As a perpetual list maker and worrier, I hate to start something without knowing where it’s going. What if I don’t have enough for a novel? So I usually have some idea of the ending before I began, and have fleshed out the story generally in a rough outline. But I’m also open to surprises and going off in new directions if that suits my story better.
The last book I wrote (and still am writing!), THE HOLD UP, I adapted from a screenplay that I wrote a decade before. I was pretty sure of the ending since I’d written the whole story before. But as I rewrote (and revised and revised) the story into a novel, I discovered that the adaptation wasn’t so clear cut after all. What had a great visual effect in the screenplay didn’t end up having the emotional closure I needed in the novel. So the ending ended up 40 pages or so from the actual end of the story.
In a traditional mystery, it’s a bit more clear cut. The murderer is found at the end. That doesn’t mean I exactly know how or why. I just know where I’m heading and, after a few books under my belt, I have more confidence that I’ll get there in the end.
Actually the beginning of a book is far more difficult for me to write then the end. Beginnings end up getting revised again and again (I’ve been known to cut out 2/3 of the beginning of a book if it’s just not working or starting in the wrong place). But once I’ve started fleshing out the end and wrapping up all the loose story lines, the conclusion doesn’t change very much.