Write the Damn Ending First!

May 31, 2010 | | Comments 4

Some say the journey is more important that the destination. I disagree. No matter the journey’s quality, the destination needs meaning, a reward for the long road travelled. This applies equally to novels, television shows and role-playing campaigns. That said, many writers tend to focus on the concept and the journey while ignoring the closing act.

And it is driving me crazy!

Take dramas like “Lost,” “X-Files” and “Star Wars” as examples. Each one has a very high-concept and an interesting cast of characters. Their respective creators generated fresh and exciting worlds that drew in viewers. Viewers that invested time and money in the stories. After faithfully following these dramas for literally years, the big payoff is…well…crap.

It is like the writers only focused on the pitch and the first season and did not take the long view. By focusing on the short-term, errors, inconsistencies and outright stupidity creep into the story. Then, when someone realizes the plot is beginning to get sloppy, some ludicrous plot bandaging comes into play (that was not Bob, it was his never-mentioned twin that died!)

I am not saying it is a universal problem. Many writers do a good job of driving a story towards a goal.

Babylon 5‘s” entire plot run existed, at least in outline form, before the first season ended. Robert Jordan claimed he knew the last scene of the “Wheel of Time” series before beginning the project. (As an aside, while I am thrilled Jordan knew the ending, it is too bad he so terribly lost control of the middle!)

My rant today is a plea to game masters everywhere. Much like a television series, ongoing role-playing campaigns need an ending first. Excluding the “ending sucks” problem mentioned above, it makes writing the intermediary adventures much easier. It forces the GM to ask himself, “does this adventure lead towards my ending?” Unless you are intentionally writing “filler” adventures (which I do not recommend) then whatever you created needs revision.

More than that,  have a ending keeps the story lean and focused. NPCs no longer disappear after one session. If there is an NPC in the story, he matters. Defeated enemies now mean more than a pile of treasure and experience, they advance the story.

So, do not write an elaborate plot outline, write an ending first and work backwards. It is how I wrote my recent “Alpha Omega” campaign and it worked great! I hope it works as well for you.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

Filed Under: DM Advicerant


About the Author: Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.