I was reading an article on writing tips the other day, and I read something that made me think. The author urged young writers to not plan the ending. Write and the ending will present itself, they said.
Man, I couldn’t imagine doing that at all.
To me, that sounds like blindfolding yourself, shooting an arrow, and afterwards sticking a target up where you hit and proclaiming a bullseye.
Now, I’m not going to claim that anyone’s process is incorrect. Whatever system works for you is the right system. If it helps you write and you like it, great! Go to town! Fill your boots! But it isn’t my writing process at all, and it just seemed weird that someone would be claiming that it was the best way to write.
I plot. I plot out exactly what I want to happen. I know from the first word how it’s generally going to end. In my soon-to-be-published novel The Real World Monitor, I set up situations in the first chapter that are resolved at the climax of the book, and that didn’t just happen in rewrites. I knew basically all the characters, all of the major scenes, and what each character needed in order to do what they needed to do during the higher actions scenes. The fun of writing it was setting up weird little mysteries, leaving clues and asides that people would think are unimportant, and then revealing their importance at a time when the characters were under great stress. Did it kill the creativity of the project? Not at all! When I wrote in my plans that Nate, the protagonist in the Real World Monitor, meets some locals who tell him weird stories of the town, I didn’t really flesh out the local guys, but while writing they really took on character, and makes the book much more enjoyable. I added in whole chapters along the way as I got ideas. I altered paths, rethought situations, fixed thing that didn’t make sense. I took the characters from being ideas with a few points to fully fleshed out characters the reader can relate to. I built tension. I found interesting and unique descriptions. I was creative, but I always had a goal in mind, and that’s why it works. It wasn’t a shot in the dark. I knew from the beginning where I was going.
I do the same for short stories. Sometimes I think of something that affects me emotionally, and I want to put it into a story. It’s usually the ending, for me. At the same time characters form in my head, so that process seems to happen simultaneously, and setting just seems to come naturally to me through the plot. So, I really just have to figure out how to get there in a natural fashion.
Ok, I used to play dungeons and dragons. I would have a story in mind, like, the characters go off to the dungeon and kill the wizard. I’d plot it out, but then, occasionally, characters would want to do something else, something unexpected, and I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities as a DM to give them that flexibility, so I’d either assume they were purposefully trying to wreck the game, or just come up with some weak reason why they had to do what I wanted. It was a lack of experience and maturity fueling it, and I can see that now.
Maybe that’s what that other author worried about. Shoehorning characters into unrealistic situations or having them make ridiculous choices in order to further the plot. I get that, but it isn’t enough of a reason for me to stop plotting out my story. I have to be true to my characters. I have to respect the decisions they would make if they were actually real people. That said, I still need to know what they’re going to do. I still want to provide foreshadowing. I still want to understand the themes of my book rather than just write and hope someone sees something in it.
No one said writing was easy.