Here is the second Q & A excerpt from my recently released book STORY TRUMPS STRUCTURE.
Q- “What do you do if you get writer’s block?”
A - I reread the story in context, keep the promises I’ve made—or make more, and ask the narrative questions (which we examine in Story Trumps Structure). Since you’re always analyzing the direction and content of your story when you write organically, you’ll find that you don’t run out of ideas very often. It makes it a lot easier for those of us who make a living doing this.
Q - “But without an outline how do you know when to end your story?”
A - Stories are over when the change in the life of the character has occurred, the questions readers want answered are answered, and the promises you’ve made have been kept. At that point, readers expect no more from the story, and the next logical step would only be the introduction of a new internal, external or interpersonal struggle for the protagonist—in other words, the beginning of a new story.
It might take one act or it might take a dozen, depending on the length of the story, the number of characters and the complexity of the conflict, but when the discovery is made, when the resolution is reached and you’ve fulfilled your promises, the story is over.
Q - “What if you’re writing a complex story? How do you keep everything straight if you don’t outline?”
A - Read the context. Some stories are too complex to outline. My novels often involve dozens of characters, multiple plots and subplots, half a dozen point-of-view characters and single-, double- or triple-twist endings. Even now that the books are written, if someone asked me to outline one of them I can’t imagine how hard that would be.
Make it easier on yourself and write organically. Read the context, jot down notes on the characters if you need to, and keep in mind what readers have in mind. Remember, they’re not going to have character biographies, outlines, and so on in front of them to help keep everything straight as they read your story, so, if you’re trying to write one for them that doesn’t include those things, why would you begin writing the story in such a way that you need them?
Q - “But how can you add a twist if you don’t outline?”
A - When you understand the dynamics of good storytelling, you can’t help but add a twist when you write organically.
The twist will reveal itself to you if you look for it long enough and in the right place by opening your eyes and asking the right questions.
Readers today are narratively astute. Respect them. Assume they’re at least as smart as you are. If you’re not surprised by the direction the story takes as you work on it, many of them won’t be surprised either.