Kate Elliott December 29th, 2006
In the “First Novels” thread, Mitch asks:
What do you do when youâ€™re well into your first draft and you find you want to make a significant change in the story?
I started writing a novel-in-progress as a high fantasy, but I realize now that itâ€™s better as soft science fiction with a low-tech society. Also, I thought I wanted the novel to be about a thug with a social conscience and mission, now, I realize it would be better as a story about a thug who acquires a social conscience and religion.
I guess what Iâ€™ll do is write a few notes to myself and just keep going forward with the new backstory and story line in mind, then revise the beginning when Iâ€™ve hit the end of the story. If that doesnâ€™t seem to be working, Iâ€™ll revise from the very beginning.
But Iâ€™m curious to see what the Seasoned Pros would do and recommend in this situation. Or do Seasoned Pros even run into this situation â€” is this a mistake only a beginner makes?
My two cents: This is absolutely not a “beginner’s mistake.” So much so that I want to highlight it out in front.
To my mind, this is a novel coming to life.
I can think of few things more exciting, in writerly terms, than a story that begins talking back. It might talk back in sullen mutters (“gawd, why can’t you just listen to me for once, but you never do, do you?”) or in snarky teenaged bursts (“are you really that much of an idiot that you can’t see what’s staring you right in the face?”). It might take a more soothing intellectual tone, or it might just change horses in midstream without consulting you and next thing you know you’re hauled out on the prairie running flat out with the rain battering you in the face and you’re wondering, to reference the Talking Heads song, how on earth did you get here?
So, the answer to your question is: Cool! How awesome that your story is transforming right before your eyes!
What to do about it?
I hope others will weigh in. I’ll give a few options of my own.
One way is to simply forge forward until you get the first draft, the basic plot structure and narrative arc, laid down. That’s fine, and it works. I’ve done it myself although not, now that I think of it, at a point of such major shifting in LANDSCAPE.
I can handle character shifts in this way and have done so, working forward through the narrative and only going back once I’ve got the first draft done to revise the necessary scenes. In cases where a character shifted aspect while I was writing the first draft, I have sometimes found I had to go back and redraft immediately, but usually I find that only after I have the complete arc down can I really point the character’s journey properly in the revision now that I, more or less, know where the character is coming from.
Shifting landscape midstream would be more difficult for me, but that’s mostly a personal eccentricity because I write so heavily within landscape. In my case, I would probably go back to the beginning at that point and start over. But, having said that, I don’t think you have to do it that way.
In fact, my advice of choice is this:
You have to do it the way that works for you.
Meanwhile, have a great time. It sounds fabulous!