iUniverse’s Douglas Gardham, author of The Actor and The Drive In, gives us stimulating advice on the process of crafting a story.
I’ve heard it over and over again, too many times. No doubt, you’ve heard it too—“start with the end in mind”. Many writers advocate such a plan. I’m not one of them.
It ruins all the fun. It containerizes me; keeps me in a box. It prevents the story from taking me somewhere I haven’t gone before. Creativity is not about knowing the end before you begin. Creativity is about discovery. Writing fiction is about discovery. It’s about venturing on a new journey. Pulling from experiences—some new, some old, some imagined—and letting the story take me where it chooses.
Knowing the end feels mechanical and constrained, like I’m going through the motions. I never want to feel that way. I’ll stop writing when that happens. Maybe the story doesn’t turn out how I thought it was going to in the beginning. It takes courage to let a story direct its own path. It can be scary venturing off the worn one.
There is a place for knowing how things will end. I know a bit about that. It was an integral part of my engineering world and the reason why it’s a profession. There’s a responsibility for knowing how the end will turn out. We want the wheels to stay on our cars and airplanes to stay in the air. We want those equations filled out with the upmost of correctness. We want the end result to be the right answer.
But in creating a story, “starting with the end in mind,” seems like reading the end of a book before the start. Spoiler alert, spoiler alert! What’s the point of the story then? Why write if I know where I’m going to end?
I can’t think of a story I’ve started knowing how it will turn out. Sometimes the end comes sooner than I anticipate, but often it’s the other way around. I want to follow where the story leads me. It’s part of discovering what’s inside me—the good, the bad and the ugly—and how the story pulls it out of me. Seeing the connections that weren’t at first apparent and being fooled by what I thought were.
My love for the physical aspects of writing likely had a hand in this as well. I love the feel of holding a pen in my hand and watching the words and sentences come out on a fresh, blank piece of paper. Writing simply leads to the story.
That said I usually have some idea of what I want to write about and at least a character’s name. My characters almost always start as a name.
It’s fun yet intimidating to follow where a story takes me. Life is like that and that’s what I write about.
It brings to mind a quote from Frank Herbert, author of the sci-fi magnum opus Dune. “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” Such a realization makes it all but impossible to “start with the end in mind”.
As always, many thanks to Douglas for his authorial guidance! He talks about his writing strategy in an interview on Canadian TV: http://rogerstv.com/media?lid=237&rid=23&gid=249494