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Do you need to know where you are going?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by TheokinsJ, Mar 21, 2013.

  1. TheokinsJ

    TheokinsJ Troubadour

    The question is simple enough, but I'm having a hard time answering it myself. I've spent the last few months planning a novel, and it seems as if the first two hundred or so pages are so clear in my mind, the plot, the characters and the setting. However beyond the last event, there is nothingness... I have brainstormed ideas and tried to find out what the next stage in the character's journey is, I have vague ideas but nothing set in stone, and most of the ideas are childish and cliché. The story is in my head, I've just got to find a way to get it out.
    Anyway, I've been writing the first few chapters and hoping to see where I go, however I am increasingly aware that trying to plan the next stages of my story usually end up with me giving up or put me off writing. I kind of know the end, again, very vaguely. Do other people literally write and see where they go? Or is it good to have at least some idea of where you are headed, no matter how vague or unclear?
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2013
  2. advait98

    advait98 Sage

    Wow, holy damn, I have the exact same problem. I relayed it to a friend of mine and he told me to do exactly what you are doing right now- start writing the story and see if the ideas hit you.

    No is my answer to your title question. The worldfamous Jeffrey Archer proclaimed that he usually doesn't know how his story is going to end. 'If I don't know what's going to happen on the next page, I say there's a very good chance that the reader won't either', he said, or something like that.

    Yes, is the answer to your second question. I think I heard mention of Stephen King round here somewhere. You do know where you're going with the first 200 pages, and there's a very good chance that you'll get a better idea as you go along, that is, as you continue to write. It happened to me in a very extreme way. Earlier, it was only going to be one-off, now I'm thinking more along the lines of three or four books, though my plot is still very vague beyond the first book.

    There are different merits to every approach, but I'm with having a vague idea where you're going. It helps the initial direction your story takes, and helps form the middle, which is widely declared to be the hardest part of the story (btw, my opinion) .

    Keep writing, I say, and see where the wind takes you.

    I think there's another thread in this forum quite recently formed, which relates to your questions, but I might be wrong.
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  3. kayd_mon

    kayd_mon Sage

    There are no rules, really, but I find it easier to plan the end(s) and fill in the details while I write. Since it's just a plan, you can always change what the ending would havd been, if that's the way the story evolves as you write.
  4. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    A big help that I've heard numerous places: know your ending as kayd_mon said.

    If you had a good idea of what your end is going to be, then you can write backwards if you need to. If you're not the type that follows outlines very well, you can always write multiple endings and see which one works best for you when you finish.
  5. Iamfenian

    Iamfenian Closed Account

    I'm with you on this TheokinsJ. I have a solid plot but I need several sub plots to get to the 80,000-100,000 mark. I looked at novel software (Mythic Sribes has a review on different software) that are supposed to help with plots and characters. I chose
    'My Writing Spot' not because it was free but it doesn't have all the bells and whistles that other software have and I can save it to Google so if my computer crashes I still have my story! Just start writing...you will be surprised how easily the words flow. Good Luck!
  6. Rob P

    Rob P Minstrel

    I've read in some places including this forum that writing a story is about being able to deliver something you want to say to the world, be it full of meaning and morals or madness and mayhem. As writers we want to tell a story, our story in whatever words are necessary.

    I believe you need to have a firm grasp of the story you wish to tell. That doesn't mean you have all the answers or plots or characters or even a firm ending but a good grasp nonetheless. Writing an outline can invariably help focus the mind along the path you wish to follow.

    When writing my work, I planned, did some world building, identified main characters etc etc. I wrote an outline which was very basic but certain aspects or waypoints were important. A city siege, an important betrayal, a kidnapping, a death.

    Their position and details were not fixed but the principle of their part in the story was. I was fortunate that I had a rough idea of what my ending should be, not exact but rough enough to aim for. The end product was close but not the same.

    I tended to write more detailed outlines for six chapters ahead of where I was actually writing, referring to a list of notes generated by the writing up to that point. This made me think more carefully about where the story was going in the next seventy pages or so. There would be questions that I had raised in my writing, significances of people, statements, objects. These helped to push the writing along and close off holes in plot etc.

    So in answer to your question, I would say it is better to have an appreciation of your ending and where your story is going though not essential.
  7. Filk

    Filk Troubadour

    Hey Theokins,

    Advait is right; I recently started a thread where I posed a similar question. However, I am more concerned as I had a rough outline and got away from it very quickly and now I have no guidelines whatsoever. I have found that I am writing a lot more (thousands of words more a week) without these guidelines. I have some extremely vague ideas about the end, but I doubt my story will end up at those ideas. Apparently this style is called discovery writing or pantsing.

    I would recommend writing what you have outlined. Perhaps you will discover possibilities that will force you to stray from a rigid outline, but even if you don't you will surely formulate some more ideas as you go and develop your world and characters. Good luck!

