Thursday, May 26, 2011

I like to ruin surprises

No, really, I do (only for myself, though). If there's one thing I hate in life, it's not knowing stuff. It slays me. It drives me nuts. And I will go out of my way, frequently, often, to find out the endings of things. Yep, I'm talking movies I haven't seen yet, TV series that are episodes (or seasons) behind on Australian TV, birthday presents that are being kept secret, the gender of my daughter at 20 weeks gestation (there was no WAY I was waiting for that one), anything. You don't even want to know what I did to my poor husband when he was about to propose and took a little too long getting around to it...

You may (nay, no doubt will) call me a huge spoilsport for this. In fact, I'm sure many of you are sitting there open-mouthed trying to comprehend what I mean.

Let me elaborate:

If there's a movie I want to see that sounds great, before I go see it, you know what I'll do? I'll go dig up the Wikipedia or IMDB page and read all about it. If I'm watching one on TV and it starts getting a bit suspenseful, out comes Google. There have even been times where I've been enjoying a book so much (yes, it's really coming- it really is...) that I've flipped to the back and read the last page.

I'll give you a sec to stop spluttering.

Family and friends have rolled eyes, told me I'm nuts, and lamented the fact that I'm ruining all my own fun more times than I can count, but I'm a happy camper. It's just my way. I just like to know, and knowing the ending doesn't disappoint me in any way- it brings me an even greater appreciation of the journey to get there.

When it comes to writing, are you at all surprised to hear that I'm an obsessively detailed outliner? For many, the idea of knowing the ending of the story before you start it is slightly horrifying. For others who might start the story with the end in mind, the idea of planning out every event is just ruining the fun of step-by-step discovery. But for me, it's what inspires me, drives my enthusiasm, and keeps me going, and it's necessary for a bigger reason that that.

I've just started a new WIP this week, and I'm in that first flush of love phase. This is the best book idea EVAH. Oh man, what will they put on the cover? Who'll play the main character in the movie? Never mind it hasn't got a title yet and it's all of 2000 words long, it's... yeah, it's love, all right.

At this point, just like a new romance, many writers like to take it slow and steady. Get to know these people and places page by page, and feel out where they're heading. There's anticipation in the unknown, and joy in exploring that dark road one street-lamp at a time.

For me, the first step is to work out everything that's going to happen in the story, and get it down in a huge outline. You could say I'm the kind of writer who goes all the way on the first date (grin). The biggest reason for this, beyond the absolute truckload of excitement and enthusiasm I get from it, is that I'm not good at navigating by street lamp. If I have to follow a story step by step without knowing where I'm going and exactly what landmarks I'll pass on my way, I'll either end up hopelessly lost, somewhere that does me no good at all, or crashed through someone's front fence.

I need to know where I'm going and how to get there, or I'm guaranteed disappointment.

No amount of horrified looks will make me change, because I'm happy, and it works.

But one thing I have realised recently is that I need to approach my fiction the way I do my real-life spoilers. When it comes to all the other endings I have to find out for myself, I would never in a million years ruin them for someone else. And yet when it comes to my own story, I have on occasion been a bit obsessed with telling my crit partners all about it, seeking their thoughts on things I haven't written yet, particularly the ending.

It occurred to me recently that part of what I enjoy about knowing the ending to various things is being able to anticipate and watch the reactions of others to that. But by revealing all to my beta readers before the fact, I take away both their surprise, and my own version of anticipation. I do, in fact, reduce the enjoyment for myself.

I've been told many times that it's best not to tell other people your endings, but I'm really clicking with that now.

So, no spoilers from me on the new story. I'll keep my cards close to my chest on this one- though I already know the order of the whole pack.

Do you love the anticipation of the unknown? Or are you impatient about endings- your own and others- too?


  1. The word that came to mind here was... "weird". Hehe, I don't understand that "wanting to know the end before I get there" thing. I like to be in suspense. But I accept that some people are not like me. Hehe

  2. "Weird" is a word I'm very familiar with, and comfortable with, too. Hehe. Don't worry, I'm not like *anyone* I've ever met when it comes to this ;)

  3. Hmm, well, I, too, have been guilty of googling endings of movies whilst watching them to put an end to the suspense. Nice to know that they don't all die at the end, or if they do, to prepare for it. (g) But I must say I haven't ever done the same with a book; in fact, the more suspenseful a book, the more likely I am to keep ploughing through all the suspense just to get to the end. Go figure.

    And as for sharing my WIP ... well you *know* that hasn't been something I've done much of in the past. :-P Partly that's just me, but partly that's because I haven't wanted to give everything away to you poor suckers who will eventually - God willing - read the thing. I want to have your critique based on your genuine, authentic, unadulterated reactions to what I've written, as first time readers ... much like what the reaction of an agent or publisher would be. That's the theory, anyhow!

  4. Rach, I know, I'm a nut about the book endings. I don't do it often, but you know... sometimes I just can't help myself. I've certainly come around to your way of thinking when it comes to sharing the writing, though.

  5. Tee hee. Claire, you remind me of Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, when his character says that he reads the ending of a book as soon as he starts it so that he'll know how it ends in case he happens to die before he finishes. :D

    Me? When it comes to something I'm reading or watching, I never want to know the ending before I get there.

    However, if it's my own book, then I have to know. I need to know how it ends so I can navigate where I'm going. With FIRELIGHT, the first chapters I wrote were the beginning and the end. I knew exactly how Archer would meet Miranda, and exactly how she would ultimately be his savior. It was all that stuff in the middle that was a mystery. :)

  6. I'm an oddball on that one. I hate having surprises ruined for me - gifts, etc. But, I can *never* stop myself from turning to the last couple of pages of a book while I'm mid-way through reading!

