Knowing Your Novel’s Ending

I started with little Post-Its and a pencil so I could change my mind, then gradually filled in with pen.

I’m taking a two-part novel structure class with my amazing mentors, writers Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose. This week’s homework is to make a map of our stories.

If you’re a novelist, have you illustrated your protagonist’s journey? How did you do it? A timeline? A circle or cycle? A map? And did that exercise focus your story? I’d love to hear your comments.

Since I’m working plot-first in my new novel (instead of my usual character-driven method), it’s important to know the ending. That’s one of the things I realized during our first class. I’ve always subscribed to the “I’ll figure it out when my characters do” philosophy, as well as this one: “If it doesn’t surprise the writer, it won’t surprise the reader.” But in a plot-driven novel, that strategy doesn’t really work. And this is perhaps why the story energy has been dragging lately. If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you judge whether you’re getting there?

I spent a few hours yesterday drawing my story with markers on a giant Post-It note. Now I know where this story’s going. I have a dragon to slay. All thanks to doing my homework.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Fiction, Plot, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Knowing Your Novel’s Ending

  1. With the novels, I’ve never planned in advance (let alone had a diagram). (None of them have had a “protagonist” either, as I think about it.)

    With the mystery stories, each one has been different. Sometimes I know murderer, victim, and motive in advance, sometimes I have no idea, and some in between. I’ve never drawn a diagram, but in any case they’re short stories, not novels.

    The only time I used a diagram was for “Carly” (, a hypertext story (I guess in length it would be a novella). I needed a spreadsheet to track all the various ways a reader could travel throught the story, to make sure each would work as a narrative.

    I’ve never worked that hard at writing anything before or since, and I’ve never done another one like it. 🙂

  2. Thanks for your perspective, Anthony, as always! It’s really interesting that your mystery writing process differs depending on the story. A hypertext novella? Wow, that sounds pretty wild. I’ll go check out the link.

  3. Laura…Hi! Thanks for visiting Skydiaries, and for giving me the chance to visit you back. It’s so amazing to read your process and progress. Like you, I tried post-it plotting, once. For me it didn’t work, so I’ve back to random note keeping in the ever-presesent notebook and organizing the page from there. It’s a great way for me to become immersed in the chapter. I look forward to coming back and visiting with you; I look forward to more smiling, headshaking realization of all the things we have in common!

    • Thanks for visiting, Lynn, and for your comment! I’ve tried this kind of mapping before, and like you said, it never really worked. But I’ve never tried to write a plot-driven novel before, either, so maybe that’s the difference!

      I’m curious. Do you keep a spiral notebook or a 3-ring binder? That does sound like a useful technique.

  4. Laura,

    I know the ending of my novel, and I’ve tried a few different techniques to help me get there: the wait and see how it unfolds (even with the ending in mind), the very rough outline, the quasi time line. I’m fairly new in this process, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what works for me. I’ve gotten my first act settled and am now attempting the murky middle. I love your diagram above, too. The visual aspect of it might be just what I need.

  5. Pingback: The Barbie Jeep Method: Part 2 | Laura Stanfill

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