Marsha Canham's Blog

February 13, 2011

Do you know the end of the story at the beginning?

Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 2:12 pm

I saw this question on one of the Kindleboards and it sort of made me chuckle.  Knowing the end would require knowing the entire story from point A to point B, something I’ve never quite mastered.  Most of the time when I’m setting out to write a new book, I have a vague idea of what I want to happen somewhere  in the middle and the big challenge is writing something that leads up to that scene or thought or idea. The bigger challenge then becomes to write the two main characters out of whatever predicament I’ve gotten them into.  I’ve said it here before, and said it many times over the years to editors, but I don’t work from outlines.  I have no idea where the story is going, I just write it as it unfolds in my mind.  Yes, this causes immeasurable aggravation, especially in a book with a large cast of secondary characters.  But I have always maintained that if I know ahead of time where the story is going and what everyone is going to do…then some of that sense of predictability gets conveyed to the reader.

Plus, I get bored easily LOL.  So if I can surprise myself or write myself into a corner, the challenge keeps me on my toes.

With The Pride of Lions I knew I was starting out with an English heroine and a Scottish hero, and I knew I wanted to use the Jacobite Rebellion as the catalyst for their romance.  What I didn’t know when I set out to write that book was how involved I would get in the history of the period and how little justice I would do it if I just wrote a romance using that history as mere wallpaper.  I did exactly that in the first version of the book and it was finished and ready to get throfted off to the editor, who would be dazzled that I actually met a deadline, when I put the brakes on.  In the final read through I realized it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell, or ought to tell.  So, after much thought and angst, I called the editor and told her I just didn’t like the book in its current form and I was basically scrapping it and starting again. The bonus, I told her, would be a much broader story, with richer secondary characters and an automatic sequel, since I knew what I had already was well over 400 pages and I wanted more, more, more.  Thus the Pride of Lions became two books, and the sequel, The Blood of Roses, added another year to the research and writing, but in the end gave me the satisfaction of knowing I had done the best I could possibly do with  that heroic and tragic episode in Scotland’s history.

Using another example of not knowing where I was going with a story…the medievals.   I was having lunch with my editor at the time, Maggie MacLaren, and I told her about this recurring dream I’d had for many years, since well back in my teens, which of course perked her ears up.  She suggested I write it down just as I had seen it over and over and over, and when I did,she read it, encouraged me to write a story around it, and in the end,  it became the prologue for Through A Dark Mist.  I did not set out to write a Robin Hood trilogy, did not even think of the Robin Hood angle until the book was nearly finished and I stumbled across an obscure mention of the lost princess of Brittany.  That set MY ears perking and with very little revising required, I went back through the mist and changed a few things in order to write that little princess into the book.  That was what gave me the idea for the sequel, In the Shadow of Midnight, where the lost princess is found, and somewhere in there the whole Robin Hood theme started to take shape and I had a blast adding characters from the legends and making it look like that had been my intention all along.  The Last Arrow was a blatant ripoff of the part of the legend where Robin dies and in order for his body to remain hidden for all time, an arrow is shot into the forest and where it landed was where he was buried.  By then I was in full Robin Hood mode…but…because I hadn’t set out to write my take on the legend in Through A Dark Mist, I had to skew things around a bit so that the events in the first book would look like I had deliberately set up the events in books two and three .

Sorry to disappoint anyone who thought I was exceptionally clever and planned it all along LOL.  A lot of what fell into place was sheer dumb luck, but hey, I just nod and smile and say yup, plotted it out that way from the beginning *s*




  1. Well, however they happened, I certainly loved all those books! So it must’ve been the “right” way to do it, as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

    Comment by Nicola O. — February 13, 2011 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

  2. I agree, no matter how you approach a story, it always comes out a good read!

    Comment by Jill Metcalf — February 13, 2011 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

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