Thursday, July 8, 2010

There You Go Changing the Story!

In reading writer and author blogs, it’s interesting to see how everyone goes about creating and altering their story.

But first, I want to mention that the Hollywood Spy hit 100,000 visitors yesterday. Party at Dezz’s place this weekend!

Okay, back to the story.

Some prefer to outline first, either basic or in detail. (I’m a planner, so that works well for me.) I noticed some create storyboards, moving scenes around. A couple people even move entire chapters.

What’s really interesting is at what point does the story change? Granted there’s an evolution from conception to finished product, but there’s a drastic change at some point in the process as well.

Perhaps it’s in the initial stages of the concept. An idea hits, a plot emerges, and then that person backtracks and starts a new path. Maybe that person just throws out ‘what ifs’ and decides what works best.

Maybe it’s after the initial draft is complete. During the first round of editing, the writer discards whole sections and even characters. He might even write a whole new ending.

(My friend, Glynis, recently lost 25,000 words of her manuscript. Crap! She’s rewriting that section now, making some big changes, and says it will be even better. Good for her!)

For me, the drastic changes come before I even begin writing. I think back to my initial concept for CassaStar. By the time I decided I was going to write the story and formed an outline, it looked nothing like my original vision. I’d discarded everything but the two main characters (and their names), the title, and one pivotal scene. But considering what I’d originally imagined, that’s a good thing!

So what about all my writer friends? At what point in the process do you stand your concept on its ear and change everything?

And I was informed the Blog Book Tour class would be critiquing my blog first on Monday - should I be nervous?


Mason Canyon said...

No worries for Monday. You'll receive flying colors.

Thoughts in Progress

Karen Jones Gowen said...

When you go back to it after 6 weeks and realize it's crap! Good luck with the blogfest!

Jamie Gibbs said...

Good luck with the blog book tour. You've no reason to be nervous, it'll be awesome :D

Usually, my story changes once an idea for a totally different story pops into my head, and I end up combining two ideas and interweaving them. I'm not one for planning stories in advance, though, so I usually change things quite a lot as I write.

Natasha said...

One draft of one book old, so really cannot tell, but to me the change came one month after I finished writing the book, and I read it again. Found dozens of things I could do better, and decided to re-do the whole thing from scratch.
four months down, yet to start. But the new chapter, the new background story, blah, blah, blah is done in my mind. The only thing that is the same in the new version are the characters.

And all the best for the start of the blog tour. The last moments of anticipation are always the worst.

Ted Cross said...

Hmm, I haven't yet done a huge change to my stories. That may come if I never get any interest from agents as it stands, or perhaps I will stick it in the drawer and wait until I sell something else first.

j.m. neeb said...

I tend to make changes on the fly. Of course, I'm not a planner and have not employed the "outline the story" method before -- although, I am considering it to give me more focus.

After a bit of writing, I can just kind of tell when something isn't working. At that point, I'll either scrap it on the spot, or make a note to give it more thought and scrap it on a later spot.

Anne Gallagher said...

I usually make small changes after the first draft. Then I let it sit for awhile. When I go in for another round, that's when things get really interesting. I tend to cut and chop.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Rayna, good luck with that complete rewrite.

And thanks everyone for the encouragement about Monday. Just hoping the group won't tear apart my blog.

Hannah said...

My process is much like yours. Everything changes when I begin outlining. The main idea will still be there but what I had originally planned for it will change and become something, I hope, will be better.

Budd said...

I have been writing for a specefic ending and then once I got their realized that it didn't fit the characters. That sucks.


When writing a short story I've been energized by a sentence that popped into my head or a character's name and that drives the story, gives me all the parts and the story seems to be all there and I just have to write it.

However, with book length, and I don't have tons of experience here, my idead never changed. The way I told the story did. I had the bare bones, written from beginning to end in two months - my first novel.
Then it took many rewrites to get to the novel I now have.

While it's not yet published, I have hope that it will be. As I read through it now I feel I'm holding a published book in my hands.

