I have a confession to make: whenever I have a book in hand that I’m not sure about, I’ll flip to the end to see if it goes happily ever after.
It’s a habit that for years earned me, at best, bewilderment, and at time outright derision. “You’re ruining the story” people would say, “why read it if you already know how it’s going to end?” But that, to me, was a price I was willing to pay.
When I was in middle school, I went through a horror-novel kick. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul – I devoured these books like crazy. But in doing so, it gave rise to a terror all its own, something I’d never realized about myself: I hated sad endings. I wanted the hero and heroine to win, save the day, destroy the bad guy.
That didn’t always happen, and as that phase (quickly) passed, I learned that other grown-up books also had similarly not-so-great endings. It was then that I started reading from the end first, making sure good triumphed and evil was vanquished. There have only been a handful of books I’ve read where I suppressed this urge, wanting to enjoy the process without “ruining” the final climax and resolution. The last Harry Potter book was one I remember, which was a series that really captured my heart. The final book was more of an “event” in my mind, the ending of an era, and I wanted to drag that out as long as I could.
So what does this have to do with writing? Well, I’m one of those people who needs to know the end of my story before I start. Years ago, I could start writing and just GO, get out thousands of words without knowing anything except interesting characters. But as my craft evolved, I started wanting something to strive for, a place that I knew would be The End. I’d do sprawling epics that meandered all over the place, and eventually lose interested in these stories because I had no idea how or where they ended.
There is a series of videos on YouTube by Dan Wells that I often go back to for inspiration. He explains structure for story, both for plotters and pantsers, and I think it’s a useful discussion for writers to see.