I taught as a professor of teacher education at Cincinnati Christian University for many years. Instructing future teachers in how to plan meaningful lessons and how to assess student learning was a big part of my job. I would tell my students to think about the outcome they wanted to see in the end. “What do you want your pupils to know or be able to do after you teach the lesson?” I would ask. I told them they wouldn’t know how to get there if they didn’t know where they were going.
Think about going on a vacation. Let’s say you live in San Diego. You could just get in the car and drive, but most of us pick a vacation destination. For this illustration, let’s send you on a trip to Door County, Wisconsin. (You read a book about the area and a great little coffee shop and now you want to see the place for yourself.) Knowing where you are going helps you plan the trip, the stops you will need to make on the way, and when you have arrived.
Although I may tweak it later, I have been thinking about the end of my story ever since I started writing. I have actually drafted an ending. It’s my story. I can always change it if I like and arrive somewhere else, but having an end in sight helps me plan the trip and what I will see, feel, and hear along the way.
We have all read books that had a great story line going then fizzled out at the end. Maybe the author just didn’t know where he or she was going so there was no end in sight. I don’t want to be that author.
When I was working on my first book, Breathing on Her Own, I created a story map with an ending in mind. Whenever I felt I was getting too far off of my intended course, I would, like the GPS in my car, recalculate. Sometimes that meant starting a section over but sometimes it meant just moving my characters in the direction of my destination. Knowing where you are going helps you keep the story moving.
If you have joined me on this journey by drafting your own novel, then I encourage you to stop right where you are and think through the possible outcome. Where do you want your protagonist to be at the end of the story? What do you want to happen to the antagonist? What issues do you need to resolve? What issues might you want to leave unresolved and why? (If you are planning a series, for example, you may want to leave a few questions out there for your readers of the next book.)
Now draft an ending to your story. It can be brief. It may be the ending line or two you see as delivering the punch for your book. It may be a paragraph or an entire chapter. Perhaps it will be the epilogue. Whatever it is, print it out or draw a picture of it and hang it above your workspace or on your refrigerator. This is your target destination.
I have been traveling this week so I adjusted my owntarget to be more realistic. My target word count for this week was to reach 63,000 words. I just finished typing word number 63,218.