Every author has his/her own process.

Hopefully as we write and create the story only improves.

Happy writing day to you!

Matthew MacNish said...

Hmm, well considering my first draft was over 400k words long I suppose it did go through some major changes. And I've begun re-writing it into first person, so there is that too.

That being said there were no major changes to the plot. I've dropped a lot of backstory, one or two characters, and toned down all the detailed descriptions, but the basic story is the same.

I don't intend to change it unless I simply cannot get an agent to rep it.

Summer Frey said...

When I was beating my head against the wall so hard that I knew there was something I was missing. Turns out I was right! It really is a minor shift, but it changes everything.

I'm pretty sure I'll be cutting more than 25k (sigh), but I know it's all for the best...

Stephanie Lorée said...

The first draft is the toughest for me. As I'm writing it, things are evolving and changing. By the end, I've usually realized an entirely different story I want to tell. The plot has arched in strange ways. Characters that I never imagined must be invented, and ones I loved are dead.

The second draft is much easier for me. Revisions come naturally as things stream-line into place.

That initial rough draft though, that's the steepest mountain I have to climb.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

You will do great! Whatever is critiqued you will fix and make it even better.

Stories are about evolving. The true story and characters will show if we don't get in the way.

DEZMOND said...

yep, the party is on at Dezz's place, Alex is buying the drinks :)) and he also promised to do a solo dance performance for the guests :)) to the tune of Lady Gaga's ALEJANDRO :)

When it comes to the topic of your post, Alex, before I started working in the publishing industry, I thought the writing process is a spontaneous thing in which words and sentences and plots and stories just flow right out of you, because that's the way I've always done it. I never plan anything when I write. But then I met a lot of writers who approach their job almost scientifically, with dissecting, cutting, removing, breaking, combining, planning and plotting ... and that was the moment when I realised how writing isn't easy for everyone.

Throughout my career I've read a lot of manuscripts in which writers just put too much of everything into their novels and put to many unnecessary details, and then they lose the whole story in the sea of narrative and linguistic mess. That's why I'm not surprised when somebody has to cut a half of his or her novel.

My advice is always the same - write your books and stories as a film - you have to constantly visualize everything in your book and keep the plot dynamic and well developed. Just use your imagination and don't think too much unless you wanna make an artificial non spontaneous philosophical book :) .

Helen Ginger said...

Usually my story changes in the rewrite phase - and I have been known to rearrange chapters and do major cutting.

Sarah Ahiers said...

mine changes throughout. It may change in the beginning, but large changes usually happen past the 50% complete mark

Jemi Fraser said...

Monday will be great!

I tend to let the ending and the characters walk around in my head for a while before I start to write. I think that's when I do most of my cutting.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

My characters tend to take over by the middle of the first draft and that’s usually when my story changes from my original idea.

You should have no worries about Monday.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Budd, I bet that did suck.

B. Whittington, my changes after writing the first draft were similar to yours - adjustments but nothing drastic.

Matthew, eliminating that many words is a big change. Hope you find an agent or publisher.

Summer, it will be better!

Mesmerix, the first draft is most difficult for me as well.

Not gonna happen, Dezz! The dancing, not the drinks - I'll bring those.
And that's good advice. Preston and Child's books read like a screenplay, constantly moving forward. I'm such a movie buff, I easily saw my novel as a movie while writing it.

Karen, that's good to know!

Southpaw said...

Crude they critique blogs on a blog tour. Yipes, but you should be fine. It's quite nice here.

I think each story has its own evolution.

Raquel Byrnes said...

I usually go over notes midaway through and see if the end I have in mind still makes sense. If not I look at what needs to change...the story, the end, the character.

I do make plot blocks - scenes that I move around in my writing software, but usually all the changes take place in my noggin first.

As for Monday, I wouldn't sweat it. I've always loved the professional and engaging set-up of your blog. You're gonna be fine.

The Old Silly said...

