1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Should i write the first half, before knowing the ending?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ryan Elder, Oct 6, 2015.

    One of my weaknesses in writing is that the characters eventually end up making decisions that go against their character, just so a certain plot turn or plot point can happen.

    The reason why is, that after reading books about writing, they all say the same thing. They say to come up with your ending first, so you can build into that ending. But in order to build into my endings, the characters have to make illogical decisions just to get there.

    I decided to take a whole new approach to writing and come up with a premise, and then have the characters in it, make decisions where they are the smartest, most logical decisions they would make without seeming forced or breaking character at all. Then I let their decisions decide outcome of the plot, rather than the other way around and deciding on my ending first.

    However, I have come up with some outlines for the story with endings based on the characters' decisions. I am not satisfied with any of them. They all come off as anticlimatic or underwhelming. It makes sense that they would since it was the character's decisions that came to the ending, rather than me coming up with the most climatic and dramatic ending I could.

    Instead the characters determine the ending, not knowing what it's going to be until they get there, and they arrive at more of an anticlimatic, more random ending.

    Is this new approach the best way to go? Is it possible to come up with the best ending and be totally satisfied without breaking character logic in order to get there? Or is the best way to write to let the character's actions determine the the outcome, and audiences will be satisfied with that. It won't matter what the outcome is so much, as long as audiences respected the characters decisions and motivations in order to get there?

    One example of a movie that breaks logic to have a certain plot turn is perhaps one of my favorites, Cell 211 (2009). In that movie there is a hostage situation where terrorists have taken over a building, and a negotiator has to deal with them. The hostage negotiator goes up to see the terrorists to meet their demands and goes into the building to speak to the leader, face to face. The leader then takes him hostage, and they kill him. The officers outside cannot intervene out of fear of the other hostages being killed.

    Their is an illogical character action there, and that is, that the hostage negotiator did not have to go into the building to negotiate. All he had to do was call the leader on the phone. Also the leader, wanted to kill the negotiator intentionally, which is why he asked for that specific person to talk to, cause he has a reason to kill him. But how did the leader know that the negotiator would enter the building, rather than use the phone?

    That's just one example, and I can either use that writing approach, where it's okay to have some plot holes as long as it builds to a great third act, or I can write it so that there are not plot holes at all, but not everything comes together in the third act perfectly for the audience, because the air tight logic, wouldn't allow for it.

    What do you think? Should I take the new approach and go with one of my outlines for a story, even if my instincts tell me it's anticlimatic and not everything is wrapped up neatly as a result? Or should I stick to the approach I was using before and try to improve it?

    I was thinking of writing my first half, before the second half. I have outlined the whole first half up until the 'midpoint climax', and I asked some others, and I think there is enough to agree it's pretty solid. And then when I come up with an outline for a good second half, I will be continue after the midpoint climax and write it. But since I am set on the first half, I do not want to change it. Whatever ending I come up with will be built out that first half, as oppose to coming up with an ending first.

    I will let the first half and the characters from then on, determine the ending, rather than the other way around. What do you think? Should I write it and stick with it?
     
  2. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    This is how all my writing works.

    Ever read the interview of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett about writing Good Omens? It starts with Gaiman saying, "I've got this great story, but I don't know how it ends." Pratchett reads the story and says, "I don't know how it ends either, but I know what happens next!" The book turned out incredible. But then all of Gaiman's work is fantastic.

    I literally didn't know my first book had ended until I typed the last sentence and pressed the period. I sat there a few moments and thought, "Sh!t, I want to know what happens next!" So, I put out about 5000 words of the second book just to satisfy my curiosity before going back to start editing the first one. That's one of the benefits of being the author, you don't have to wait 6 months or a year to start reading the sequel! LOL
     
  3. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. It's just the books I have read on fiction writing, people in the profession say to come up with the ending to the premise first, so I would be doing something that goes against what is taught, and what I am use to.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Yes.

    I just figured out my ending and I've been writing almost 4 years. :p
     
  5. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I hear that's true for professional fiction writers (though Gaiman and Pratchett are clearly professional), but I come from a different background. I was trained as a scholarly writer. We use the scientific method. It starts by asking "what if," and then we do research to find out "what if." In this type of environment you can't choose your results, you just write up what happened letting your research be your guide. When I started writing popular articles in addition to the scholarly stuff, I followed the same premises because it was all nonfiction as well.

    Since this type of writing was engrained in me from an early age it makes more sense than coming up with an ending first. It can be interesting too because at times I will have to ask my characters, "Absent Gods, why on earth did you do that?" It gives them a life of their own and the end result may or may not be publishable without a ton of editing, but it sure is fun.
     
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  6. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. The only concern is, is that by doing it this way, so far the endings I have come up with are considerably anticlimatic. Like a lot of readers have suggested to me to have the good guys catch the villain in the act of his crimes and use that as proof against him, for example.

