When I wrote my first novel back in 2008, I had no idea how it was going to end. I wasn’t even really sure how it was going to start, or what was going to happen along the way. All I knew was that my protagonist wanted to end up with the guy.
Except that wasn’t a good fit for the real story that wanted to be told; the real story that was hiding below the surface. I just needed to dig deep enough to find it.
The real story had a different ending in mind.
But I didn’t listen. Instead, I wrote the ending my character wanted.
Turned out that was the wrong decision (and my story didn’t work).
You’ve Gotta Ignore Your Characters
I’ve been told by writing teachers that characters speak to us and we need to listen to them. That our characters hold the keys to the story.
The thing is, though, that’s a bunch of garbage.
Sure, characters do speak to you, but you definitely don’t have to listen to what they have to say. And, really, you shouldn’t listen to them. You should pretty much ignore 90 percent of what they tell you.
They do not hold the keys to your story.
It’s up to you as the writer to guide the story’s direction. You, the writer, already have the keys to the story–you just have to unlock it.
The truth is, characters are never going to put themselves in conflicted enough situations to make a good story. Characters just aren’t brave enough for something like that.
You as the author have to make your characters be brave by throwing them into situations they aren’t expecting, and allowing them to learn and grow and change throughout the story.
You’ve gotta figure out the story you want to tell ahead of time, so that you can know exactly what type of situations you need to construct for your characters to play in. And you’ve gotta know how the story’s gonna end.
Because when you don’t know how the story’s going to end, that makes it impossible to do things, like set up what’s to come, foreshadow or make things flow like they should.
You’ve Gotta Know Your Ending
You’ve probably watched quite a few movies in your lifetime so far. Now think of this–what if the movie writers had no idea how the movie was going to end?
What if they just decided to write along and see what unfolded?
You’d be watching a pretty boring movie. Because nothing would be happening. You’d just be watching characters move from one day to another. Completely episodic.
And that’s not what stories are made of.
Stories gotta have a mission–a purpose. The protagonist needs to want something bad enough to be willing to go after it. And you have to leave little hints along the way at what’s to come.
You won’t be able to do that if you write your story before you know the ending.
So, When Should You Write Your Story?
Unless you want to write several full drafts before you discover what your story is about, you shouldn’t sit down to write your draft until you know the following information:
- Your Story Structure–your story’s gotta have structure: a First Plot Point, Midpoint, Second Plot Point and two Pinch Points.
- Your Hook–every story needs a “hook” early on, something that hints of the story to come once the First Plot Point hits.
- How the Story Ends–you’ve gotta know your ending, period.
- What’s At Stake–there’s gotta be something at stake in the story. Your protagonist needs obstacles to overcome, so that the reader can root for him. If the reader has nothing to root for, you’ve got no story.
- Your Concept and Your Premise–if you don’t know what your story’s about, you better find out–before you write a word. (Grab a free copy of the eGuide + workbook, Write Better Stories, and discover what your story is really about.)
Until you know all of this information, at minimum, you won’t be in a place to truly write your story.
Of course that’s not to say you can’t write during the planning phase of your story. Some writers find it helps them to plan what happens in their stories if they spend time writing about (and getting to know) their characters first.
What often helps me is to do a character plan using the three dimensions of character.
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4 Replies to “Why You Should Ignore Your Characters and Know Your Ending Ahead of Time”
This is pure gold. Every writer, old and new, should have this mounted on the edge of their computer monitor. They should read this every day before doing ANYTHING. Some, in fact, should have it tattooed on their forehead – backwards, so that’s what they see when they look in the mirror. Nicely done, Jennifer.
@Larry Wow–thank you so much! It’s an amazing honor to have you say that about something I wrote 🙂
I have such an odd (or maybe not so odd, I don’t really know) problem. Generally, I always know the ending – usually, that’s the first or second thing I figure out alongside the actual dilemma of the plot. Then I usually figure out my major plot points. My problem comes with all the in-between stuff. I struggle to create the scenes that get me from point a to point b – whether it’s knowing what to show, or how to show it.
For instance, when I’m reading or watching tv, I always find myself asking what made them include that scene in that particular way, out of so many possibilities, what made them choose that specific thing.
I can easily write the major events, but my stories always falter when it comes time to drawing the pieces together.
@Kim that’s not odd at all! Man writers have that same issue when it comes to putting a story together. The key is nailing the structure. When you do that it makes it really easy to know what has to happen and when in between the main plot points. Take a look at the story deconstructions on StoryFix.com and then watch one of the movies and see if that helps illustrate it better.