Now, here’s a thing. My current work in progress (WIP) has stalled before the halfway stage. I’m definitely more of a planner than a pantster but I couldn’t see a clear route to the end, even though I knew how everything was going to work out. I’ve twiddled with the plot, experimenting with various ideas, but none of the paths led to that happy-ever-after ending I’d envisaged for my characters. The more I’ve tried, the more bogged down I’ve got and the more complicated and unbelievable the plot has become.
Eventually I put the damn thing away in the vain hope that some miracle would occur. There are always plenty of other writing projects to be getting on with while I wait for the muse to return: blog posts, homework for the writing group, editing and proofreading pieces for our anthology, writing erotica.
Hang on a minute. Did I say erotica?
Yes, I did. A bit of a departure for me, this one. And what a revelation. It was a bit tricky at the start, I’ll admit. I was too embarrassed to commit my thoughts to the screen or scribble them down on paper. Even hiding behind a pseudonym I worried about my family and friends reading any of it. Would they assume these were my fantasies? Probably. However, I soon got over all that nonsense. I read some good advice about closing the door and writing as if no one is ever going to read it. A glass of wine helps. That freed me up a lot. Now there’s no stopping me. There’s a worrying amount of material festering away in my head, and I can’t write it fast enough. It’s like a well-spring has been tapped and my imagination is running riot. A new beginning.
But back to the WIP and the ending that didn’t quite work. I badly needed inspiration. Some writers advise planning the ending meticulously, other say let the characters take you where they will. While in the doldrums I came across this rather conflicting guidance from two writing heavyweights:
Rose Tremain advises, ‘In the planning of your book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.’
On the other hand, William Boyd says, ‘If you have a clear sense of how your story will end then you can, as it were, rewind to the beginning and plot any number of various routes that will allow you to arrive at that desired ending …’
So, which method would work best with my personal way of working? How was I going to wrench the finale out of the commonplace and make it into something extraordinary? While I was still wrestling with the various options, I had an epiphany, a bit of a Eureka moment, if you like. In an unlikely surge of creative inspiration I understood the crux of the problem: I was working towards a happy ending but the characters didn’t actually deserve one.
At about the same time as this shock revelation, our homework for the writing group required a piece about a reunion. I’d been tinkering with an idea, so I used the opportunity to experiment a little, coming up with a completely unexpected ending, one that was relevant to the homework, and one I certainly hadn’t planned, but the one that the characters deserved. It worked brilliantly.
Back at the keyboard, I added the surprising climax then went back to the point where I’d previously left the story and set off again, with this new, definite goal in sight. I’ve been amazed at how much a comprehensive knowledge of a very specific ending, rather than a vague idea of how things might work out, has informed the rest of the story arc.
For me, this is definitely the way forward. I feel re-energised.
Thank you, Mr Boyd.