Plot to the end

Writers are bombarded with endless suggestions of how to improve their craft and what to do to make their work “successful” (successful is, of course, defined differently by different writers). I guess this blog is another of those. My response has always been though—take all the feedback and ideas you can get, pour them into a pot, stir them up, and take out of it something that is useful to you as a writer.

I’ve always been one who’s plotted a story from start to finish before sitting down to the nitty-gritty of writing. Part of that is the nature of comic books, the industry where I’ve gotten the over-whelming majority of my work. Comics are episodic by design and stories must be tailored and crafted to fit within a specified number of pages so that writers have to know what is happening and when it’s happening. It’s not limiting, as some might suggest, but it is what it is.

I’d often read about writers, though, who just begin typing without really knowing what the story is or where it is going. Obviously, I’m talking prose writers—comic writers don’t have that liberty. After having finished two novels, I wanted to give it a try just to … y’know…see?

I didn’t get to finish the one before I started on another (The Interns, listed at the side of this blog page, for those of you keeping score) and started it the same way. Actually, it was much easier for The Interns because I was only supposed to generate 20-ish pages for my Spalding MFA workshop—it didn’t matter what the story was or where it was going, right?

As is often the case for writers, the more I wrote on The Interns, the more I liked the character and the situation in which I’d placed him. It was fun watching him squirm. But I still didn’t know exactly where the story was going. Oh sure, I’d developed ideas because of the situations, but it seemed like endless possibilities and I’d started to really want the story to mean something.

So after 70 pages, and a nice talk from my writing mentor this semester, I knew I had to go back and figure out what the story was and where it was going. To put it simply, I had to go back and plot it out from start to finish. Okay, maybe not from the very beginning because I’d written a good deal of that. I did have to figure out the ending. Getting there was fun as I got to explore the myriad paths of possibilities.

But ultimately, I picked one…and that’s where we’re going.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Plot to the end

  1. NanoWriMo tends to lean towards ‘pantsing’ your way through a story, but I had much more success writing them and completing them when I knew where the stories were going.

    I had TONS of experience writing seat-of-the-pants novels back when I was a kid, and NONE of those novels ever got finished.

    Mainly because I ‘painted my character into a corner’ or just got confused with the story. And eventually developed a headache or boredom and quit while I was behind. 🙂

    • ChrisH

      MisterChris –
      Even if you plot it out, and know where it starts and where you want to end up, sometimes you take a turn in the middle and BAM you’re in a corner and can’t get from here to there. I’ve got three on the shelf that are like that. I’ll dust them off and back the characters out to a new starting point one of these days. As you said, the headache of it all makes you wander if it’s worth it, so you start on something else that seems more controllable!

      Thanks for making me realize it’s not me!

  2. Roland,

    I was always amazed at the clean writing of Brian Daley when he did the Han Solo trilogy. He had great pacing, good action and great little surprises.

    Then I realized he must have written the end before the beginning. I believe there is also a scripture or two similar to that concept. “Chosen from the foundation of the world,” etc.

    I have a big epic novel I am still working on. 800 pages, I think. One part is absolutely plotted – the other not so much. I even wrote the end before the beginning so I could always “feed” into what I knew the last acts would be. Foreshadowing becomes a cinch.

    Amazing what a simple thing like that can do. You can write mysteries, romance, etc. all with great drama if you simply decide on the end before the beginning.

    It is said that the two brothers writing Casablanca had a terrible time decidign on how to end the movie: did Rick leave with Ilsa? Did Ilsa leave with her husband Victor? What about Major Strausser and Capt. Renault?

    They were driving around when inspiration hit them: “Round up the usual suspects!” they both shouted simultaneously [one of the very first lines in the film].

    Why? Because someone has been killed.
    Who would best be killed [fr. audience’s POV]: Major Strausser.
    Who should kill him? Our hero, Rick.
    So who would have to say that line? Capt. Renault.
    Why? To protect Rick.
    Why so? Because Rick was doing something RIGHT.
    Which was? Letting Ilsa go – with her husband who was leading the resistance.

    Suddenly, everything fell into place and we have the masterpiece of sin, redemption, justice, mercy, forgiveness, etc. all wrapped up in 5 characters in 5 minutes.

    Know the coolest ending you can find. Then live up to it.

    peace
    justice

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