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14 November 2009 @ 10:29 am
Question for seat-of-the-pants writers  
So, in the shower this morning my plot-focused brain handed me the direction it thinks the current story should have been going all along. The change would simply eliminate the mystery that's been driving the main character so far -- a mystery that I don't yet have a solution for -- replacing it with a different motivation for the main character's actions up until now, and providing a nice tidy ending. (This is the way my brain usually works: setting first, then ending, then characters.)

At this point I have about half of a draft, maybe two-thirds, and I could fairly easily change it to work in the new way. But if I do that I'll never find out where I would have wound up if I'd just kept following my headlights from where I am right now -- I'll never find out the answer to that mystery.

If you're a seat-of-of-the-pants writer, and you get an insight like that partway through drafting the story, how do you handle it? Do you go back and edit the existing words to match the insight? Do you finish the story in the current direction and then go back and change the completed story to match the insight, if it turns out to be better? Do you change horses midstream, write the second half to match the insight, then go back and make the story consistent after it's done? Something else?
sarah_prineas on November 14th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
I'm a pantser, and when this happens I go back and change what came before to match the new idea, and then write forward from there.

I call it "recursive writing."
Leah Cutter: Changelrcutter on November 14th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
Though I've written out a bare outline for this novel (2-3 sentences describing each chapter) I still get those "wow, so that's what this is about!" flashes. What I've done is written in the new direction from that point on, for the first draft. Then, during the second draft, I make it fit. That's one of the reasons why I call the second draft the "Make it not broken draft." Because I'm not polishing at all. I'm just fixing and braiding together the new insights with what's already there.

It's one of the reasons why I'm writing this trilogy all three novels at the first time, and why I'm so happy I'm doing so. I came up with a *brilliant* idea for why one group of characters behaves in such a fashion. And while I had been hinting at it before, now I need to go back and make it more explicit. Mind you, this revelation came up during novel number 3, and I need to go back and fix novel number 1 now. I will need to do a "make it not broken" draft on all three novels, once I finish the third.
Brenda Cooperbjcooper on November 14th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
That's a good question
And I have faced it and answered both ways. I usually go with the new insight if it's really good.
(Deleted comment)
great_penguinigreat_penguini on November 14th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
me too
Yeah, I am one of those seat-of-the-pants writers. I will usually make note of the changes in a separate doc file (that is always open and has all my character names and such), and where the change took place and what the vision is... then I will go back and change it later... I'll continue writing in the new plan.
Emilytakumashii on November 14th, 2009 06:52 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I write the second half as if that insight had been true all along and then go back.

If I think it's going to be a big, ripply change that could bring on even more changes, I'm liable to start over from scratch. Yes, really. It's kind of painful.
Azahruazahru on November 14th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
It depends how the idea finds me. If it feels true, if it thickens things, makes things more awesome, I work it in. If I work it in it may mean I then get something brilliant as a new layer on top. Unless working it in will cause me to lose momentum in which case notes to self.

So I would go with the plot, but I wouldn't try very hard not to let it blind me to the now in the story. The plot might still flip around for you.

Although as I write this it depends and varies and how I rewrite and follow is a bit... seat of the pants. So don't follow a rule I would say, try to be present for you story and go with the surprises it gives you.

So do both :-)
calendula_witch: Lizardcalendula_witch on November 14th, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
It totally matters how it *feels*, after it's had time to sink in. Sometimes an insight like that is the lizard brain throwing chaff, not wanting to figure out the actual solution to the mystery and being lazy, and following a shiny. Sometimes it's real. So, sit with it a while and make sure it's a good thing...then jump onto that other horse!
Victor Milánvictormilan on November 14th, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC)
Here's the problem with being a writer: at some point we have to choose. This is not fun.

When I know the new insight is better (and I try to write in a way that accommodates shower-stall revelations) I try to discipline myself to adjust in mid-course and drive ahead with the draft as if I've made the changes.

If I find myself obsessing over the new insight I'll go back and rewrite at once.

It appears you're not convinced the new insight is better than the old vision. Why not write down enough notes to keep your new insight anchored, then finish it the way you originally intended and see how you like it? You obviously aren't allergic to rewrites. So why not run with the freedom that offers?
e_bournee_bourne on November 14th, 2009 07:35 pm (UTC)
Never lose the old draft, or the old idea. It might be right, and it might have ideas you can still use. This is entirely my process, no one elses. I hand write the notes of my new idea in my notebook, following them down the rabbit hole as far as I have them. Then I set them aside for a day or two. I continue to work on the current draft, mucking about a bit, seeing how far I get.

If, in a day or two, when I open the notebook, my bones tell me this is the right thing to do and will make a better book, I start a new draft (draft1.1, keeping the old one intact, never lose an old one) and began fixing it with the improved ideas.

