Monday, September 5, 2011

Law 9: Completion - Knowing the End from the Beginning

In some games of pool, it's not enough to knock a ball into a pocket: the player must call the shot before they make it. (As opposed to my version where I make the shot and then claim that whatever happened is what I meant to do.)

Making is about purpose.

Intent is what separates a Jackson Pollock from a mess your five-year-old makes with the paints.

Clearly people are always making use of happy accidents. And learning is very much about trying something and having it come out differently than you expected. Mastery, however, is about control, which is why one of the hallmarks on the path of making is that our actions become increasingly deliberate.

The ninth Law of Making is the law of completion. The first (and perhaps most obvious) aspect of completion is knowing the end from the beginning--or in more colloquial terms, knowing where you're going.

 This is not a veiled argument for the superiority of outlining over discovery writing. You don't have to know exactly how you'll get there, you just need to know what finished looks like. Maybe you only have an image or a feeling that you want to achieve. That's fine. The point is that you have enough of an idea of what you're working toward so that you can know when to stop.

I'm also not arguing that you fall short if you make sketches or trials. Revision, in the literal sense of seeing it again is a critical part of the process of making. But even here, the sketches are attempts at finding the best way to express an intent, not random doodles.

We might talk about the best writing in a number of different ways--image and metaphor, evocative descriptions, spot-on dialog, concise language. Often we'll say that the writing feels confident. But what it really comes down to is that as readers we want to know that we're in the hands of an author who knows what they're doing because they know the end from the beginning.

Image: Bill Longshaw /

1 comment:

  1. I agree. You have to know the end to make the whole story work and to plot in those twists and challenges to move to the climax.


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