Do you know the ending when you start a book?

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Andrew Marsh

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Hi all,
I was musing to myself the other day about my books and it occurred to me that for some books I have a sound solid plot, story, character development and I know what will happen at the end. Other times I have realised that I have enough to get started and get into the book, but where it goes from there is a mystery when I start.
When the latter happens, I trust that the story will come forth and the characters will guide the way and an ending will present itself.
I suppose it is a bit like being a plotter or a pantster. I have found that I can be both.
How about you?
 
If I do have an idea for an ending, it never works out that way. Strictly a pantster/discovery writer and would struggle to be anything else. For me the real fun in writing is how a plot unfolds and how the characters develop.

And whilst I can understand why people might want to outline a beginning, middle and an end in terms of the wider plot, I truly cannot comprehend how people can envisage their characters in advance. For me, I have to put them right in the brown smelly stuff before I can discover how they would react.
 
I came across a thought-provoking series of video clips this morning, in which Deadwood creator David Milch discusses his writing technique. He does something that's close to free writing—essentially, he just gets on with it, writing down whatever comes into his head.

“The Ego Is the Enemy of Imagination” — David Milch on Writing
(more clips beneath the main one)

Like you, Andrew, I'm a combination pantser and planner. In planning a new Cornish Detective novel, I know what areas of society I want to address through a crime story, so I make copious notes. For instance An Elegant Murder was set in the farming community at the time of the Brexit referendum, which drove some already impoverished farmers into breaking the law; the overreaching theme was that of loyalty versus money.

I always know what the opening mood of a story will be, as well as how the ending will feel. I construct a scaffolding between, hung with plot incidents and details affecting the personal lives of my recurring characters. I listen to my characters, who've shown their traits in four previous stories, allowing them to drive the action—rather than hammering them into a rigid storyline—if they don't stay true to themselves, how will readers ever believe in them?

Playwright Edward Albee said "I write to find out what I'm talking about." I've sometimes found that I've written about things I hadn't considered when I started out. Occasionally, this means I'll rewrite the opening of a story to include foreshadowing.
 
I knew the ending when I wrote the first 75%, but as I closed in on the final act, I realized there was a much more interesting explanation of events than what I'd intended, so I tossed the remainder of my outline out the window and finished it the way it wanted to be finished.
 
Most of the time I have a generally idea of the ending. Sometimes I have a clearer idea of the ending. I don't like knowing every detail.
 
I came across a thought-provoking series of video clips this morning, in which Deadwood creator David Milch discusses his writing technique. He does something that's close to free writing—essentially, he just gets on with it, writing down whatever comes into his head.

“The Ego Is the Enemy of Imagination” — David Milch on Writing
(more clips beneath the main one)

Like you, Andrew, I'm a combination pantser and planner. In planning a new Cornish Detective novel, I know what areas of society I want to address through a crime story, so I make copious notes. For instance An Elegant Murder was set in the farming community at the time of the Brexit referendum, which drove some already impoverished farmers into breaking the law; the overreaching theme was that of loyalty versus money.

I always know what the opening mood of a story will be, as well as how the ending will feel. I construct a scaffolding between, hung with plot incidents and details affecting the personal lives of my recurring characters. I listen to my characters, who've shown their traits in four previous stories, allowing them to drive the action—rather than hammering them into a rigid storyline—if they don't stay true to themselves, how will readers ever believe in them?

Playwright Edward Albee said "I write to find out what I'm talking about." I've sometimes found that I've written about things I hadn't considered when I started out. Occasionally, this means I'll rewrite the opening of a story to include foreshadowing.
Good luck with your new book, Paul.
 
I'm presently writing my first novel and although I have an idea where it is roughly going to end up ... I'm open to it ending some other way .. frankly I'm just trying to be open because I'm not really sure what I'm doing ... My big guide at the moment are a series of videos on you tube called Film Challenge whereby different script writers talk about how to write story and character ... they are brilliant because these writers are at the top of their game and in terms of sophistication they seem to be so ahead of anything thing else I've come across and I include the MA in Creative Writing I just did here ... I highly recommend this one "finding gold in your life story" by Jen Grisanti
 
The endings of all four of my YA books came as a surprise, regardless of how much I planned and plotted. I shifted to Middle Grade and with the first, I started with a definite end point in mind. But when I finally got there, it didn't fit the book anymore. This means one of two things:
  • Fiction has a wonderful way of finding its own path (oh, that sounds so coo).
    or...
  • I'm just shite at planning :p
 
Hi Andrew - it's exactly like being a plotter or a pantser.