    But if I do that, and he is just caught in the act without having gone through with it, because he was stopped and arrested, then he only gets about five years for attempted kidnapping, rather than being linked to all the previous murders he committed before. The reader may think it's anticlimatic, but that is just one ending option. But perhaps it's normal for a writer to feel his ending is antclimatic or limited, since the material he has to build it off of, is already predetermined.

    So when other writers say that the reason why a lot of books and movies are not good nowadays is because the writer did not think of that great ending first, is it not always true and sometimes coming up with your ending close to last is better?
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Perhaps you need to think more deeply about your characters.
     
  8. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I don't think it's the characters that are my problem, I think it's the plotting. How all the characters are interconnected to each other without it leading to a forced coincidence or forced logistic, if that makes sense. I feel I have the characters pretty down, just not the plot as much, after the first half. Plus if I want the plot to go in certain direction, I have to come up with that first, and then create the characters to build into that direction with it?

    Or I could come up with the characters first and let them drive the plot, but how do I determine which is more important for the story, the character's or the plot? I feel that my story is more plot driven, so does that mean I should come up with the plot first, and the characters to fit it?

    Since I have already decided on my first half, the plot and characters are already created up to a certain point. But now that I have to continue from the midpoint climax, the characters have undergone changes and revelations and have to to junction points, where they are still free to choose between different paths, that can bring it to an ending still. From there, I can decide if I shoot drive the plot first or the characters decisions, that will determine the ending.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2015
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm talking about your characters' stories, not how you've interconnected them. If the plot ends with a resolution and you don't feel it was interesting, I'm just saying look a little deeper into what the characters' inner resolutions were.
     
  10. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I feel it's not the resolutions that are the problem, it's just the plot and how everything comes together to get to the resolution. In the example I mentioned, where if the villain is busted by being caught in the act, being caught in the act is a plot decision. He still will have the same resolution after going down, but the plot is anticlimatic cause he gets less than 10 years, since he was caught in an ATTEMPT.

    I feel that I got the resolutions down and that's not the problem. I just feel that my endings are so far are anticlimatic, plot wise. I need to figure out how to plot wise, get the characters to their resolutions, if that makes sense. Or I could choose new resolutions if that's better in taking the coming up with your ending last, approach.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2015
  11. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    Don't commit to an ending yet. You said that you're in the middle of your manuscript; things can change, and you might discover an ending along the way.

    I'm not sure if you had outlined your story, but for me, I wrote my novel by the seat of my pants. The ending just came up, and within the scheme of things, it was the natural and most satisfying ending I had come across.

    If you had outlined, try to veer from it if a scene starts to feel forced.
     
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  12. Bocere
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    Bocere Member

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    Agreed! I mean if you have a rough road map of where the story is going in mind that's great but don't be afraid to change things as they come up if you need to.

    That being said, don't forget that you control your characters - not the other way around.

    If you absolutely NEED a plot point to happen but it isn't organic to the corresponding character as they have developed thus far, you can also go back and change your character. It takes a little more work to go back and revisit/restructure/reEVERYTHING a whole character arc, but if that's what needs to happen to give you an ending you and the reader will both be satisfied with, that's what you should do.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stephen King doesn't. He has some modest success. :)

    I think that you should try the plan of having your characters do what they would do, instead of forcing them to do what they would not do, because your plotting is just not working.

    I also think that you are investing too much importance in the plot elements of the ending. For many people, including me, a book is about characters. You are throwing away your characters for what you see as an exciting ending, but for me, the most exciting ending in the world is fundamentally boring if I don't believe in the characters. Who cares if one cardboard cutout defeats another cardboard cutout? Who cares if a cardboard cutout goes to jail, or dies? Nobody cares.

    If it fails, you will at least have learned who your characters are, and I think that that's something that you really don't know right now.

    I should add that I understand the desire for a clever, intricate plot. I have that desire myself, and that's why I tend not to finish things. I've recently chosen one of the four possible novel ideas that I have, the one that does support a straightforward plot, and I'm going to write the bleeping thing. I may be dissatisfied, in the end, with how straightforward the plot is, but the time comes when you have to just write something. "Just writing" good believable characters and a not-terribly-exciting plot is better than "just writing" an intricate, wildly illogical plot with characters that nobody cares about.

    You're in a position right now where you have to choose a compromise, and I strongly urge you to choose the one that gives you characters that people care about.
     
  14. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes.
     
  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I have endings in mind when I write but they're always open ended and subject to possible change. Right now I'm working on a novel with a loose - very loose storyline - in fact I've figured out about four or five major happenings ( and a possible end. ) And the rest come as they may usually spur of the moment.