    Yea! for new WiP love. Ain't it great? [g]

  7. Woop! Another book-ruining nut! Let's hang out :D

    New WIP love is the best :)

  8. @Kristen, yes! I mean, not quite the same reasoning as Harry, but I totally get him.

    I love that the middle holds such mystery for you :) For me it's like a swamp, full of nasty patches of quicksand, shifty shadows, and lots of leeches, all in a completely un-entertaining way (g).

  9. Do. Not. Tell. Me. The. Ending. Ever.

    Of anything--books, movies, TV shows.

    I also cannot bear to find out what I'm getting for Christmas, not even accidentally.

    Not surprisingly, I write the same way I like to read (or watch)anything for the first time--to find out what happens.

    And I love writing middles! That's where I get to run with scissors and write on the walls.

    Endings are a bear, though. They require so much more discipline. [g]

  10. Claire, I can't say I've never peeked at the ending of a book, but it's rare. I'd rather be surprised. Where I'm weird about it is, I like to watch movies and tv episodes alone first, with no one else's reactions influencing my viewing experience. Then I enjoy watching it with my husband, safe in knowing how it ends and having formed my own opinion about it.

    For my own writing I'm with you. I'd be flailing and freaking about the dark between the street lights if I had to feel my way through a plot, step by step.

    I plot the big stuff, the main beats, stuff about character arc, the historical framework I'm hanging my characters' story on. Then I break it down into thirds, or quarters (or Acts), and plot the first third in much more detail. Then I start writing, plotting out scenes a chapter ahead of where I'm at. When I get close to the next section, I'll pause for a week and plot that out in more detail. Then back to writing, scene plotting, until I've eaten up that bit of outline. But all the while as plot ideas (or scene/dialogue snippets) for later stuff drop in, I'll plug them into the expanding outline where I think they should go.

    It's a messy process, but works for me.

    I totally get what you mean about middles. I'm navigating one now. Watching my footing!

  11. I don't usually look up the ending for books, but sometimes I do it for other things.

    New WIP love is wonderful, innit?

    I also get new scene love, new character love, etc etc...

    I've learned that when I am COMPLETELY SMITTEN with something I've written, it's definitely not the right time to show somebody. As bonkers as I am to share it, I have to cool down to a point where I won't be crushed if I get criticism of it. [g]

    Once I have come back down to earth, so to speak, and I start to see the little cracks in the proverbial wall, then I know it's time to share and get feedback.

  12. Claire,
    I'm abaaack! I hope...I'm at Momma's and I'm trying to post a comment.

    FWIW, I do like to figure out presents, but I *don't* look at the end of books. I read lightning fast to get to the end, and have to go back and reread for the details. So keep your WIP to yourself until you want my unvarnished reaction.

  13. Claire, Now that's a relief in one way--at least I posted to you.

  14. Hmm... I was going to come down hard on the I don't want to know! side, but I'm not sure. I'm a waffler in this area.

    I like *knowing* things but I don't mind waiting out a film or book. I have skipped ahead a few times in a book or two, but that's when it was just killing me that something horrible would happen. Even then, I kinda hold the book away from my face, try not to see too many words...

    I can never decide if I really want to know in advance or not.

    Afterward, though - that's when I really hit Google, IMDB, all those things. I want the background info and the history and buildup and projections and trivia.

    Doesn't work at all when it comes to writing, however - I could never ever be a plotter. *shudder*

    I like wending my way through the maze :-)

  15. I never want there to BE an end, and I frequently forget the details OF the end (which helps me be a happy re-reader) so I seldom have any pressing need to know how it's going to turn out. That said, I don't much mind either way if I know the ending or not. Which I think is fine as a reader, but it stinks as a writer. This whole plot arc thing is NOT my strong skill. ;-)
    Best to all!

  16. One more time, Claire. ; )
    Zan Marie

  17. Wow! It worked. For those having problems--
    When you are asked to sign in, unclick the keep me signed in box. It worked the last time. I'm going to try it again.

    And thanks for putting up with off topic comments. ; )

  18. @Beth- never fear, I have an extremely strict personal code that forbids me to reveal endings to others. I like to run with scissors and write on the walls through the middle, too- except I like to know what room I'm in first, so I can decide what the most appropriate topic of my scribblings should be ;)

    @Lori, that's interesting about you needing to watch things alone! I'm the total opposite- I love to discuss it as it's happening. But on the plotting front, we sound pretty similar. I plan everything from the beginning, but I do more detailed planning before I tackle each quarter of the novel.

  19. @Jill- all those new loves are the best :) I tend to send my work out for others to read the *instant* it hits the page- that's the time I crave feedback more than ever, and I'm still silly enough to do it even when I know it's not the best idea. But I'm training myself out of it, gradually :)

    @Zan Marie- glad you got your commenting problems sorted out eventually :) I take after my mother- she reckons she's never got a present she didn't know about first, having spent her whole childhood sneaking in under the Christmas tree, learning how to open and re-seal sticky tape so that her snooping went unnoticed... A couple of years ago I finally managed to hide a present from her until the right time- I pulled the ultimate swifty and hid it in the back of a cupboard in her own house, instead of in mine :) She never thought to look there.

  20. @Deniz- I know there are plenty of people in your anti-plotting camp. Home, in that respect, is where the heart is ;)

    @Gretchen- now that's an interesting perspective! I'm a bit obsessed with endings, hence the desire to know all about them. I can see how not feeling the same desire would make one slightly more immune to that :)

  21. "I like to run with scissors and write on the walls through the middle, too- "

    LOL. Yes, I'd say that pretty much sums you up!