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Foresight: Friend or Foe of the Author?

April 4, 2012

It is the author’s job to develop a story’s plot. This is unquestionably true; however, it is unclear how much the author should know about a story while it is being written. I often plan out the beginning and end of my pieces before I write them. It helps me to know the direction in which I plan to take a story. Unfortunately, my knowledge of the future can wreak havoc on my productivity in the present.

There are many benefits to developing a conclusion for a story before it is near completion. It allows the author to fit pieces of the plot together into a working mesh of ideas and makes sure that progress is always being made towards an end. It can also at times even create the story or provide a deeper meaning that can be ingrained throughout the piece. It gives the author a firm grasp on the subject at hand.

Knowledge of the end, however, can also be a bad thing. Often when I have developed an extensive and satisfying conclusion before reaching that point in the book, I feel as if I have completed the writing and have trouble forcing myself to put it on paper. Like a reader, I have followed the characters along eagerly until I finally reach the end and the conflicts are resolved. This would be great if I wrote it down as I went, but more often than not, it occurs as fleeting thoughts in my mind. I start to think about where I want to take a piece, and then the next thing I know, I have finished it in my head. Once I know the end, though, I do not feel any real need to write it down. The story is over. I know what happens already, so it is no longer as fun to write. The characters may have just begun their journey on paper, but in my mind they have already vanquished the evil that terrorized their lands. This makes progress on any sort of large project painfully slow. This is not writer’s block since I know what happens next, but I still do not feel very inclined to write.

Have you ever had to deal with this? How do you keep writing when the plot has already played itself out?

My ideas:

– add new storylines

– use a twist

– hide the ending from yourself to keep everyone guessing

– plan in short chunks to prevent loss of interest in the overall story

Anything to add?

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3 Comments
  1. I have a very vague idea of where I want my characters to end up, and that definitely helps. Your characters are what drive the various plotlines, so you should your ending as flexible as possible. Sometimes, all you need to decide is “When my villain dies/gets away, or my hero prevails/dies, that’s when my story will end.” You don’t have to know any details, just the main endpoint. And writing down endings helps a lot with creativity flow. Once I write down an idea or plotline, it’s out of my head, and I’ve moved on to different ones.

  2. I deal with this sometimes with my longer pieces. I usually try to tell myself that there’s a difference between what I know as the writer and what the readers know about the story and characters. Maybe when you hit that block of knowing the ending and not wanting to go any further, you could try adding something in that changes the direction of the story.

  3. When I know the beginning and the end, I concentrate on character development and interactions. Often, I need to add little changes to the ending but not significantly.

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