Making changes to a story in progress

Posting to ye ol’ blog has slowed as of late, but don’t worry, I have indeed been writing. After finishing Bent Heart (a short story you can read here), I moved on to the next short story I had outlined. The story and world has progressed well for just over 9,000 words, and I really like where it’s heading. It also seems to be growing beyond just a short story—that 9,000 words only covers 8 out of the 51 bullet points I have planned. So I work on it a little bit each day, slowly moving through the outline.

Recently I’ve run into an issue, though. As the story has progressed, I’ve found that my original concept for how the main character would enter this world needs to be adjusted. On the one hand, that is to be expected. As you till the ground, you find that things need to shift here or there. When that happens I’ll usually make a note of it or simply inject it into the story without any foreshadowing or build-up, knowing that I’ll revise in the next draft. However, the change I’m thinking of making will have quite a large impact, on what I have and also will write.

Thus, I find myself facing a decision: I either write from now on as if the story had always been like this, or start over and re-write all 9,000 words. The former option would keep me moving forward without potentially getting bogged down in editing, while the latter option would help build in the elements that need to be there and also make the story understandable to alpha readers.

Not knowing what to do, I asked a few authors on Twitter, “If you’re a ways into writing a story and find a big change needs to be made, do you start over or add it in and keep going?” Below are their gracious responses.

Brian McClellan

BM: “I add to it and keep going. Then go back and change things later.”

Me: “So in that draft things just show up out of nowhere, but then on revision you go back and work it in like it should be?”

BM: “Depends on how big a change it is. Sometimes I need to go back and change things immediately, but usually I just make notes.”

Aaron Mahnke

AM: “I hate starting over. I do my best to go back and stitch the new element into the completed stuff.”

Me: “What if it’s a big change? Do you take the time to make all the necessary changes?”

AM: “It’s tough. If it’s a huge plot change, it might warrant a do-over. Depends on the depth of change. How far the roots reach.”

Ava Jae

“If I’m first drafting, I add it in and keep going. I make a point not to edit or revise while I’m drafting.”

Joanna Penn

“I add it in, but am trying to outline more before I start to prevent such big rewrites.”

Jamie Todd Rubin

JR: “If I am in the first draft, I generally don’t start over. I’ll make a comment or note at that point and move on.”

Me: “What if it’s a big change that affects how you approach the story, something bigger than just a note?”

JR: “I’m not sure; I haven’t had a change like that in quite a few years now. Usually, I’ll complete the draft. If I like the story but not the approach, I’ll just try another draft after the first one is done and see how it feels.”

Michael J. Sullivan

“That rarely happens (I outline) and when I change tack I know where I’m heading. But I tend to keep going and then adjust anything that needs to be as part of the first pass edit.”

Iain Broome

“Totally depends but lots of my novel was added later.”

Christopher Paolini

“I do whatever is needed to make the story work.”

Jody Hedlund

“I wait on little things. But if the changes affect later sections, I go back and add what I missed to keep the story cohesive.”

First, this is a perfect example of why Twitter is great. These are all published authors, and yet with a simple tweet I was able to connect with them and get their advice. Second, all of these writers handle story changes a little differently, from Christopher’s dedication to doing anything needed, even if it means starting over; to Brian’s loose addition, to Jody’s gentle adjustment of passages already written.

Having asked for advice, I now need to decide what will help keep me moving forward with the story and help me know what to change in the second draft. I’m leaning toward adding it in and keep writing, but I’ll need to think about it more and make sure this is the direction the story should go.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep plugging away at the outline. The overall structure may change, but I know the basic plot and direction, so I can keep writing. This is the second story I’ve fully outlined before starting, and so far it’s been a helpful thing to have.