I Used to Worry About Finishing Stories…

I’d plan them in minute detail, I’d obsess over the twists, the climax, the ending.

And then I learned, as I’ve written in many other places, to just turn off my mind and to follow my characters. I learned to let my subconscious take over and to let the story go where it wanted.

But even though I’d learned this way of writing, I was still gripped by the worry that the story I was writing was going nowhere, that I would write myself into a corner, that the story would just crash. 80 000 words into a novel and I would have to abandon my work and start again on something else.

I was so gripped by this worry that I planned my first novel, Recursion, in quite a lot of detail. My second novel, Capacity, was also minutely plotted, but it veered off course halfway through. I took a deep breath and followed it and, hey, it worked.

Twisted Metal started off as one novel; it ended up being split into two when one character, Kavan, broke free and refused to do what I wanted him to. By the time I started Blood and Iron, my fifth novel, plotting beyond the bare minimum had gone out of the window.

Even so, I worried if the thing would end properly. I’ve written most of my short stories without plotting, but there’s less risk there, only 5000 words stand to be lost if things go wrong.

When I started on my most recent novel, I still worried about the ending, but yet again, everything worked.

This time, however, I realised whilst I was writing that it always will. I know it will.

Because if you’re following your characters and letting them be themselves then the story will resolve itself – maybe not how you want it, but there will be an ending. After all, that’s the way it works in real life.

The trouble comes when you try and force your characters to be what they’re not. When you twist them and make them act in arbitrary fashions to satisfy your plot. That’s when the contradictions build up and the story crashes.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t plot. I still write structured outlines, particularly after I’ve written the first draft. That way I can see how to make the story better.

What I am saying is that, in my experience, problems with stories come with too much plotting, not too little.


  1. Hi Tony, that sounds like good advice but do you have any news on the 3rd Penrose novel? I bought the first two, in hardback, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. It’s been seven years now, how’s the plot coming along?

      1. That is great news.. I decided I was going to give you a break from me hounding you every few months so I was pleased to read the above without having to ask myself.. (I started to feel like the woman from Misery, don’t worry, I wont get the sledge hammer out).
        I have just gotten 2 more people to read your books. They decided they were going to read Twisted Metal + Blood and Iron even without the 3rd book (which they were not too happy about) but they could see how passionate I was about the first two, they were going to read them anyway.
        Keep up the great work. I have my fingers crossed the artwork for the hardbacks will match the previous two. +plus, the book of shorts.

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