To Know the Ending or Not? That is the question!

Dylan the villain (a papillion from Belgium), 2019 winner of Crufts.

Novel Writing Retreat

This time last week I was on a writing weekend in Worcestershire, run by the same tutors that I spent time with last October at Ty NewyddAlison May and Janet Gover.

There were about 14 delegates – all women – and we were all on very different rungs of the writing ladder.

Some had agents, publishers, editors, websites and two or more published novels under their belts. The rest (most!) of us, were still ‘wannabees’ (agh, I hate that word), there for encouragement, guidance and, well, a bit of fun too, let’s be honest.

There was plenty of chat, of course, over the weekend and also – because we writers are a sensitive lot – a fair bit of self-doubt and metaphorical beating-oneself-over-the-head, too. (But there was wine and chocolate, so we were OK).

Ooh, and there were dogs! Not, as my mum thought when I told her on the phone, actually on the writing course but staying in the hotel with their owners. They were competing at Crufts which was being held at the NEC, not a million miles away.

Decision Time

During my one-to-one session with Alison, over the weekend, we managed to clarify something that I’d been wrestling with for a while. ie: whether to keep ploughing on with novel #1, which is still not at a suitable point to start submitting to agents (it’s finished but the last third is still too rough. You only get one chance to impress an agent and I don’t want to send out work that I’m not completely happy with) OR whether to put it away for now and focus on the ‘shiny new idea’, which is novel #2.

I don’t want to be one of these people who never finishes things! But as Alison pointed out, I have finished it. I have a draft of a novel. But, she thinks my idea and ‘voice’ for the new one are stronger. And it’s an idea that I’ve had for a while. It keeps coming back to me and that, so they say, is the sign of a good idea, or at least, something that you’re really interested in.

So, that’s it, then. Decision made. Onwards with the first draft of the new novel (with the intention of coming back to #1 in time).

Do You Always Know Your Ending?

And this leads me to the question that I wanted to ask: do you always know the ending of a novel or short story, before you start to write?

With short stories, I always know the ending I’m working towards (even if that ending gets tweaked or changed, to improve it, later). In fact, I can’t start writing until I know the ending. It would be like setting out on a hike without a map! (And someone who can read it).

In advance of the writing weekend, we were asked to send a synopsis and the first 1500 words of our WIP (work-in-progress) to the tutors.

As my novel was really just an idea at that point, I submitted the synopsis without the ending. Because I didn’t know what the ending was. And I still don’t.

I have a vague idea of how I want the main character to have changed (and maybe that’s enough?) but I don’t have a definite ending in terms of action/plot, so it all feels a bit airy fairy and that’s making me nervous.

Remember that tip of William Boyd’s, which I mentioned in the last post, to ‘plan your ending’? He says, “If you start writing (however striking your original idea) with no sense of how your story will end, then life becomes progressively harder. Flailing around. Writer’s block. Draft after draft. This is how novels get abandoned; film scripts bottom-drawered.”

Actually, one thing I have learned from novel #1, is that I need to PLAN more before launching into the writing. I find I need to do some writing, otherwise the characters don’t start to come to life but that has to be balanced with lots of planning and thinking about the book (oh, and research because it’s a historical novel this time).

Lots to think about and lots to do. And I definitely want to nail that ending sooner rather than later.

EFoW Short Story Competition Judging

In other news, I’m frantically (because the trickle has now turned into a flood!) trying to catch up with my reading of the submissions for the Evesham Festival of Words short story competition. It doesn’t close until 22nd March (next Friday), so there’s still time, if you want to enter (all entries are judged anonymously).

The other reader and I are meeting up on Monday morning, for the first time, to discuss our findings so far. A week after the competitions closes, we’ll be expected to submit our longlist of 15 stories to the adjudicator, for her to forward to the main judge, Vanessa Gebbie.

‘Inspiration Behind The Story’

One of my People’s Friend stories is being published next month and they’ve asked me to send them a photo (nooo!) and a short piece on ‘the inspiration behind the story’. I’ve never been asked to do one of those before and it’s rather exciting.

