I think as writers we sometimes get caught up in our own stories. In the sense that we come to believe that that’s how it really happened. We’re making up a world, making up characters, making up the events that happen to them and yet, we think that’s how it was.
And then we sometimes get trapped by our own belief in what we’ve written. “Well, I can’t have THAT happen in this scene. I mean, that’s not how the story goes.”
When these feelings are born out of a need for consistency, that’s a good thing. You know, “John can’t just suddenly call forth a fire-ball and annihilate the army because that’s not how magic works in this world. You have to build up reserves and even if he had full reserves right now, he could only annihilate three people at most. And then he’d be unconscious for five days.”
That type of thinking is essential for any story. Characters, setting, magic, etc. all have to follow a set of rules consistent to the story. If they don’t, you tend to piss of readers.
When it isn’t about consistency, though, that’s when you can run into problems.
Because if you try too hard to keep to your original idea, you either end up telling a story that isn’t as good as it could be or you don’t finish the story.
I’m currently taking what was a 17,000 word novelette and fleshing it out into a novel. That required adding about 30,000 words before the start of the novelette.
The basic story arc has remained the same, but so much has changed as the story has developed that I’ve pretty much had to scrap most of the scenes from the novelette. (This also highlights the differences between short stories and novels–for me a big difference between the two is the focus and intensity levels.)
So, end result for this project is that a villain in the novelette isn’t going to be a villain anymore. Turns out his motivations are a little more complex than I realized and he isn’t going to do the horrible thing he did in the novelette.
Now, I could’ve insisted on trying to write him the same way he is in the novelette. And I would probably be stuck 10,000 words back trying to turn the story in a direction it doesn’t want to go.
Or I could do what I am doing and that’s just go with the flow and see where it takes me.
It’s a weird feeling to realize that your story can change so much from what it started out as and to see how resistant we sometimes are to making those changes.
I’ve been thinking of rewriting the first novel I wrote to focus the plot in on one of the three primary characters. The plot currently has a subplot about a disease that a different character brings to the island (it’s an isolated world and he’s an outsider, so…). Well, if I drop that character and his whole plot line from the story, the disease subplot is more of a distraction than anything. I can see readers wondering, “Why is this in here? This is weird.”
I can’t tell you how hard it’s been to wrap my mind around the notion of dropping that disease subplot from the story. Because, well, that’s what happened, right? While Character A was off doing his thing, Character C arrived and brought disease.
Except, that’s ALL IN MY HEAD. There is no real world where any of that happened. I can change it any way I want to, because IT’S NOT REAL. But try really believing that of a story you spent months writing.
It’ll be a better story if I can bring myself to change it, but I’m going to have to fight myself every step of the way to make that happen. It’s not written in stone. It isn’t.
Now to just believe that…
I have rewritten quite a few of my short works: the first thing I finished when I decided to start writing again was (ironically) the last thing I wrote before pressure of work caused me to stop writing fiction for years.
Some of them stayed much the same apart from better style, but I discovered developmental issues in several of them.