December 17th, 2009, 01:24 PM
Ideas keep changing.
If you’ve begun writing a story and are suddenly struck with brilliance in a new story/plot direction. Would you add this new element, knowing it would require a complete re-write, or simply accept what you’ve written and bare it?
This always seems to be my dilemma.
Ideas keep changing, which greatly improves the plot/ story….. yet I’m constantly backtracking, never actually getting anything done.
December 17th, 2009, 02:10 PM
If it required large rewrites, I would not do it. The thing is, there are an infinite number of ways to write a story, to twist the plot, add characters, change this and change that ... at one point, you just have to stick with something. Otherwise, you like you said, you'll never get anything done.
December 17th, 2009, 03:40 PM
It really depends on the scope and where I am at with the story.
As I do my work in four drafts, any new idea in the first and second draft is welcome and encouraged.
Any idea in the third draft has to have only a minimal effect on previous chapters - I'm still game to change future chapters as long as the basic plot line is not affected.
Fourth draft - no way in hell. It's all about polishing up - and by now I've promised a delivery date.
December 17th, 2009, 08:13 PM
There is no tomorrow
All the writing I've done starts like this (for novels):
1) Get an idea, write 20 pages or so.
2) Encounter difficulty when trying to introduce first plot point.
3) Write several drafts of first plot point.
4) Realize that there is nothing after the first plot point.
5) Still interested in the idea but incredibly frustrated, set it all aside, don't work on it for a LONG LONG time and basically let my subconscience figure it out.
6) After what might be weeks or even months, something suddenly clicks and I've not only got through the first plot point but I now have another fifty or sixty pages out in no time.
During 1, 2 and 5 I continue to think about the greater part of the story. A lot of this time is spent in developing the story in all its numerous aspects. So much time between conception and actually writing the idea allows me to develop the over-arching plot of the story.
By this I mean that I develop the parts of the plot from A to C and from M to Z. Where I run into difficulty and what I'm open to changing is anything between D and L. By the time I come back to the story all the rest of the story beyond this has become so firmly entrenched in my mind that it is as if it was written in stone. All the possibilities for what could happen have already been explored by my subconscience that by the time I feel comfortable moving forward, I've already chosen the best plotlines. It don't need to change it, it's just great, it's perfect! I just need to write it.
So do I do rewrites of previous chapters when something new comes up that will change the story thus far? No, I don't. And if something were to come up? I think I would have to think really long and hard about the pros and cons of changing what is already there and ask myself if I couldn't introduce that in another way further down the road.
December 18th, 2009, 09:09 AM
Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
As I write, I keep a file of notes. When new ideas come to me, I write them down in the notes file. After the first draft is done, go back to read the manuscript, and then my notes. If the changes still seem like a good idea, I implement them. That way, I haven't lost anything, but I keep on a regular schedule.
December 18th, 2009, 04:42 PM
Unfortunately, so often new ideas that spur up tend to require major overhauls. I have a terrible habit of over thinking when it comes to weaving interesting plots and such.
Having a set deadline is a great way to discipline oneself, but when the work is for personal enjoyment, it’s much more difficult. (impossible it seems, in my case.)
December 18th, 2009, 04:53 PM
We Read for Light
It's extremely important to the ego to finish a draft. Most people who set out to write a book DO NOT finish even a first draft.
The first draft is the lumber you throw off of the truck. During the second draft we become carpenters.
December 18th, 2009, 10:01 PM
I'd probably do a bit of both, because that's my process. But it sounds more like you are having trouble figuring out your process. You may be trying to outline when you're not an outline writer. You may be someone who has to write three plotlines at once to find out which works best. You may be someone who gets more energized by a new idea than working on a developing idea, so your brain keeps sidetracking you. Your brain may be trying to figure out your central focus of the story. You may be a writer who has to write the story from the end towards the beginning.
So what you probably need to look at most is why you feel you have to backtrack when you get a new idea to change the plot. It's not like you can't change it later and keep the relevant info in your head, but you're feeling compelled to line up all your ducks behind the new idea before you can go on, even though you know that other ideas may lead to further changes. I have had writer friends for whom that's the only way they can write something. But in your case, you may have a very fluid writing process and it's your attempts to restrict that, nail the story down into a mold instead of a form more abstract, that is causing the problem, not the new ideas.
You can also look at why you think the new ideas are "better." Maybe you are an outline writer and you aren't spending enough time coming up with many different outline possibilities to find the one that works best first, maybe brainstorming with friends, writing out character profiles, etc. You have to look at how you are writing and what seems to be working best, not try to fit to an ideal of how writing should be done.
December 23rd, 2009, 03:02 AM
I would agree, WB.
Kat, you've made some great points. Not quite sure where the problem lies exactly in my case.. I should re-examine my process.
December 23rd, 2009, 03:52 PM
I think it depends on how many things you've actually finished. Changing course midstory can be a sign that you're just not quite confident of knowing how to get to the end, wind up the story. It gives you an excuse to do something else. I knew someone in a writers' group who spent two years fiddling about with a story, changing first one thing then another, and it was (as was admitted later) the fear that when it was done it would be no good. I left a lot of stories unfinished, long ago, but it was because they got too long and I thought I had to write short stories. (Not true.)
I agree with KatG that if you're having this problem over and over, you may still be discovering your process. Two things might help. 1) quickly write down the bones of the great new idea and then go on with the story you started with--try to finish it that way, without the great new idea. Then compare....does it still seem to need that, or is that another whole story? 2) Tell yourself you can switch tracks once only. Take that first detour, and finish that story. Which story is best. Which way of writing feels best. Over the long haul you need to write in a way that you find satisfying and productive both...and it can take years to figure out what works for you. (It did me.)
