Last Word

Try writing backwards for great beginnings


“I write the last line, and then I write the line before that. I find myself writing backwards for a while, until I have a solid sense of how that ending sounds and feels. You have to know what your voice sounds like at the end of the story, because it tells you how to sound when you begin.”

writing backwards

(Flickr: Robb North)

–John Irving

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Now, here is your task for today — writing backwards. The notion isn’t such a crazy one. For many writers, visualizing the end of a story is actually the first step in writing a novel.

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A couple’s running embrace or a lonesome cowboy riding off into the sunset — these are some powerful, if cliche, images that many would recognize as symbolic endings.

But the idea of taking a picture and rewinding it back even just a few paragraphs can be just as powerful.

What circumstances separated the couple for so long? How did they finally reunite? What or who is responsible for sending the cowboy off into the world alone?

“Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer shares at length on her website that it was the middle of her story that came to her first in a dream. Despite her usual chores as a wife and mother, she worked frantically to capture that dream and commit it to paper before she eventually worked her way back to the beginning.

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The creative process can be a messy one, certainly.

But, once you have a picture in your mind, it’s imperative that you carefully answer backwards through a series of questions, in order to arrive at a beginning or a middle for a great story. Then settle on a voice that will carry on throughout its telling.

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Once you have those main ingredients, it’s much easier to backtrack and get moving with the start of your novel or memoir.

So, if you had to write the final lines of a story that has not yet taken root in your mind, what would they be? What image has taken root there and how would you convey it?

 Kerri S. Mabee is managing editor at and founder of Breeze Media & Communications. Learn more about her at

Kerri S. Mabee

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