Writing on the Edge

How close to the edge do you write? How far ahead in your story could you put into words and sentences, if you could type like Superman, before you’d have to stop and figure out what to do next?

Maybe we should think of a story in the process of being written as having two sections. The first section is the part of the story where you can – and must – find the concrete words and sentences to draw your ideas out and onto the glowing screen or the sheet of paper on your desk. The second section is further out. It’s the part of the story that you know you’re heading towards, but do not know enough yet to put it into concrete sentences.

How wide this first section is probably varies by the type of writer you are. Planners who have outlined, bullet pointed, and profiled their characters down to the minutiae could, if they were Superman, type the whole book without pausing. Pantsers, on the other hand, Superman or not, might only know enough about their story to speed type to the next paragraph, or the end of the chapter. I suppose most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes. I know I do – I do all my story outlining and choreographing of the scenes in my head, save for timelines which I put on paper to better keep track of those important details.

Anyway, while writing this week, I got to thinking about the concept of having scenes and dialog fixed so clearly in your head that you could hammer them out as fast as you can type. There were a number of days this week that I typed two to three thousand plus words in the course of four or five hours of writing. I could do this only because I had spent two months thinking about those scenes over and over again. My original plan was to hold off writing the story until I had the whole of it in my head like that, but I came to fear that, three or four months down the road, many of these early story details would have been forgotten by then. So I set them down now, and the words flowed. However, having done so, I now have to stop writing to dream up a similar set of details for what comes next. (I’ll edit what I’ve written while I do that dreaming.)

So, how do you write? How much do you know when you start writing, and how much is still vague or even unknown?


  1. Before I start writing, I always have a concluding scene I’m aiming for, and a beginning worked out. I make a lot of notes, but not really an outline. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I write down a timeline so I know how the scenes fit together over time. Except for my first novel, 20 years ago, I find imagining scenes and turning them into words quite challenging. 500 words per day is about as much as I can manage at the first draft stage. 2,000 to 3,000 is impressive!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. chucklitka says:

      With action, even if you have it choreographed in your head, you still need to construct the words and sentences to describe it, whereas dialog is already words and sentences in your head. All you have to do is type them out. I had a lot of dialog to write… And even at 30 words a minute, you can type a whole lot of words in several hours.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Maybe that’s why my books have a lot of dialogue–too much, according to a couple of reviews. Action is hard to render into words while maintaining a balance between too much detail and not enough.


  2. Great question. I guess I usually have a pretty good idea of where I want to go. But my memory of how it actually gets written is… somewhat hazy? Thinking back on completed books, it feels like I knew what needed to happen and just pounded out the words as they came.

    But… I think that my mind is playing tricks on me to an extent. I probably thought about and tweaked it more than I remember, but now my brain just remembers the completed story, and not all the work it took to produce it.


    1. chucklitka says:

      Words come pretty easy to me. Ideas don’t. Just about every story I’ve written has multiple versions that I tried and couldn’t get to work. Some are very different than the original story idea. And I have plenty of abandoned story ideas as well, some with thousands of words written. I rather envy the authors who have more ideas than the time to write them, but we all have to work with the talents we do have.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. kingmidget says:

    I am entirely and completely a pantser. I am certainly not a plotter. The idea of developing outlines and character sketches and plotting the thing out before I start writing is just kind of distasteful. Some of my stories start with a- first line and I go from there. Other stories are, as you describe, outlined in my head — with a little more than a first line, maybe a generalized concept of the arc of the story, but still, a whole lot of gaps in the in between.

    Which can lead to moments like what I’m experiencing at the moment with the piece I’m working on. I got to a point in a scene and I’m not sure how I want to end it, so it’s just been sitting there for a bit, while I ponder it. I’ve decided to leave a note there and move on to the place where I know what I want to write. I’ll come back later and figure out how to complete that scene and transition to the next.

    But … so many stories I write … where it goes is a complete mystery to me until I start writing. My most recent novel, The Dime, began as a short story, and it was supposed to end there, but some feedback suggested I should write more. So I did – a novella’s worth. And then my son read it and said it needed more. So I did – a novel’s worth. And I published that. There is still much more in this story that I could tell if I choose. But the thing is … when I started writing the story, 99% of what came to pass in the pages of that thing were completely unknown to me.

    I think that it is the mystery and the unknown that is the most enjoyable part of writing for me. Figuring out how to tell the story and bridge the gaps and pull the reader along. Frequently, when I’ve got to the point where I know “the rest of the story” is where I struggle with writing. It’s no longer a surprise to me, I feel like it likely isn’t a surprise for the reader either.

    But … the mental process of writing, thinking about it and figuring out where to go, is just as important as the actual writing.


    1. chucklitka says:

      No way that I write the way you do, Mark. I have to know the beginning, and the ending — I pay more attention to the last line than the first. Indeed, I know the last line of the story I’m working on now, though it’s still 75K words down the road, I hope. I do some handwaving over the middle, and these days have to stop at some point when I get there to figure out ho to fill it, but I need an ending in sight.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. kingmidget says:

        Whatever it takes for a writer to put the words together. We all have our ways to go about this. I’m not sure I’ve known what the ending is going to be for any story when I start it.


  4. Anonymole says:

    Cool premise. Made me think… .
    My stories have an arc, but the goal at the end is more a theme and not a specific resolution.
    I am, more and more, trying to sketch stories using C.S.Lakin’s 12 Pillars concept. https://www.livewritethrive.com/2017/09/18/how-you-can-avoid-making-structural-mistakes-in-your-novel
    At least, I’m evaluating my story premises and MCs in such a light. The four main pillars are the critical ones and I’ve copied them here:
    Concept with a Kicker
    Protagonist with a Goal
    Conflict with High Stakes
    Theme with a Heart
    I’ll spend my time dwelling on those and how to make them as concrete and unique as I can — before I begin writing.
    But once I’m in the story? It’s pretty much chapter by chapter planning. And, I always leave myself notes for my next writing session: “storm comes and floods the town, Bob’s family must die, gators begin to eat the bodies…”


    1. kingmidget says:

      Your “process” is more involved than mine. Frequently, a story starts with a prompt and it just goes from there. More and more in recent years, a prompt has led to a short story and then, I revisit it, and it becomes a much larger story. The four main pillars are something I’ve never heard of, but I want to believe that they are inherent in most stories.

      My notes are typically more along the lines of keeping track of things to ensure consistency further down the road. And occasionally, a note about something I want to make sure I include later on.

      Liked by 1 person

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