    The trouble in working backwards is that your focus might be on the wrong thing - the end result. Think of the movie/book Rebecca * spoilers * - at the end - the house of Manderley burns. Because the house is the key focus of the book it's not a shocker and I don't doubt DeMaurier had it in mind when she started the novel. But a lot has to happen to get us there. The second Mrs. DeWinter must be met, married, brought to the estate, spooked by the housekeeper, worried that her husband doesn't love her, haunted by the former Mrs. DeWinter's history, humiliated at a costume ball, goaded into attempting suicide. She must discover that Rebecca was murdered, attend a murder inquest, learn a shocking discovery, and then the house burns.

    The character goes from a young naïve girl to a devoted and forgiving wife. Though she's meek she develops as much a backbone as she can, and grows. The character influences more of the events - the happenings to form her change - rather than the end result. The end becomes a fitting occurrence - rather than a driving force.

    Could be you need a mid-point twist to get your plot going again - kinda like in Rebecca - DeMaurier took it as far as she could with Mrs. Danvers and then had Rebecca's boat found, revealing she'd been murdered. The focus left Mrs. Danvers and settled on Mr. DeWinter.
     
  16. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I wrote several outlines before, but couldn't come up with an ending that didn't feel forced or implausible to get there. I felt that the endings were good, it's just the plot twists that were needed to get there were forced, and I couldn't get to the ones I wanted naturally.

    But now I have an outline for the first half that I am satisfied with, up till a midpoint climax. I will write it up to there, in full form, and figure out the rest of the outline after. There are different things that could come out of that midpoint climax and it's a matter of picking one. Just so long as the new ending will not be ruined because I did not come up with it first, and then come up with a first half to build into it. I am taking the approach of writing out the whole first half now and keeping it as is, without knowing where it's going to go now. So it feels risky.

    Another problem I have in my writing is budget as well. For example, since it's a screenplay, I want to shoot it on the lowest budget possible as a newcomer filmmaker. I kept trying to write the story where the MC tries to solve a lot of problems and catch the villain on his own, but I kept being told by others, that not matter how you tweak it, it cannot make sense because the MC will always have some help, and I might as well get to use to it and be willing to come up with more money in the budget. Or another example, someone asked before was, why didn't the villain burn down the crime scene, to get rid of evidence better? The answer was I did not have the budget for a burned down building being investigated. I feel if I had a bigger budget, writing a more logical plot would be easier. But I will keep coming up with an ending to get with the first half.

    As far as making the story too much about the plot, and not enough about the characters, I think I may have figured out what my problem might be. I have quite a few characters that are necessary to get the plot going. But not every character HAS to have an important revelation for the ending. Only certain characters do. But at the same time, you have to do something with the rest of the characters so the reader is not asking what happened to them, and that's where the plotting becomes jam packed, cause you have to fit them in, so the reader is not left wondering.

    Unless I am looking at it the wrong way?
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2015
  17. GuardianWynn
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    I think you are to limited in your approach. Writing is not like an assemble. It doesn't require step 1, then 2 and 3 and so on and so forth.

    Me? Yeah I tend to think of the ending. I try to work towards that ending but that is me.

    You don't have to do that. The thing or me is this. If I just listen to my character. They tend to be boring. They want peace. They want to avoid people that fight. The nicest plot involves forcing them to fight. But a forced fight to be epic needs some build up. To me this is in a sense the essense of what an ending is. The clash that you built up too. But if your characters take you to a nicer place originally. Yeah go with it.

    Also these are not hard elements. You don't need to know every second of the ending. Sometimes it can just be a vague idea. I live in the USA. If I wanted to drive to canada I am not going to just get in and drive but at the same time. I don't have to plan my route before I leave. Maybe I want to see where the road takes me. But(unless I live in Haiwii or Alaska) I am going to at least look at which direction is North. lol Maybe I want to take the long way and the more scenic route. All the same I need to know what way north. I think all writers need at least that much of a hint. The hint of where you going can be small though.


    MORE IMPORTANTLY D: Editing! Regardless of what you are. A planner or fly by the seat of your pants... er I think editing is important. That is the issue you brought up. Characters feel out of character to do the ending. Well, edit the middle. lol. My favorite question is this. "If a character naturally wants to turn right but the plot needs them to go left. What is a realistic thing that could happen that would make them want to turn left?"
     
  18. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I think I may have come up with an ending for the whole story that I like, however it's different than what I originally thought would be a great ending. The original ending I wanted was for the MC to bring the villain down by attacking his weakness or this theme, and using it against him.

    I have last half, where the MC uses evidence against the villain. However, do you think that could come off as anticlimatic to a lot of readers, because it's less dramatic then using the villains own theme against him? Not only that, but it's also less thematic, since I am relying on evidence, which is a plot device, compared to using the villains theme, which is a theme device, and therefore could be more powerful. It's just I haven't been able to figure out a way to use the villain's theme, with defying logic, since it's usually evidence that brings crooks down, and not their own themes being used against them by the police. Although the theme being used against them could be more powerful to the reader.

    Do you think that using evidence is climatic enough, even though it's a plot device without theme being used as much, or should I keep digging till I find a way for the police use the villain's theme against him that would logically work?
     

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