As for whether a course change is ever worthwhile...yes. I get "plot bombs" that land on nearly finished (I swore it was finished!) books and blow them up, so I have to reassemble them...but they're better. Used to scare me. Now I say "Oh, look, plotbomb!" and enjoy them.
December 23rd, 2009, 06:00 PM
I would say that you're not writing from the heart.
You are writing because you are a writer, and writers write. But because you are distracted by the "Oooooh, shiny!" your WIP is not all that important to you.
Take everything you have written so far and throw out everything that doesn't hurt to throw it out. Take a deep breath. Now throw out everything that hurts. Congratulations, you have found the heart of your story. Now, you can write.
December 27th, 2009, 05:10 PM
Thanks, E_Moon, goldhawk
I don't think fear plays a part of my predicament.. nor do I think as a result from not writing from the heart. This has been an endeavor spanning several years.
As mentioned, I tend to over think plot ideas. By this i mean, a new thread idea emerges either by my own design, or simply by accident. These ideas generally aren't simple additions but major plot elements.
As an example, imagine your writing a story about a young boy who sees dead people, and through the help of a psychologist is able to determine what these visions are. Now your story is quite good and you're more than half finished, when suddenly you're struck with an amazing twist. What if the psychologist is dead himself! Would you re-write your story to incorporate this elaborate twist or keep what you've written?
This always seems to be my problem, although not as grandiose, yet my ideas tend to incorporate plot restructuring that wrap around themselves... Its this horrible habit i have of over thinking ideas... almost an addiction i'd say. It's great in that my story is far more interesting than when first originated, yet it's gotten out of control and has somewhat taken a life of it's own.
I feel as though i'm standing above a large tabletop trying to piece together a massive puzzle consisting of hundreds of scattered pieces, which constantly change in shape...and fit all of this together without a clear picture as a guide.
...and the real irony is that my writing dilemma is similar to what my story is about! An alien archeologist trying to piece together a mystery from their fragmented past.
I know i'll eventually get there, but it's taking far longer than expected.
December 29th, 2009, 11:44 PM
Oh, you're writing a mystery -- that's your problem right there.
Mysteries require certain forms of plot construction. Writers can put them together in different ways, depending on their process, but the plot constructions -- mystery, suspects in mystery, clues (your fragments,) dead-end clues (red herrings,) etc. are going to have to be in there. It's sort of like constructing a building -- with a thriller or other sorts of stories, you can just build from the bottom up. But mysteries have to have everything threaded -- you have to have your ending and work backwards to one degree or another (though there are a few mystery writers who develop mysteries organically, but I'm suspecting you are not one of those.)
So what it sounds like is that you have your ending and themes, more or less, but you keep coming up with further facets to the mystery and different sets of clues. And because it's a mystery, this effects the entire skeleton of the story -- you have to go back and change clues, details, character reactions and aspects, etc. This is called revision in mystery writing.
You don't actually have to go back and change everything, though. You just have to outline what you are going to have to change, so you have it in your head and on paper, and then continue on as if you've already changed it as you've outlined it. Then you can go back at the revision stage and change those early chapters. If a new idea for a different way to build the mystery occurs, you can then scrap the first outline and do a new one, etc.
To use your example with the Sixth Sense -- the difference between the psychiatrist being dead and the psychiatrist being alive is actually not that large; it just changes some of the scenes or requires some new scenes to be written while old ones are scrapped. Some of the plot threads have to be changed a lot, but others -- the lead up to the psychiatrist getting killed, the discussions between the psychiatrist and the boy about his problem -- don't have to be. So logically, you can simply continue on from the middle of the story as if the psychiatrist is now dead. You don't have to go back and make the changes to the earlier parts when the psychiatrist was alive. You just have to note what will need to be changed later as part of the plot construction.
Now, if you can't get your brain to do this -- then you have to look at why you can't. It may be that you just get very excited about the new idea and want to play with it. But you should be able to play with it in the new, unwritten part of the story, not just in the older stuff. It may be that you can't use the new idea unless you see exactly how it works throughout the story, in text and not just outline, in which case you may be one of those writers who has to work from the ending backwards, requiring you to rewrite the ending when you get a new idea and then build top down. Or it may be something else, but you have to figure out why you feel that you have to change all of the text to fit the new set of clues and details, because it isn't the new ideas that sidetrack you -- these things happen to mystery writers all the time; they change the killer on a murder one, or what the missing item is, or make it angels instead of ghosts, etc. -- it's how you handle those new ideas that's the problem, again.
December 31st, 2009, 03:46 AM
Yes, Kat, I seem to be of those writers (outliner, at the moment) who tends to work backwards... Don't know why, I guess I enjoy the thrill of finding an initial idea /theme, jump to the end of the story and turn it on its head, then backtrack towards the beginning,.. while trying to thread an actual story in the middle. Not always the easiest thing to do.(at least with this latest project)
I think my writing process has become a bit easier though. My initial thread post was prompted by a recent frustration over a new "idea" insert. But after a bit of re-working I realize I can fit aspects of it in seamlessly.
Still, new plot twists still nag at me, although not as frequent.
Perhaps i'm just a plot-hoarder when it comes to story writing... can't seem to throw anything out.
December 31st, 2009, 12:52 PM
You might want to try and enlist some readers as partners -- people who will read parts of it and tell you what parts they think you should stop hoarding and throw out. You know how it is, that ugly orange ceramic bowl reminds you of your time at the seashore when the kids were small and so you keep it on the windowsill, but then your Aunt Dorcas comes to visit and asks, "My god, what is that hideous thing and why hasn't somebody smashed it?" And you realize it really is awful and collecting dust.