We’ve all heard some variation of the trope, “Start at the end and work your way to the beginning” right? Well guess what? That works in writing and editing too.
Say you’re staring at a blank page; you’re starting a new story but have no idea where it will head. Sometimes that’s exactly what you want but other times — like when you’re working to deadline or to directives from on high — you need to bolt it all down pronto. That’s when you move straight to the climatic scene of the film, novel, or memoir. How will this thing end? How is the story’s main problem resolved? What’s that final hurdle to be overcome and perhaps even who’s duking it out for the prize?
Once you’ve dreamed that sequence up, you have the foundations for working back to a solid inciting incident sequence. You have the main character, his major strength, and the reason she’s fighting with all she has to win. You also have the major opposition, his weakness, and the reason she’s fighting with all she has to win. That’s character, conflict, and plot right there: a great starting point.
Say you’re staring at a full manuscript and you have no idea why its meandering so; the author has great scenes, compelling characters, and fresh ideas yet the whole is less that it could be. Remedy the situation by finding that same climactic scene noted above and looking carefully for the elements of the story that get played out in it. Those elements are the ones that are most important to the core story (and to the author). The rest can then be edited as they relate. Major characters and storylines get their due while minor must take the back seat. Every single element of the whole — whether screenplay, novel, memoir, interactive story, or whatever you dream up – must have connecting threads to that story core for the whole piece to feel cohesive.
This is a simplification of a powerful tool for getting going or getting back on track. Try it. See if and how it changes your process. Sometimes we need to shift our perception in order to move forward.