I took that class years ago, and no - don't be worried ... be prepared! (wink)

Relax, you'll be fine, as is this blog.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Raquel, I pictured just randomly moving around chapters in my book and wow, what a mess! Your method makes sense.
And thanks - I hope Monday will go well.

Hart Johnson said...

I do a fair amount of changing like you do... before much writing happens--I WILL typically write a scene or two to get to know my characters, but the BIG ideas have actually been the ones (my first book and my trilogy) where I was working with an idea, set it aside, had a separate, unrelated idea, and then an epiphany for combining them--that is how you write a LONG story.

I am thinking though... Jan Morris is revising--she wrote (a pantser) then wrote three synopses of the book she'd done, THEN she revised her synopsis--I think for CONFLUENCE, my first, it may be my best shot at actually selling it--as it is seems to not get agents excited, even though I've had readers love it... it is too dense and a little complicated. So it will really change, and that is HOW...revise the synopsis, then go through and remove big sections, and WRITE pieces that aren't currently there (or change things that need changing)


Thanks for an interesting post I love reading about authors of books, as I write poetry I write if and when it takes me, I'm not sure I could write a book to be honest.
Don't start worrying about Monday,'s only Thursday to day.
I'm sure you'll do fine,


ediFanoB said...

First of all you should not be worried. There is no reason for that.

I'm no writer. Therefore I can't imagine what it means for an author to change a story.
But I like to read posts like yours because I like to look "behind the scene".

Arlee Bird said...

I tend to keep most everything in my head which is probably a pretty bad idea. Sometimes I will do some outlining, but not very structured or formal. I will also write some notes on occasion just to experiment. The most helpful thing I do is draw a timeline to keep all of the events straight. It's kind of like an outline I guess but more visual like a storyboard.

Tossing It Out

Beth Zimmerman said...

I suspect Alex, that you will survive the encounter just fine!

Lisa said...

I think changing the story even if it is midway, but for the better of the book is okay. After all, you will get to know the characters better after writing them and there might be skeletons that may start coming out.

All the best for Monday, and beyond.

Doralynn Kennedy said...

First, congrats on your upcoming book release. I'm working on a mystery/ghost story right now. I'm posting chapters at TNBW, and I'm getting some questions that help me know what readers are thinking. I love that kind of feedback. It helps me to know if I'm making the mystery too obvious -- or too obscure.

And Yikes for Glynis!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

What you said, Hart!

Edi, I can give you some weird behind the scenes now!

Lee, that's a good idea.

Doralynn, that's what I said. She's taking it in stride, though. Thanks for following.

Zoe C. Courtman said...

For me, it's sorta about layers. I started with a basic idea for the horror MS I'm working on. I plug away, come up with (HIDEOUS) initial ideas sometimes, and then freak out that it's not resonant or horrific enough. But then, when I'm driving or running errands or walking/jogging (always doing something physical), another layer will come to me, something that raises the stakes or shows a side of the character I hadn't expected. Then I rush back, start writing, and it begins again...:D

Glynis Peters said...

Can you read this OK Alex, I am writing through the tears. Firstly I am shedding them because of the rewrite, but mainly because of you.
Thank you so much for thinking of me, and sharing my story with your friends.

I am not going to let this beat me, not when I have so many friends holding me together. I am now 10,000 words short of my original 80,000, so am getting there.

You have no worries about your blog, it is superb!

A girly hug for a man with a big heart, from Cyprus. :)

Powdered Toast Man said...

I heard Jaws was originally suppose to be a love story but then Spielberg ditched that script.

Idk what my visitor count is up to. I forgot my password to Sitemeter and it won't email it to me.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Zoe, that's an interesting way to do it!

Aw, Glynis, you just had such a great attitude about the whole thing! It's not a loss, it's a gain, as your story will be so much stronger now.

Powdered, that sucks!

Will Burke said...

There is a LOT of great insights here. I came to a point of "who's going to rescue this drowning victem?" and these dilemas will stump me for days. It started as a minor detail 'till I followed the threads, and realised he needed another 'Hero.'

