Taking the long view

I read recently that Agatha Christie wrote many of her novels with no clear idea who the culprit was. She introduced many likely perpetrators with just as many likely motives. Then when she got to the end, she looked them over and decided which one to make the killer. She would then go back and rewrite sections to fortify the ending she’d chosen.

I’m not sure I believe that, at least not for many of her cleverly plotted stories. Maybe it’s true in some cases, but certainly not in all.

I know I’ve read of other writers who seem to work this way. They start out with their story not knowing who their characters are or where the plot will lead them. I’m willing to admit this as possible, but it sure seems like a damned inefficient way to write.

I don’t outline heavily, at least not outside of my head. I make lots of notes, but I almost never outline the plot itself. I have likened my writing process to riding a train. I know where I will get on. I know where the journey ends. And I know a number of the stops. The rest of the story comes from the scenery and events along the way. That part I don’t know very well in advance, but the core structure of the story is clear in my head.

The aimless approach to writing (is that a fair description?) seems like it would lead down a lot of dead ends and waste a lot of time. In fact, it almost sounds like pre-writing rather than writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it wouldn’t work for me. (Indeed, the novel I am working on now — The Sleep of Reason — began a decade ago as a short story that never went anywhere. I started it with no idea of how to end it. Only ten years later did the very good ending come to my mind. Not a very efficient creative method.) Many of the writers who speak on their blogs of using this method also talk about the critiques their groups give them and the subsequent rewriting and restructuring they must do. I wonder if the method and this common result are connected.

Each of us to our own ways. And good luck to all.

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One Comment on “Taking the long view”

  1. Rick Says:

    As you’ve observed and stated, each to their own.

    One nice thing about just blasting out a story is that you usually find out after about 10,000 words or so whether or not it has legs and whether or not there’s a unique voice to the piece. When starting out, you have the luxury of spending years on a novel. After you’ve hit your million words, or fourth novel, or 2,103 rejections and get published, you probably should have a voice and a contract. And that contract will now force most writers to stop wandering aimless in the woods and finish the next book per the publisher’s deadline.

    Some comfort in only having self-imposed deadlines…some, but not a lot.


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