Creative Writing: Learning from the Masters (Part Two)
If you missed my last post, I have been reading an ibook called Creative Writing: Learning from the Masters. The masters are John Irving, Carol Joyce Oates, Ernest J Gaines, Amy Tan, Norman Mailer and Carol Shields.
Plotting a novel.
There are supposedly two types of writers: those who write an outline of the novel before they start writing it, and those who just start writing and see where the story takes them. John Irving is an extreme example of the first. He spends months writing a detailed plan of a novel so when he finally gets around to writing it he can concentrate on the words and language and not have to worry about what happens next.
What really intrigued me about Irving is that he writes these outlines backwards. He starts with the final line of the book and then works out how the story got to that final line. This immediately had me rushing to my bookshelves and retrieving The World According to Garp to read its final line: But in the World According to Garp, we are all terminal cases. The numerous meanings of terminal cases kind of sums up the book.
Carol Shields prefers to just start writing and see where the story goes. I could not write this way. I abandoned (45,000 words in) the only novel I started writing with no clear idea how it would end because I had no idea where it was going (it was about the end of the world too). Shields did admit that she usually had an idea of how the story would end.
I have to know how my story will end before writing it. I usually start with a situation that is, or is about to become, full of uncertainty and then send the characters in search of certainty. I like Irving’s idea of writing a very detailed plan so I then can concentrate on the words. I might try that with the next manuscript I start.
So which are you, a planner or someone who is prone to abandon stories that are going nowhere?