This is scary as hell, and makes for a lot more work. I'm currently on the first draft version 5 or 6 of sequel. But I'm also able to grab a lot of pre-written stuff that's good and put those puzzle pieces in. It's the way I work. I just can't write to an outline. It's also why I suck at short stories.
Ramblin_Phylramblin_phyl on November 14th, 2009 08:02 pm (UTC)
Save the original and write the new. The original mystery probably belongs in a different story/setting/character.
ann_wilkesann_wilkes on November 14th, 2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
I write both ways but mostly seat of the pants for short stories, outlining for novellas and novels.

You know how you have this really great idea for a story or story arc or character in your dream and it's oh, so perfect and when you wake up its total crap and makes no sense? Well, shower inspirations - sometimes - are like that, albeit to a lesser extent. It might take longer to realize it doesn't work. I usually play around with the idea for a while and get feedback from a couple people before doing a major revision. Or I'll just go forward with it and see where it takes me. If it's good, then I'll revise what went before to match.

I like to test it out first.
Omahaomahas on November 14th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
Like calendula_witch, I like to think about it for a bit before I make a decision. I usually image the changes in my mind, seeing where it will go for a while.

But I also often consider that this is my characters letting me know what they've been trying to tell me all along and I couldn't hear because I've been too busy trying to solve the other problem. It's a lot of fun for me to try the new direction, because I love new paths.
mcjuliemcjulie on November 15th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
I always go back and edit the things that immediately occur to me as needing to be different in light of the new insight -- whether that's whole scenes, just a few lines here and there, or every bloody thing that happens after the first chapter. (Which has already happened to me on the current novel project. Twice.)

I think I have to do this, because when those insights happen, it's usually because something has stalled out or is otherwise not working. I don't finish it with the original plan is because I can't. If I could, the new insight wouldn't be necessary. Or at least, that's how it feels in my brain.
Dave Bara: db south parkdbara on November 15th, 2009 06:37 am (UTC)
If I decide to go in the new direction I always go back and fix the previous writing first, then move on. After saving the original, of course.

(Deleted comment)
kathrynmicekathrynmice on November 16th, 2009 06:08 am (UTC)
what a terrible dilema...
... (remember I am unpublished and your published friends get more weight on their answers!) but I do write this way.

I have been known to have two active current drafts with different middles of the same "scene" for lack of a better word in my mind and coming out of the end of the pen at the same time. two pads of paper one big problem. I think the word is schizophrenia.

I have to finish writing each one before they will leave me in peace. then I go back and mush them together.

one turned out that plot one is a misconception on the part of the goodish/bad guys that makes the actions of the lead baddish/good guy look really bad from their viewpoint. they spend the whole thing trying to head him off and nullify what he is doing. plot two was the real reason and everything turned out they were wrong and it was harmless and beneficial to them and they overreacted and all hell broke loose in the wind up.

my uber plot (I love that phrase!) has totally surprised me by showing up over the last year or so and tying almost everything I have been writing since I was 12 together in a coherent and causaul way. surprise!

Personally, knowing that this is something new for you. I would hope that you would continue to let the characters drive to their conclusion (or in my case where the whole mess fizzles out) and then come back at it with your new idea and morph it after you have seen what happened and if you like it or not.

for god's sake write your spiffy new, shower idea down! don't take a chance of it slipping away from you.

(Anonymous) on November 16th, 2009 09:09 am (UTC)
changing directions
Nobody can tell you what's right for you, can they? But I can tell you what worked for me. I used to just start with an idea and let it develop any way it wanted. It didn't work for me, and I thought I couldn't do it any other way. Then I went to a workshop where I was given two characters with their own desires, not connected at all, and had to make up a story, beginning, middle, end, that connected the two characters. And I was able to. It was amazing. So now I start with a character, and make up as much as I can about their history, what they want, what their neuroses are etc. I do that with a bunch of characters, then I write the story. Just a page, basic stuff, but a skeleton. I work on that until it's quite fleshed out. I don't censor anything, and if I need to change direction it's not a big mission, because it's not a big work yet. Then when I've got the story from beginning to end, that's the logical part done and I don't have to worry about it any more.

Then the fun begins. Within the structure, I can go wild.

Sort of like setting boundaries, it makes me feel safe, and I can let go of the logical stuff, because it's laborious. It is creative, but it's right on the boundary between left and right brains, I think!

Is that of any use to you?
Sarah Averydr_pretentious on December 7th, 2009 03:33 am (UTC)
If I were really undecided, I'd make a point of thinking about it just before falling asleep. I would figure out what questions I would want to ask my characters in order to make my decision, and then see what they told me while I slept. During my most productive periods, my characters seemed to do a lot of the work for me, and they'd drop by my dreams to inform me of what would happen next, or argue with me, or act stuff out. I gather Robert Louis Stevenson had a similar process.

Probably that's so far from your usual process as to be not very useful, but it's how I work.