Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Earning the Endings...

I fully admit it. I'm a planner. I make lists, write reminders on Post-Its, think ahead to tomorrow and what it might bring. I like to know what's ahead of me, what's coming next. Perhaps it's the teacher in me (organization and lesson-planning are key in my profession). This can be a good trait to have when mapping out a novel. Or, it can be bad trait. Because sometimes, I tend to over-plan, overthink my characters' destinies. I sometimes try to plot every little thing that will happen in the novel, which doesn't give the characters a chance to breathe, to act out on their own.

I read a quote by Rose Tremain yesterday that challenged me, but it's a notion I fully agree with. She says: In the planning stage of a book, don't plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.

Yes -- I do think that an ending must be a natural by-product of all that has come before. And how do you know that by-product, until you write "all that has come before?" So, in that sense, absolutely, an ending should be earned. I still think it's perfectly fine to have a vague idea of where the plot is going - to know where the characters will probably end up. But - I think that I shouldn't stick so stubbornly to an ending I conceived at the beginning of the book, before I knew my characters inside and out. I should, instead, write toward an ending, giving the characters freedom to change their minds, or even to change the ending! A difficult prospect for me, The Planner. But I'm going to try harder to let my characters breathe.

Actually, I've been doing that already, in little baby steps. For instance, a few months ago, I had "mapped out" a scene in which my protagonist was angry with her father. I knew the conversation they were about to have, knew the tone of it. Or, thought I knew. As I wrote the dialogue, something happened. The protagonist became less angry with her father, and more empathetic. And by the time I had finished the scene, instead of there being a rift between them, there was actually a deeper understanding, a bonding. I was proud of myself for letting the characters dictate the scene, for following them where they wanted to lead me. And, I think it made for a better scene.

Question: As a writer, are you a Planner, or a Go-With-The-Flow-Er? Do outlines help or hinder your creativity? (By the way, I really don't think there's a right-or-wrong answer, here. I think it's up to the individual writer. Many writers can write off the cuff, having no idea the direction of a scene or story when they begin. And other writers lean upon an outline of some sort, even a rough one. I think it has a lot to do with the writer's personality and what's most natural).


  1. I've always used a sort of outline. I do allow myself to deviate though. I like the idea of trying to write without one. The problem is I'm always thinking ahead to new ideas and plot lines which I then try to write towards. I guess I'm a planner.

    Funny. I'm not like that in real life. Quite the opposite.

  2. I'm a little of both. Planning is important...but not being flexible and open to change or a 'go with the flow' attitude can hinder creativity sometimes.