Once upon a time, a very reputable literary magazine interviewed a very reputable author. Fiction writing was discussed. I won't drop any proper nouns here, because I enjoy reading that particular magazine, enjoy reading that particular author's work, and disagree with what was said: "If I didn't know the ending of a story, I wouldn't begin [writing it]."

I don't know about that. There are many essential elements to a story, and the ending, though important, is only one of them. Others include the subject, the message or feeling conveyed while reading the piece, the personality of the character(s), beautifully written language—which could be as simple as a single sentence, a connection a story may evoke for the reader, et cetera. Some may argue the beginning is as important—or in the case of editors who must review a large number of submissions, maybe more so—as the ending.

The author who said this was probably taking into consideration the motivation necessary to write a story. But I can see those who are looking to craft a fiction motivated by instruments other than a great ending. Here are some alternate ways a writer can be motivated, without knowing for sure how exactly the story will end:

—   The writer is interested in a certain subject that can serve as metaphor within the story. Perhaps map-making interests you and you'd like to do a bit of research on it, or you want to learn about the history of puppetry, Tiffany stained glass, or James Dean's jinxed Porsche.

—   The writer is interested in capturing a specific voice and personality of a main character, let's say the ugly duckling grammar school girl who—now at eighteen—finds herself not so ugly anymore, or the old-timer auto mechanic who is constantly annoyed with the rich college kids' abuse of their fathers' cars.

—   The writer is taken with specific text read elsewhere, which may be a single sentence, a single line of a poem, a comment heard on the street, or perhaps something larger—the narrative style of another work of prose or that heard in a movie.

I don't believe any great story was written without considerable motivation and passion driving it into being. So if some aspect calls out to you and interests you, go with it, regardless of whether you have a conceived ending at the time. Many writers have said that once they were in "the zone," the story wrote itself. — JL


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