Christine Danek said...

Now that I realize how crappy my first draft is and I have changed the beginning numerous times. I am now looking at the whole thing ready to change parts and take out chapters. I've already lost a few characters.
RE-writes are in order for this baby.
HAve a great weekend!

Karen Lange said...

I realize I employ many methods as I write. I start out as a planner but things just roll from there.
Happy weekend,

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Ah but Will, Tina Turner says "We Don't Need Another Hero." Just kidding! Hope you can work one in somewhere.

Christine, wow! That's a lot of work.

Tara said...

Sounds like we might have a similar approach. I usually have an idea in my head and run with it. Most of the "first draft" gets written in there. By the time I start to write it down, it's changed up quite a bit from my original thoughts. And it changes more and more as I go.

Peggy Frezon said...

I usually outline, then write my first draft all the way through without going back and making any major changes. Just get it out. Then the rewrites. Major cutting and rewriting of anything that doesn't fit the story arc or propel the action forward.
Happy writing to you!

Lydia Kang said...

I've done it everywhich way, but this time around I'm hoping to do any plot changes before I actually start the actual writing. Everyone is different I guess. By trial and error, I've decided I'd rather do my major plot revisions before I write the book!

Ella said...

Don't be nervous; You'll be GREAT!

I think it is like painting, different techniques, different palettes of color, different paint..what works for some, doesn't for others! I'm happy you found your way...can't wait~

Thanks for sharing the Hollywood Spy...I am really enjoying the ride~

Carol Kilgore said...

How cool - you'll pass that critique with flying colors.

Each story is different, as is each writer. I love learning how different writers approach the craft.

Elizabeth Mueller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth Mueller said...

Naw, your blog rocks.

I've changed certain places in my WIP when the MCs go way to far and out of hand and the book takes on a grotesque form of its own.

There are times when I edit, I discover so much cheese in it that I HAVE to remove them--even if it's an entire scene. I do this gladly, too!!!

Thanks for visiting my blog! Have a splendiferous weekend, Alex! :D

RaShelle Workman said...

No worries Alex! I do enjoy your blog whenever I pop over.

I've completed two novels now. With the first one, I thought it was good, but knew something was missing. When I found it, I rewrote with the changes. With the second, I made the changes before I wrote it. Now that I'm in rewrites, there are only little changes here and there that I'm making.

Once again, good luck - not that you need any!!!! ;-D

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Ellie, glad you're enjoying Dezz's site!

Everyone else, thanks. And it's fascinating to hear how each person approaches changes. As varied as people themselves.

Cruella Collett said...

For my current WiP I had a relatively straightforward plot figured out, and when I first started writing it I followed that religiously. But then I started adding things that I later figured needed more explaining, and some new plot twists and subplots were born. THEN I realized that I had been focusing on the wrong love interest for my protag all along, and I completely changed my mind about how I wanted the story to end. Once this was done, I realized my main character needed some serious alterations, so now I am trying to work that in as well.

So yes, the map changes as we walk. But I still think it is a good idea to start out with a map, and then rewrite the map as we go.

Good luck on Monday! :)

notesfromnadir said...


Congrats Dezmond of Hollywood Spy! I really like your blog.

Also, for Glynis, on losing 25,000 words. That's a lot, but your attitude is great! Here's wishing you the best!

Writing, like life, is all about change. You may envision your story going in a certain direction, but oftentimes the characters will have other ideas. Writing the first draft is always a very creative process & when it flows, it flows & be grateful!

Emmalyn said...

Re: For me, the drastic changes come before I even begin writing. I think back to my initial concept for CassaStar. By the time I decided I was going to write the story and formed an outline, it looked nothing like my original vision. I’d discarded everything but the two main characters (and their names), the title, and one pivotal scene.

How can you have that much to "change" and you haven't even started writing? Do you do that much composition in your head before putting pen to paper, or do you mean, writing the first full draft or some other not-quite-the-first-thing-on-paper version?