I read somewhere that Harlan Coben doesn’t know the ending of his novels when he starts penning them.
It’s a fluid, organic process which grows and takes shape as he writes. He reasons if HE knows the ending of his novel from the outset, then his readers will too.
Not having a final destination in mind when you’re novel-writing is actually a wonderfully creative way to write.
In fact I wish I’d read this advice before writing my first novel - which I happened to write in the traditional, well-structured, story-boarded manner.
I knew exactly what happened in each chapter, to my protagonist and all the characters involved, the plots were clear and the ending never changed. Yes, minor details evolved, but the main story remained exactly how I envisaged it from the start. I painstakingly worked on the structure and content for months before and transferred all the details into my manuscript. Unfortunately, a well-known publisher who read my final manuscript provided me with the feedback every thriller writer dreads – she’d guessed the ending. It was time for a re-draft.
So, my next novel was written in the ‘no destination in mind’ philosophy, and I must admit, the difference was remarkable.
I quite literally started my second novel with a strong idea and a blank page. I had a story in mind but had no idea what would happen in the middle and the ending was something I couldn’t even see. I began with my main character’s voice which seemed to take on a life of its own, and I realise this sounds like a cliché, but the story did just present itself. Of course there were times where I felt lost in a muddle of storylines, but I managed to pull myself out by focusing on my main characters and asking the question ‘what would they do here?” I edited the hell out of my writing and the ending changed three times. By the final edit, the novel was a complete surprise to me. I doubt I would have thought of such an ending from the outset, but I learnt this along the way.
It goes without saying that I am thoroughly proud of both of my novels.
I certainly feel I poured ‘more’ of myself into my second novel as I allowed my mind to run free. But at times it was more challenging a journey than my first novel.
Both methods are extremely valuable and a combination of the two is perhaps how I’ll write my third. Watch this space.