Do You Know Where Your Story Is Going?

by Karen Payton Holt (AKA: KPHVampireWriter)

When you begin writing your novel, do you have the destination already in mind?

Broadly speaking, writers think of ourselves as planners or pantsers. But does ‘writing by the seat of your pants’ really mean you have no idea where your story is going?

I believe that although we don’t know how we are going to get there, we all know two things about our story before we start to write it: where it begins, and where it will end.

The moment you write your main character, and the details of how that character ticks have settled in your mind, you already know if he is going to succeed or fail. This informs your ending, surely?

So, you sit down to marshall your thoughts. You have an idea floating in a cloud of ether from where characters taunt you and the settings they inhabit weave in and out in wraithlike wisps… what happens next?

One launching pad is ‘research’;

“Before I started my novel, aside from creating my characters, I spent hours researching various factors regarding geography, culture, military structure and technology.”

Does this constitute a plot, however? Is this writer a pantser who likes to be prepared? So, it begins to emerge that we must ‘know’ more than we think we do. Is this overview approach of starting with research akin to creating a safety net into which your characters will fall when their adventures knock them off balance? Researching suggests that you know across which terrain your story will travel, the reforestation, yes, ‘researchers’ surely know the destination. 

Then we have ‘outliners’;

“I normally tend to make a quick outline of the overall plot. But then I just try to write and let the characters evolve on their own and worry about structure in the rewrite process.”

This appears to support my belief that besides ‘planners’ and ‘pantsers’ we have what I like to call ‘bridgers’. By that I mean, they plot the peaks in the mountain range, but whether the characters get there by air or sea is part of the evolving process, as is whether they swim in clear seas or shark infested waters. ‘Outliners’ too would appear to know the final destination of their story.

A more adventurous approach to ‘planning’ came from WC team member, Doug Langille:

“For the stories I write, I tend to write from the outside-in. I know the start and the end; the fun is in writing to connect the dots. One of my favourite things to do is to chain two or more writing prompts together.Ultimately the characters plot the story. About half the time, they dont end where intended.

Writing from a chain of prompts must almost be like letting someone else plot your story, although Doug is left shouldering the brunt of the hard part, making it work, of course; crafting something cohesive. So, Doug would know the end point of his story in playing out these challenging scenarios.

Another writer commented:

I usually know the ending from word go sometimes it‘s the first thing I come up with. I struggle with beginnings. Most, if not all, of my current novels I know everything that needs to happen to meet character growth / goals of story etc even the ones that Ive only done vague outline for not chapter ones yet.

This offers a different set of problems, working backwards… a little like deciding how far back to take the run up and get yourself to a defined end-point. So, is it possible that even ‘pantsers’ know where the journey needs to go before they start out?

Paraphrasing WC’s very own Matt Gomez, he says:

From personal experience, I am going to disagree with you, but only slightly. A small twist in the plot, one minor thing going wrong (or very, very right) can spell the difference between success and failure. I say this as a pantser by nature….”

This is a good point; a living plot is essential, one that can absorb the impact of new ideas as you go… that said, going back to my MC being an analogy of the ‘having an ending at least hiding in the shadows, if not yet out there in the spotlight’ point… would a minor thing going wrong/or very right change the ultimate destination of your MC, or just develop his character further?

There is the suggestion for me, that even here, the fate of the MC is known, and therefore his impact on the ending.

Like all things, there is always the exception that lives inside the minds of writers who are immersed in their subject. I give the final word to Matt, a published author on the WC website;

“It depends on where in the plot the twist takes place. Case in point, first novel I wrote the then main character died about 2/3rds of the way through, and the action switched over to a different character. I didnt get to that realization until well after Id started writing the piece as a whole. Probably goes without saying, that bit changed the ending dramatically than if the original MC survived.

Of course, your MC does not have to survive, but usually, the death comes near the end, and the ‘classic chapter plan’ calls for the reader to have an ending which allows them to feel good. A perfect subject for a future blog, I think.

To read the writers quote first hand follow this link: http://www.writerscarnival.ca/do-you-know-where-your-story-is-going/

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