Monday, March 5, 2012

Changing midstream

Last night, while I was typing away at my manuscript, somewhere around word 104,000, I realized the ending I'd mentally plotted out lacked tension and drama. It occurred to me that I'd put in building blocks for a much more interesting climax to the story, and the change took the story in a much more interesting direction.

That isn't the first time that's happened. It happens to every pantster that I've talked to, and Seanan McGuire, who outlines pretty extensively, mentioned in her interview that she rewrote most of the elements of One Salt Sea, her most recent Toby Daye book. You realize that you're writing the wrong story, or that you have to drop the elements you're working with. Or, you get to the halfway point, and suddenly you hit upon what the tone and themes are and the first half no longer fits what you're writing.

What do you do?

If you're like me, you keep on writing with the new themes, tone, plot elements, or whatever has changed, and go back to edit that into what you've already written when the story is done. Others go back to change what came before immediately, while some toss the whole story and start over from scratch.

Which approach you take depends on how much you like the words that are already there, how much time it'll take, and how well you can keep track of what needs changing. If you'll forget what new direction you wanted to take by the time you've finished editing what you've already written, you may want to consider jotting it down at the end of the manuscript. I insert comments and bookmark parts of my manuscript so I know where to go back to or where to find something I need to fix. I keep moving forward, though, because I've given myself permission to suck.

The thing is, these midstream changes are one of the things I like best about writing, and are probably why I'm a pantster. I love getting several chapters into a story and realizing something that changes everything about the story. Whenever I get those kind of insights, it's always something that deepens and enriches it. It's always an improvement. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother to change it.

It would be a nice change to have it happen at the beginning, without having to change the story midstream, but, at least if you're a pantster, it doesn't work that way. I develop my characters while I'm writing them, which often means I learn things about them as I'm going. I explore the dynamics within what I'm writing, which often means entire scenes are scrapped because they serve no function beyond character study.

The beauty of the written word is that the first draft is not the finished product. You can go back and fix these things. You can edit in further depth, you can smooth over rough patches, and insight that comes to you as you're typing the last page can work its way into chapter one with a few keystrokes. There's no reason to throw your hands up in frustration because you've gotten a better idea. That's all the more reason to keep at it. Chances are, if you found it a pleasant and motivating surprise, your readers are going to love it.


  1. I feel your pain. Done the same thing myself, but damn at 100,000 + words it hurts! I must also be a pantser (love that name), because I go into things having a basic idea of what's going to happen, but it is subject to change at any time. I don't even tell people details of what I'm writing in case it changes too much.

    1. Heh. I'm kind of the uber-pantster of the group. I wish I could claim credit for coining the term, but it's what my fellow writing group members started calling me, and I just picked it up.

      Nothing wrong with being a pantster. I think it's a lot more interesting, and outlining sucks out all the fun of writing for me. But it also means I spend more time editing and throwing out entire chapters at a time. I'm okay with that.