Hello SEers! It’s great to see you here today 🙂
When we write, we create things twice—first, in the mind, and then in the real world. To make the best reality, we have to begin with the end in mind. If we want to tell a story, to sit and write a novel, then we need to know the end (or have a good idea of what we intend).
Even though things may change as we invent, we still need to begin with at least a rough outline of the beginning, the middle, and the end. We need to have an awareness of the point to the tale. Both our characters and plot need to show some development and change by the time it’s all finished and done with.
If you envisage the end clearly enough, you will find less trouble in writing your way there. I have no doubt that poet William Blake knew how he wanted his poem, Auguries of Innocence, to unfold and where he intended it to come to rest. This illustrious poet had full awareness of the message within his words.
As with life, we need to recognise what lies at the heart (centre) of our story (writing). This will provide the source of your author voice and the direction of your work. Without it, you will flounder and ramble and, at some point, get lost in a deep, dark forest. This holds true whether your book is character driven or plot driven, and of course, even if it’s non-fiction.
Right here, right now, we know where we stand. We have the ground beneath our feet, and the path lies ahead. However, before we take the first step, we have to have an end goal in mind. Once we have those two points—the beginning and the end—the middle tends to take care of itself for the most part. (Okay, of course, it still takes work and has its own set of rules, but you’ll find that bit so much easier.) Armed with these two points, we will be much less likely to get stuck or confused when we come across a fork in the road or an unexpected twist and turn.
As well as helping with the content of our book, keeping the end in mind also helps with the publishing and marketing aspects of being an author. Why do we want to write a book? Why do we want to publish it? What do we want to write? What do we have to say? What audience are we trying to reach? What do we hope for at the end of it all? With these questions answered, we can then set about devising a plan to help us achieve our goals.
As Dr Stephen Covey writes in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, if we envision the future, we can work and plan toward it. As well as having the end in mind, Dr Covey also talks about Continuous Improvement. And, while his book is about life and how to live it, we authors can take tips from him too. As writers, developing a habit of continual learning and improvement is paramount to a successful career in the publishing arena.
And, at the end of the day, if we as creators don’t understand where we’re headed or what point we want to make, then how can we expect our readers to understand? Rather than lighting a fire or igniting a passion, our words will prove more adept at confusing and befuddling.
Not all of us are planners, and many of us write by the seat of our pants. Even the ‘pantsers’, though, have the end in mind (or, at least, the good ones do). Whether we like to plan or not, some things prove helpful to do before we start writing. For example, how about writing a one-line summary of your novel. This will also serve as a ten-second selling tool to anyone who may have an interest in your book. One example I found online is, ‘A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.’ Can you see how this gives the essence (heart/centre) of the story?
When writing your one-liner, shorter proves better. Try to keep it to fewer than 15 words. It needs to be catchy and pithy. One place to find your inspiration and study successful examples is to look at the one-line blurbs on the New York Times Bestseller list. Below, I give you the top three on the list, as of writing this:
- (from The Shack by William P Young)—‘A man whose daughter was abducted is invited to an isolated shack, apparently by God.’
- (from Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas)—‘A retiring game-designing debutante is drawn into a scandal with a London rake.’
- (from Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty)—‘Who will end up dead, and how, when three mothers with children in the same school become friends?’
Once you have your sentence, take some time to expand that into a paragraph that describes the story setup, major events, and the end of the novel. Optimally, your paragraph will contain a few sentences. One to give the backdrop and story setup. One sentence each to highlight the major events (so, if you have four major plot/story events, you will need four sentences). And a final one to outline the ending.
Finally, you’ve reached the stage of making outlines for each of your major players:
- The character’s name
- A one-sentence summary of their storyline
- What their motivation is
- What their goal is (the end in mind)
- What the conflict is (what prevents he or she from reaching the goal?)
- What the epiphany is (this is the character development—what will he or she learn? How will he or she change?)
- Now, write a short paragraph that gives a summary of your character’s storyline.
Some people like to go more in depth than this, and that’s fine if that works for you. Feel free to go ahead and write a character interview and/or make detailed notes of their physical attributes, likes/dislikes, hobbies, and habits if you so wish. However, for all you pantsers out there, what we’ve covered so far will give you enough to get going and keep on track.
And, of course, no matter how well you plan, things can and do change. Again, as with life, we have to maintain the ability to jump tracks to avoid a collision ahead on the line. Nowhere does it say that you can’t go back and rewrite any of this. In my experience, this happens a lot more when you’re story is character driven; however, it has been known to happen even in plot-driven novels too. I always say, never say never.
With the end in mind, let’s share words that stir the soul and ignite the flame in us all. Happy writing and reading!