If you are writing for fun, and if you don’t want any help, please write any way that works for you. I am not trying to convert you to writing with a plan. It truly does not matter to me how you write. However, if you are struggling to finish a book that makes sense, I would love you to carry on reading.
Why should you do it?
When I used to teach Writers Write regularly, one of the first things I asked students was: How does your story end? I did this for two reasons. Firstly, as much as some people love the idea of working with meandering storylines, it has been my experience that those writers seldom finish writing a coherent book. Secondly, most people who go to workshops or sign up for courses are truly looking for help, and I’ve learned that the best way to succeed in anything in life is to have a plan. Successful people will tell you that you need to know where you’re going before you begin.
Smell the roses
This does not mean that you can’t take time to smell the roses, or explore hidden paths along the way. It simply means that you always have a lifeline and when you get lost, it will be easier for you to find your way back again. Remember that readers like destinations. They love beginnings, middles, and endings. Why do you think fans are terrified that George R.R. Martin will die before he finishes A Song of Fire and Ice? They want to know how the story ends.
Here are seven reasons why I suggest you write your ending first.
- If you know who the characters are at the end of the story, you will know how much you should reveal about them at the beginning.
- You will be forced out of the ‘backstory hell’ that beginner writers inhabit and into the story the reader wants to read.
- Hindsight is an amazing thing. We all know how different life seems when we’re looking back. We can often tell where a problem began. We think about the ‘what ifs’ with the gift of hindsight. You can use this to your advantage in fiction writing.
- You will have something to work towards. Instead of aimlessly writing and hoping for the muse to show you the way, you will be able to pull the characters’ strings and write the words they need to get them from the beginning through the middle to the end.
- Plotting from the ending backwards saves you so much time because you will leave out stuff that isn’t meant to be there. You will not have to muddle through an overwritten first draft.
- Writing the end forces most of us out of our comfort zones. We have to confront the reality of what we are doing. It might not be as romantic as flailing around like a helpless maiden, but if you want writing to be your profession, it’s good to make the outcome visible. This is a way to show yourself that you are serious. The end gives you a goal to work towards.
- The ending is as important as the beginning. Good beginnings get people to read your first book. Great endings get readers to buy your second book.
There are a handful of famous authors, like Stephen King and George R.R. Martin, who say they don’t plot. I think they just don’t realise they are those rare authors – natural born storytellers, and that plotting is instinctive for them. I have interviewed many successfully published authors and I can revel that the majority of them do believe in plotting. They outline, in varying degrees, before they begin. And yes, most of them know what their ending will be. Why don’t you try it? What have you got to lose?
I truly hope this helps you write, and finish, your book.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy 10 (Amazingly Simple) Tips to Get You Back on The Writing Track and The Author’s Promise- two things every writer should do. You could also read The Top 10 Tips for Plotting and Finishing a Book.
Anonymous asked: I'm trying to develop the city where my fictional story will take place. Do you have any resources for city planning, or different types of cities and architecture in different climates and cultures--or really anything about creating a city?
Planned vs. Unplanned
- Planned cities. These cities were made before they were settled or substantially renovated after they were settled. Planned cities are more navigable than their unplanned counterparts. Planned cities often use a gridiron plan. Planned cities include Washington, D.C., New York City, and Melbourne.
- Unplanned cities. These cities were originally small settlements that grew larger and larger without much organization. Unplanned cities are a haphazard dash of roads that often follow old footpaths. Unplanned cities that survive to the modern era usually have been substantially renovated. Unplanned cities include Boston, Rome, and Paris.
Most cities are near a large body of water. The water supplies the city’s inhabitants and takes away waste. The older the city, the more likely it is to be on the water. If the city is not near water (Las Vegas) or has insufficient water (Ancient Rome), it must be brought in via aqueducts, pipes, etc. A city on the coast will have salt treatment facilities, pipe water in from freshwater springs, or exclusively non-water beverages (fermented drinks, milk, etc.)
If a city is hilly, the most important people/most important buildings will probably be on the tops of the tallest hills. The hills will have names. A city on flat land will be easier to build on. A city built on swampy land (Venice, Chicago, St. Petersburg) will need to deal with the heavy buildings sinking into the muck. A drainage system or levies may need to be constructed to keep the water out of the city.
Before the great and glorious invention of affordable air conditioning, cities in hot or mild climates tended to have more open floor plans, like holes in the ceiling and open gardens within their house. There wasn’t a need to keep air inside the house, where it usually became hotter. Precipitation (chiefly rain) would have been a seasonal or occasional problem. Cities in the mountains or in cold climates do not have open floor plans. The windows are small to prevent heat from escaping. There is a minimum of doorways. All entrances to the house are covered to prevent wind, snow, or sleet from coming in.
Buildings in cold areas need slanted or onion-shaped roofs to displace the weight of the accumulating winter snow. Buildings in hot areas can have flat roofs because the weight of snow isn’t a problem. (Also, you could sleep on a flat roof.) Many buildings in cold-climate cities today have flat roofs, but it is a problem your construction crews should be aware of.
Much of a city’s “character” - including names, architecture, areas of interest, city stereotypes, sports teams, and so on - comes from the people who settled it. You will need to do a historical background before you name or build anything. It doesn’t need to be lengthy. Just list out what ethnic groups settled in the city and who has ruled the city over its history. For example, the city had a large influx of Greek settlers, so many of the older streets have Greek influences. The recent emigration of Indians will not have as large an impact because they haven’t been established as long. Let’s say for the last two hundred years, the city has been ruled by an Indonesian government. The new architecture - especially government buildings - in the city will look Indonesian. The Indonesian buildings will go up alongside Georgian-looking buildings from when the British controlled the city and Chinese-looking buildings from when the Chinese controlled the city. Since the city was largely influenced by Greeks, Indonesians, British, and Chinese, the street/circle/landmark names will be a mishmash of these languages. The name of the city itself likely comes from the first group to have a strong presence there.
The easiest way to start making your city is to divide it into neighborhoods, boroughs, regions, or something similar. There are three ways you can go about this:
- Culturally. Birds of a feather tend to flock together and this is very true for immigrants. Immigrants live together, within the boundaries of a few city blocks, where they can practice their religion, language, and culture with those of like mind. Many cities in America have a Chinatown and Little Italy for these reasons. People of similar income also tend to live together, so in addition to ethnic borders, you can divide by income. Richer people tend to live outside the city or close to the important buildings. The income boundary can shift over time - say the canal was a big source of income, so all the rich merchants lived there. When the canal went out of use, the rich people moved near the big road and people of lower income moved into the areas near the canal.
- By service. The financial district is here, the residential is over here, the clothing shops are here, the government is here, and the really good food is over there. It might lead to names like the Shopping District or the Government Block or Embassy Row or the Red Light District. People usually live near their work, so you should plan this alongside neighborhoods divided by income.
- Geographically. The city’s district names come from the points of the compass, like the North Quarter or the Southwest Section. The district names could also come from landmarks like the Wharf District or Riverside - or even weather patterns, like Foggy Bottom.
I’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy about 4 times in theaters and I think it’s safe to say that Rocket and Groot are my favorite characters.