The other day, a friend asked me a very specific question about writing, and I’ve been turning it over in my head since then.
How do you stop writing?
How do you keep your story from dragging on and on?
The ending is a vital part to any story, and really, this is one of the reasons I went from just writing to writing with an outline. Very short stories don’t necessarily require an outline, but that’s because short stories are usually no more than a few pages long. It’s much easier to write without oulined goals when you’re only jotting down a few thousand words.
But it doesn’t work that way for novels. Losing sight of your ending can mean losing sight of your story, and both of those things can mean losing the attention of your readers. If this is something you have a problem with, you may not like my advice, but it’s something you may want to consider.
If you have a story in mind, you shouldn’t begin writing it at all until you know how to end it.
It may sound harsh, but do you really want to have written 70 chapters of aimless meandering about the story, only to get stuck when you can’t figure out how to pull everything together and finish it? Or would you rather have 25 chapters of action and riveting, focused storytelling that effectively builds up to the big finale?
I’m not saying you have to have every minute detail of the ending worked out before you start writing, but your path to that goal, and a notion of the final goal itself, needs to be clear before you begin. Otherwise, your meaning – And all the power behind your words – will get lost.
If you’re intimidated by the idea of an outline, don’t be. It’s far from a rigid guideline, and it’s definitely not set in stone. You really only need to flesh out the major points you need to touch on, putting them in order before the time to write them actually comes. And it doesn’t have to be detailed. If your story is an epic fantasy and the villain must be vanquished at the end, that’s all you need to write down. If your story is based on personal growth of your characters, you just have to establish a point where all the trials they’ve overcome are able to come together and show them how they’ve grown. These are very vague ideas, but they are important, nonetheless! You usually don’t start a road trip without a goal of where you want to be in mind, so treat your story the same way – Give yourself a map and directions before you start, and you’ll find it much harder to get lost.