I have done both - I began as a pantser because I didn't know what I was doing and just let the ideas flow. It was based on a short story I had written. As I tried to wrestle the book into some kind of shape I realised I was essentially doing a jigsaw without the picture on the box! I vowed to try planning the next one.

I have tried a number of plotting methods and found them all a little stilted, a little too prescriptive for me - I love the flow of discovery that comes from pantsing. Planning does work in terms of plot structure and development, pacing and character arcs. But remember, nothing is set in stone - it's merely a framework that let's the creativity flow, but in a more focused way.

My favourite method by far is a hybrid of the two. I'd highly recommend "Creativity Rules" by John Vorhaus. I'll write more about his quirky method (he writes comedy) in a blog in the coming months. I'll keep you posted!

I guess the real question should be: which way works best for you?
 
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I very rarely have the whole thing, including the ending worked out before I start to write. Most often I'll start writing with just an idea for a scene or a conflict and a couple of characters, maybe a vague idea of where it might go. After some writing and just following my nose in a plotting sense I'll take a view on whether the idea has "legs". Then I'll sit down and work out some sort of overall plot and a vague idea of an ending.
But I like to leave the ending as a bit of a surprise, even to me, if I can. I find working out too much detail too far ahead makes me reluctant to go back and fill in the missing bits. I have to work towards the ending, whatever it might be.
The last bit of the first draft I write is always the ending.
 
Hi Andrew, I generally have a vague idea of the ending, although, after doing an online creative writing course I’ve become more of a plotter. Mind you, nothing can beat the thrill of a minor character that erupts out of the page and proceeds to muscle their way through the plot, forcing you to furiously rewrite in their wake.
 
The first novel in my MG magical adventure series was written in a Dickensian fashion: ie, a reasonable idea where I was going, but an episodic deadline (my daughter wanted to read each new chapter as it was finished...and nagged me until it was) meant I just got on with it and followed the characters according to their and my inclinations, taking care to put some sort of cliff-hanger on the end of each chapter. The novel was finished in less than six weeks, but the plot needed a fair bit of pummelling into submission in subsequent redrafts.
The second one was actually plotted, but that plot was changed and then changed again in the course of the writing.
I've just done the most detailed plot yet of the YA novel I'm about to start writing. But based on past experience, I won't put money on the plot staying put.
That's part of the fun of writing fiction, isn't it? You're never know for sure how it's going to turn out, or how exactly you're going to get there.
 
I know it’s unpopular among most writers, but I plot like a beast. In the past, I’ve written novels without any clear direction and the result has been fun to write initially - until you realise with horror that you’ve wasted years of your life trying to edit a sprawling hodgepodge into shape.

Surely everything that happens in a story should be geared towards the resolution of the plot and the final character revelation/choice? Anything surplus should be cut. Why give yourself the heartache of cutting beautiful scenes that meander and don’t belong in the overall story?

That said, though I know all the plot turns, big reveals and all the essentials about my characters, if the story really did want to go somewhere else then I’d step back and go back to plotting. I don’t know each scene in intricate detail before I write it (such as the location or secondary characters), but I do know what I want to reveal and on what note the scene will end.
 
I think it's important to know the beginning and the mid-point (the place where the plot pivots).Everything in between is flexible for me, but remaining alert to wild, time-wasting tangents, though I keep them when they happen, if they seem good; I can usually find somewhere in the story I can place them. If not that story, another might provide a home. I used to think the end was just as important, but I've come to think otherwise. I now prefer to keep a vague idea of where I'm heaing, but am open to surprises.
It's clear we all have different styles. I used to plot very heavily, but it never worked once I began the actual writing, and I've learned to be much freeer in how I plot and plan, and much more inclined to let the characters dictate. It works for me.
 
That's why I do it. I love when characters take hold of a narrative and take it somewhere I never imagined when I started writing.

I know exactly what you mean. I tend to have an idea of the how my tale will end when I start, or at least where I would like to get to. but it rarely works that way. The story dictates as I write and my concept of how I wanted it to end is usually way off.
 
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