February 18, 2008

The Incredibly Convoluted Life of ‘Story’

Posted in Writing tagged , at 5:59 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

Before I started writing seriously, I always assumed (like a lot of people, I think) that writing a 350 page novel is a fairly linear, straightforward procedure. The writer comes up with a plot, a bunch of characters, some interesting and witty dialogue and a good ending, then writes it all up and sends it off to the publisher.

Of course that’s not how it happens at all (unfortunately), but one thing that still takes me surprise is that the ‘finished product’, a story or novel, might bear almost no resemblance to what the writer originally set out to do. A friend of mine was surprised to learn that writers frequently change endings, cut characters, remove or add subplots and even change main characters right up until the book is actually finished, and even afterwards.

As if to drive this point home, I recently went through a bout of something like this with my current story that was a bit more convoluted than what I’m used to. Here, in abbreviated form, is the timeline of my as-yet untitled novel:

Mid-2006: I wrote half of a novel with two alternating storylines running parallel to each other, with one given more focus than the other (let’s call them plot A and plot B). Halfway through, I ran out of steam because I had made the mistake of trying to write an idea rather than a story (trust me, I’ll be talking about that again).

2007: Several months passed, and I continued to keep both of those parallel storylines in mind, intending on writing the whole novel again at one point – but properly, this time. In late 2007 I actually worked out the story from beginning to end, in rough form, and was determined to write it.

2008: In late January I actually started to rewrite the novel, but decided to take out plot B entirely (remember him?). Plot A was always more important anyway, and I know exactly how it will go. Unfortunately, I found myself constantly staring at the screen of my laptop, knowing exactly what I wanted to write but completely unable to find the words for it. When you’re on page 15, this is a bad sign.

Since this has happened to me several times before, but never with stories I was this excited about, I was a bit annoyed. In a fit of what I can only imagine was temporary insanity, I threw out plot A, merged plot B with another, fairly undeveloped story idea I had at the time, and decided to write that instead. That was about two weeks ago, and I’m still at it. My current ‘plot B’ (the entirety of the novel) bears almost no resemblance to the original ‘plot B’ from 2006. It’s set in the same fictional world, but even that has been changed hugely.

I’m fairly certain this would come as a big surprise to my non-writer friends, simply because it seems so convoluted; almost as if I’m making things difficult for myself on purpose. Unfortunately, that’s just how writing goes. If anyone reads this and has got similar stories, feel free to post them in a comment. The weirder the better!

Current word count for [untitled]: 11,859

Target word count by the end of the day: 12,500

Current word count for [untilted]:  12, 796



  1. Nimravid said,

    “In a fit of what I can only imagine was temporary insanity, I threw out plot A, merged plot B with another, fairly undeveloped story idea I had at the time, and decided to write that instead.”

    I feel your pain!

  2. lifelessonsfromwriting said,

    Don’t worry, it’s all working out so far 😉 Hopefully it won’t happen again, though…

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