    My thread concerning this topic can be found here: http://mythicscribes.com/forums/writing-questions/7671-plot-first.html
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I think you have to be careful about telling someone how they should handle their creative process. What works for you doesn't necessarily work for someone else.

    It sounds like you're a plotter to whatever degree.

    There are some authors who a pure discovery writers. Part of the motivation to continue writing is to see what happens next. Trying to tell those authors that they would be better off using a different method is, imo, misguided.

    To the OP: Do what works for you. Period.

    I consider myself a discovery writer, though I usually have a good idea as to where my story is going overall. I've tried to outline scenes and usually fail miserably. It's like my brain will not go past a certain point until I've written to that point.

    Trust your instincts and write.
    advait98 likes this.
  9. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    I think I often have an idea of what I want the ending to be, but rarely much else. Goal-oriented discovery, if you will.

    It's definitely different for everyone, though, and there is no 'wrong' way to do it. If you go into a story blind, yeah, your first draft will probably be a little more shaky, need a little more work, but everyone has to do a draft two, anyway, so there's no harm in it. In a way, people who do really heavy planning are basically writing their 'first draft' in the form of web graphs and bullet points. I mean, I've seen some people's story bibles, there's no way they didn't write a novel's worth of words in those things. But there are famous, talented authors who do things both ways, so do what helps you get to the end and don't worry if it's different from how anyone else does it.
  10. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I like to know the end, so I can write towards it. I use to discovery write, but the uncertainty of that didn't work me me, but there are plenty of people it does work for.

    Since you say you're having trouble figuring out what to do next, I'd suggest doing some research on act structure. Knowing act structure helps guide the way you think about your story and gives you a reference point on where to start if you get stuck. I think it's something that's important to know regardless of if you're a outliner or not.

    Here's one of my posts describing a quick break down of a story and what kind of thought processes I go through as I imagine the story unfolding. http://mythicscribes.com/forums/writing-questions/4222-story-frustration.html#post52308

    Hope this helps
  11. Sheriff Woody

    Sheriff Woody Troubadour

    Yes, you need to know where you're going. How can you foreshadow or set-up anything to pay-off later if you don't?

    Outlining can only benefit your story.
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    On the contrary, I've sold stories where I had absolutely no idea where I was was headed and started with only a vague image or idea in my head. So while some people may need to know where they are going, the idea that everyone needs to know doesn't hold true.
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  13. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I've had times where I didn't know where I was going and the story turned out pretty good. I've also had that happen and the story turns out a jumbled mess. It really depends on how much you're trying to tackle in some cases. If you're telling a relatively simple story, then sometimes not knowing where you're going is fine. However, if you're trying connect various plot lines with multiple characters, perhaps knowing where you're going is a good, although not required, idea.
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    You can pants yourself into a strong character arc. But I think not knowing limits your plotting ability.

    But it also depends on how long the work is, how quickly you figure it out once you start (page 50 might still be "early enough" in some cases), and how much you're willing to rewrite later on.

    Skill and experience matter, too. You can write in a way that gives you a lot of options, or you could easily write yourself into a hole. If you have your ending worked out, at least you know you can finish.

    I frequently see the advice "Know your ending" when I look up storytelling tips. I find that telling to me.
  15. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Hi Theokins, I love this question you posted! Don't you just love the burning flame of ideas in your mind that lead you to this huge project of a novel? But oh, the key is writing from your heart. Storytelling can be such a connecting experience if you let it. Writing your novel is supposed to be fun! I like to clear my mind before I write. Walks, yoga, meditation...all activities I use to help my mind get to that quiet place. When I am inspired to write, I sit at my computer or with paper & pen, breath with the idea I have in mind and just let the story flow. Trust is a good part of it where I just write and see what comes out. When I read back, its really good most of the time! Just trust that flame within you and you'll see that when you do so, the story literally writes itself.
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I disagree completely that you have to know where you're going.

    Start with your character and throw him into trouble. The writer learns about the character the same way the reader does - by seeing the character's reactions to events. If you trust your instincts, this can lead to some really cool stuff.

    As far as setting up and pay-offs:

    1. All pay-offs should be a natural consequence of the character actions. If you're doing it right, you'll set those up just be presenting the story correctly.
    2. That being said, some things have to be emphasized and changed. That's what the 2nd draft is for.
  17. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Not as much as you would think.

    I find myself doing a lot of stuff by instinct, and, usually, my instinct is pretty dead on.

    As I stated in the previous post, following a natural progression of your character's reactions to events usually ends up working pretty well (for me, anyway).

    I agree with this.
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

  19. Sheriff Woody

    Sheriff Woody Troubadour

    Like I said...outlining can only benefit your story.

    You can tell a good story without outlining, sure, but outlining could only make it better. It can't hurt you.
  20. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Such an assertion is silly. If you don't understand the process discovery writers use to create their stories, how can you possibly know that it can't hurt the process?
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013

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