Kitty, arrives at the class with three pages of writing. She’s created a feisty main character with an interesting dilemma. ‘I know exactly how it will end,’ says Kitty. ‘I’ve just got to work out the bit in the middle.’
‘So,’ I say, ‘you’ll finish it for next session.’
Kitty fiddles with the pages of her notebook and looks away. ‘Maybe not,’ she says.
Beneath her fingers are three other projects that she has started with great energy and abandoned at the half-way point.
‘Could it be,’ I suggest, ‘that you’re thinking too far ahead each time?’
I have two problems in pre-plotting endings. The first is that my character might not decide to go in the direction I need them to, and so I am continually placing them in situations that haven’t evolved naturally. The second is that because I’ve already worked the ending out there’s no sense of excitement about my writing.
This does not mean that planning is wrong. It works for a lot of writers. There are plenty of planning styles for big projects, ranging from the paper-based versions, such as postcards pinned to a wall or shuffled into order, to sophisticated computer programmes that can either lead you with prompts, or be used to store your ideas.
‘What if,’ I suggested to Kitty, ‘you write up that ending you’ve anticipated, and put it aside. It can be your back-up, but also, because you’ve written it, you can let go of that idea.
Then you can pick up the story from the point it is at now and let your main character work out what happens next. Don’t think about an ending. Let it happen.’
‘I could try that,’ said Kitty.
I said, ‘What have you got to lose?’
*Photo by Leon Keer.