Retreats For You – Win a 4-Night Stay in Devon

And finally, you may have seen this competition already, if you take Writing magazine, but Retreats For You in Devon (where a couple of my friends have been and given it the thumbs up!), is offering a 4-night stay (worth around £400) as first prize in a writing competition that closes on 4th April.

It costs £5 to enter and you need to submit up to 500 words (fiction or non-fiction), with at least one mention of a Devon landmark, via the Writing magazine website here.

Photos below are from their website. I like the look of the wine at dinner….!

Good luck if you decide to have a go!

This entry was posted in Competitions, The People's Friend, West Midlands and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to To Know the Ending or Not? That is the question!

  1. Suzanne Goldring says:

    I often know how I want it to end but have to work how to get there. An interesting journey, getting to know everyone on the way!

    • Helen Yendall says:

      That sounds like a sensible way to do it, Suzanne. At least you’ve got the goal in sight and you can have fun working out how to reach it. It has to be fun, doesn’t it? (at least a little bit!)

  2. Yes and no… is my answer, Helen! As my books revolve around a genealogy secret, I know what will be revealed (and a rough idea how) but, although I’ll have an idea of the villain of the piece, sometimes the plot takes a sudden sharp turn and someone else seems a better bet!
    I also used to tell myself I must do more planning “next time”…thinking it would make the writing easier and progress smoother. But when it comes to it, I find it’s the actual writing process which kicks my creative brain fully into action, so hours spent planning before I start end up being superfluous. Having said that, I do need to have some idea of where I’m going before I start or I’m too paralysed to begin!

    • Helen Yendall says:

      Wendy, you sound as ‘conflicted’ as me! I know some people plan the whole thing, chapter by chapter and scene by scene and then all they have to do is write it but, like you, I think it’s the actual writing process which gives me the ideas. It’s very difficult to plan before you start to write, before you ‘know’ your characters, isn’t it? And yes, then they decide to do weird things along the way! Hmm… I think I will just have to try to plan more than I did last time and maybe not worry too much about planning and plotting the whole thing! (Actually, one of the tutors on the course admitted that she writes her first draft and THEN doesn’t the plotting/planning afterwards!)

  3. I have to know the ending to start, but I don’t think it has to be that way with every writer. It sounds like you and I are at similar places on our writing journey. I wrote my first novel last year at this time. Now I’m on the second draft and almost through with that. Meanwhile, I’m studying how to WRITE better (you know, the wordsmithing part of it). Best of luck writing this new book!

  4. Maria Smith says:

    I never know the ending when I start, doesn’t matter if it’s a short or if I’m writing something longer. Mostly, it comes to me as I progress. It’s like the back brain is working it out whilst I’m writing the thing.

    • That’s reassuring to know, Maria! I think, even if you have the ending ‘planned’, you can always change it, as you get near the end, if you think of something better (or if the characters decide they want a different fate!)

  5. juliathorley says:

    Sometimes I know the whole story before I start, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I have the end but not the beginning. It’s a mystery how it all comes together in the end.

    • Yes, Julia, I suppose that’s writing for you. Sometimes we know what we’re doing, sometimes we’re flailing around in the dark. Everyone’s different and every project is different too!

  6. pennywrite says:

    I was recently asked for an ‘inspiration’ piece to accompany a story. But how to compress all those pre-story thoughts into just a few lines at first felt impossible. In the end, it all came down (as it were) to an image of a boiling saucepan of jam….
    The photo was another matter. I felt obliged not to go too far back into the youthful archives, but boy neither did I want to look tooo frumpish. A writerly scarf to drape over the shoulders was most useful.
    I’ll look forward to reading your story and how it was inspired 🙂

    • Thanks Penny! Someone said to me today, that they can never remember how they got the inspiration for a story – it just comes to them! But I can usually pinpoint the overheard remark, the picture, the real-life experience or the article that inspired it. Which is fortunate, I suppose, otherwise what would I have said to PF?

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