust my characters to lead me where they need to go. But Ann Hood's response totally rocked.
Here's what I wrote down--
She spends an inordinate amount of time on her first line. (Yeah, first line.) Because, she said, she knows her protagonist will be in an opposite position at the end.
I love that. It frees me. I don't need to stew and worry that I don't know where my character is going to end up. All I have to do is look at my first line. Or, maybe for me, my first few pages. But it's right there. I know it even when I don't know that I do. How cool is that? My characters are in charge. They'll get me where I need to be. Or better yet, where they need to be.
In All the Numbers, I opened with Ellen frozen in her car, unable to carry her son's clothes into the funeral home. Not a good place. At the end? She's able to stand on that dock and release his ashes into the breeze and the water at the lake where he was killed. Opposite places. In Unexpected Grace? It opens with Kate, alone, sad, hoping, almost a year after his death, that she'll still be able to smell her fiance's scent on their sheets. At the end, she's holding her daughter and sensing the power she has.
So, as I write this next book, I have even more reason to concentrate on my first chapter (which I was already doing). And when I feel, somewhere around word 23,406 or 57,030, that I'm wandering or I've lost my way, I know I can turn back to that opening and find my way.