I’ve mentioned before that the novel I’m currently working on is the first for which I’ve had a full plot outline developed before I even started writing.
This is where I admit that I’ve had to re-outline the story, one year after I made the first outline.
It’s not as bad as you might think. Through writing — the process of which is more comparable to a jigsaw puzzle than a journey — I’ve found points in the original concept which were weak and needed to be restructured in order to prevent the whole thing from collapsing.
I’m sorry, the metaphor has gone from puzzle to 3-D structure. And I suppose that’s a good thing, because a good story should have depth.
In the last two weeks, I’ve discovered that two characters needed their roles to be swapped entirely, which has changed parts of the ending. Each of them has come out the stronger for it — words like “agency” and “responsibility” and “independence” factor in a lot, which is common when you’re dealing with teenagers. The changes to the ending have made things a smidge more complex, but not in a negative way — everything can be explained without the use of handwavium, at least. Handwavium can be annoying if it’s too obvious.
The antagonist’s backstory needed a restructure because it was slipping into a particular cliché which has been badly overused in other media and which I have always been distinctly uncomfortable with. Improving this also happened during the past fortnight, and as a result their motivations and reasoning have cemented more clearly, and also had a serious knock-on effect on the ending. Whoops.
This has had the unfortunate consequence of changing the map. It’s like when you set up for a road trip: you think you know the route and then shortly after leaving the house you get Facebook notes and Twitter pings from people who would just LOVE to meet up with you for coffee when you’re in the area — and being “in the area” might be as vague as being within 100 miles. I’ve literally taken the existing text and gone through it in reverse, reducing each part to a series of plot points from end to beginning, and then filled in the gaps between them so I know which remaining puzzle pieces belong where. The old outline has been deleted entirely because it no longer applies.
I’m really not certain how often this happens to other writers. Despite having had a dream job where I got paid to be creative, I still feel novitiate at times. I’ve been letting the text develop on its own, rather than forcing it to conform to the original, six-year-old concept because that original concept sucked (well, maybe not that bad, but it could be framed as juvenile and under-developed, as well as being a product of my lack of experience with life at the time). What I have now is better than what I thought it would be a year ago, and I really hope that, a year from now, it’s even better.
Hell, it’d be nice to have it finished and maybe even released into the wild in another year. I’d be cool with that.
It’s tough to be a creative type — you really are your own worst critic. Others can look at your work and think, “Well, it’s not how I’d have done it, but it’s pretty good!” and in the mean-time you’ll be picking it apart because it’s not precisely what you wanted it to be. This part and that part can always be changed just so, but in the end, you have to save it off and admit that any more fussing will be counter-productive, even if it’s not perfect.
I got annoyed a few weeks ago when I started considering making a serious change to a character. Their role had already been under major editing a few times, and I was content with where it had ended up… except that I wasn’t, and kept finding bits that bothered me. Allowing the change to happen improved things, but it also led directly to the change I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago where I completely swapped two characters and their roles within the story.
If you’ve ever made too many attempts to draw something, eventually the eraser wears away the paper quality and ruins the potential for drawing anything; writing is similar, in that if you spend too much time worrying over something, it can get muddied and indistinct. But again, if something is too precious to not be permitted to change in order to make the entire story better, it’s not worth keeping in the first place. I have this approach to pretty much all of life, these days, which is why I’m a-okay with pre-furnished apartments — it makes moving on easier when you’re not loaded down with baggage.
It’s really just a matter of figuring out what’s worth carrying with you, and what’s worth leaving behind.