Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Do you Write with the Ending in Mind?

When I started writing my initial set of stories and my  first book  I was clueless about their endings, only the beginning of the stories  would be  clear in my mind. After writing nearly three fourths of  my first  book, I floundered  in mid sea, with no idea  regarding  how to  resolve the issue. A month later, perhaps  taking pity on me, my muse dropped in with an ending I considered brilliant;  it was promptly  dismissed by my editor as  “a too common  a resolution.”

The book lost out  not just  because of the way I had  ended it, but also the way I had treated it. I was clueless right from the beginning about major chunks of the story. Neither the conflict, nor the character’s  goals were well defined. And the character himself was a watery version of the one I had in mind.  

 That incident taught me the value of  writing out a book  or a story in an outline form, before I  actually started writing  it. Even for the short stories (800 to 1000 words) that I pen for the newspapers, I do a one  line outline:  who is the protagonist,  what is his/her conflict and how  it’s  resolved. This  one line  synopsis helps me  get a feel of the entire story before I tackle it.

For the longer stories (2500 to 4500 words) that are used in anthologies, I do a one paragraph outline before I sit down to  write the story. This one paragraph outline or the one paragraph  synopsis  has the following things:  the protagonist,  his/her or conflict or goal and the antagonist or forces against them, maybe a  few lines about the protagonist and the antagonist.

For the books  my  initial synopsis is quite  long, maybe  two to  three pages ; the protagonist, their current status and what kind of a person  he/she is ( headstrong, reliable, thinker, rash, calm, independent, sentimental ) and which aspect of  their  nature can  get them out of   tight spots and which trait of  theirs can get them into trouble ( this in particular helps me when I am working on the conflicts)  the things that perpetually trouble them (another aspect that helps me in conflict), their aim in life, the antagonist or forces creating obstacles in their path, the antagonist’s strength and weakness, and how the protagonist  jumps over the  obstacles.

As this particular synopsis is just for my  benefit, I even add a little about the other characters who assist  or provide stumbling blocks to the main character. Several twists and turns the plot takes too are thrown into what I call the ‘ Working Synopsis.’

It’s like I write the entire story (especially the main highlights) in an outline form. My last such synopsis was four   pages long. But it helped me get a feel of the entire story. As this synopsis is not shared with anyone else, it more often than not can go the lengthy route. Just writing down that long synopsis took several days, but it brought out the entire story in my mind.

To get the short  synopsis that agents and editors prefer ( who is the protagonist,  what their story goal is and what are the forces against them) the long synopsis can be stripped to its bare essentials and  polished. I have decided never to write a story until I have an ending in mind. Once the ending is clear in our mind, we can start building towards it, by adding the twists and turns that lead to it. 

What kind of synopsis do you all write? Like me do you write a  ‘Working Synopsis’? Do you all follow the policy of writing a book/story  in an outline form?  Or do you all just go along and see where the story and characters lead you?            


  1. It varies with what I am writing. I suppose I should be more consistent. Think I will lay it out more clearly for an upcoming, larger WIP.
    Blessings for your day!
    Karen :)

  2. This is interesting. I wonder what everyone will say?
    I for one must have an ending in mind when I put pen to paper (or rather finger to keyboard). I simply must know. Maybe it's my left brain saying "There must be order!"

  3. I have to tell you I usually let the idea percolate in my mind for several months (usually while working on my last WIP) then I try and strategize for a whole evening with a strong cup of coffee. I really need to feel like I know where the story is going. It's tough to feel lost when starting a WIP> Know where you're going, at least the general direction.

  4. I get a basic outline: characters want what, they do what to get it and what major plot points consequentially happen. I do not go into a great deal of detail or I lose any interest in writing it. I'm so glad YOU posted THIS!

    I love this: and which aspect of their nature can get them out of tight spots and which trait of theirs can get them into trouble ( this in particular helps me when I am working on the conflicts).

    Believe it or not, I'd never thought of it in quite those terms. My characters are based on real people and the actions they took, so I had to look at those people and actions and decide how they could possibly act as they did. It doesn't look like my next novel will come together like that, so this gives me a new angle to work with. THANKS!

  5. I'm still trying to figure out what works best for me. I do the snowflake method for sure, which gives me a good foundation. I do know the way I want things to end. Then there's the middle, where I only have a vague idea of where I'm going.

  6. There is no rigid rule for me, Rachna. I go where my muse leads me. There are times where I start a story with just a full chapter and a few detailed notes on where I want it to lead.

    other times I've made it sound like the back of a book kinda description.

    Times where I only have one detail that unfurls its mighty wings into a complete novel.

    I have no set thing.

    Nice post! :)

  7. Karen, try it out for a larger WIP. Trust me, it makes it easy to actually sit down and write.

    Lydia...nowadays without an ending in mind, I am just not able to write.

    Anne, the idea simmers in my mind too, for several months before I actually start writing it. Infact, I allow it to unravel mentally before I put pen to paper.

    Victoria..if the basic outline is clear I know where exactly the story is going. Nowadays I am scared to write without an eye on the ending.

    Julie...at times I am in a muddle over the middle, but if the end is in sight the middle will work itself out.

    Elizabeth..you are a brave writer and your muse is a generous creature. Mine isn't, so I am pretty clear about the entire book before I invest time in it.

  8. I always write an outline because then I never get stuck while writing the story. I always know where the story is heading and what is going to happen to the characters.

    I don't write a synopsis exactly. I save writing that for when I'm querying agents. I actually write a quick outline of each scene, who's view point I'm writing from, how it's going to end and flow into the next scene. That works for me. That way there's never any awkwardness in how the story moves along (I hope).


  9. I usually have an ending in mind when I start, but it's always subject to change. I mean I try not to be rigid about it. For me an outline isn't that helpful at the beginning, except in the sketchiest sense. I once outlined a whole novel before allowing myself to write it, and what I found was that I had lost the need to tell it, lost the spark to write it. In fact, the outline still is stuck in a notebook awaiting my return.

    The point where I find an outline and synopsis really helpful is after I've gotten that draft out, before the rewrite. Then when I go through that outline, I can see what's missing and what has to be addressed. That's my approach now. But who knows? It might change for future books.

  10. Do you hear my groan? I am getting better at writing out a brief outline--major conflicts and obstacles etc. But still the endings don't come.

  11. I'm a firm believer in that if you don't know where you're going, you'll never know when you get there.

    An ending makes for a lean, effective story.

    Love your blog, Roland

  12. My outline is definitely alive and kicking. As I write on it shifts with the landscape of my imagination.

  13. After too many earlier mistakes when I hared off with only the beginning of an idea in mind, I have finally learnt my lesson and only embark on a novel when I know the ending. So yes, I outline, write a synopsis and do a chapter plan before I begin. It's the only way forward for me!

  14. Hi Rachna: As you know I just finished my first full length book, a middle-grade fantasy. When I started out, I had no clue how it was going to end. I rewrote the ending five times (or more!) but I don't know that I would do it any other way because in the beginning I didn't know my characters well enough. They needed time to develop and mature and I wanted them to surprise me at the end. They did.

    It took a lot of patience, a lot of rejection from my reviewers, and a lot of faith that something good would finally come to me. In the end, for the end, this worked for me. So I'd be in the 'I follow along and see where they lead me' category.

    It probably takes longer, but it was a fun journey.

  15. I often need an end before I write. It doesn't have to be set in stone, but it's important. I haven't yet been able to write a full outline however.
    W.I.P. It: A Writer's Journey

  16. Hi, chanced on your blog from Jai's. Thanks. The stuff you post is very interesting and useful.

    Good going and good luck.