One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my past writings was not to have an end goal in mind.
This has caused more unfinished manuscripts than anything else – for me and I suspect many other writers.
“But wait,” you say, “I don’t know the ending to my book! I want to discover it as I write!”
Well, me too for the most part, but having an end goal and having the ending of your story plotted out or outlined are two separate and completely different things.
Having an end goal means you have some idea of how long your story is going to be, in general terms. It can be a variable – I think of my book’s meta information as a living document, that can be updated at any time, and that contains guidelines rather than hard and fast rules.
The “Average” Fantasy Novel
So for example, I was reading something the other day that said that the “average fantasy novel” is approximately 100k words, divided into 40 chapters. You can contest this any number of ways. For a start, there are many fantasy novels that are way longer than 100k words. However, having a rough basis to start from means you start the project with an end goal in mind. Write 40 chapters, comprising about 100k words.
Previously I’ve been more of a ‘seat-of-my-pants’ writer, i.e. start writing, and keep writing until it’s done. With this novel, I am working much more to a structure that follows story structure rules. I’ve figured out my four acts, the structure modules they contain and the number of chapters per module. This is based on some good info and advice from some published authors.
This gives me not only and end goal, but also an idea of where I should be at any point in the story, AND what needs to happen next to progress the plot.
The attached diagram took me an hour or so using Scapple, but you could use pen and paper, or any mind mapping software.
How This Helps
Once I’d completed it to this stage, I could see an overview of the novel, as well as a rough timeline. The most important thing for me was that I could actually SEE an end to aim for. The next step for me is to write out short chapter descriptions, then a rough timeline. Timelines are not always linear in novels – look at Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut for example – so having one could prove useful.
You could also include arcs alongside the timeline for each of your POV characters, graphs displaying tension over time through the novel or pacing – whatever will help you get the book finished.
Suddenly through doing this simple task, my novel became achievable. 40 chapters – that’s not that bad. Definitely do-able. Instead of being this seemingly endless task, breaking it up like this into smaller chunks, is recommended by psychologists and motivational speakers for any large task, means that there’s less pressure to write the whole thing. Just focus on the chapter in front of you.
Even if you get stuck, the structure should help you to figure out where the story needs to go next. If you’re really stuck you can always jump ahead and write a cool scene for a bit, safe in the knowledge that you know where it will go in the story and that you will be able to find your way back afterwards.
Definitely no more ‘Pantsing’ for me.