That’s not where I left it…. is it?

Let’s say you’ve got part of a novel’s first draft done. Four chapters knocked out. Something happens and you decide to stop working that project for a bit. Maybe a glitch in the matrix makes you forget about it for six months, who knows?

So, you finally sit down at your computer, ready to attack that first draft again. This time, though, it seems kind of hokey. Lot’s of cheese wiz going on. There are things in your sentences that shouldn’t have ever been written. Some are too long, some are simply atrocious. Time for a complete rewrite.

You whip out the outline and find just what you expected, 100% detail on every event that will ever happen, cover to cover.

That’s a pretty good scenario. You did a lot of the work ahead of time, so now you just have to tap on the keyboard for a few dozen hours until the whole novel is fleshed out. It shouldn’t really take much thinking, so you get started. All of the sudden, you find yourself at a misty, dark crossroads.

It would be cool if this funny thing happened to Sarah instead of Walter. No big deal, you change it up a bit. Wait… now you want a narrator. Why a narrator? I don’t know, it’s what you’re feeling. You’re the boss.

Alright, so now you’ve got Walter in a different place, a narrator, and things keep feeling off. Not bad, but weird. Shit, now your story ended up in a totally different place than the outline for act three, uh… outlines. Oh, and wait, what happens to Sarah now?

Now we’re in a pickle.

Big projects like novels are kind of difficult in this aspect. My mind changes all the time when I’m working on one. Honestly, I’d say it’s best to scrap the outline at this point, using it more as a reference for what you originally wanted to happen in the book. There’s no need to stick to it exactly. When I dug myself into this situation on the project I’m writing now, I did panic a little bit. It wasn’t as bad as the first go around, but it did look like it would be that bad for a couple minutes.

I don’t know what your work flow looks like, but I think mine looks extremely chaotic at first, though there’s rhyme and reason to it in the end. At this point, I’m comfortable running through my first draft start to finish. I don’t jump around much anymore, but I also don’t have much of an outline, if any. One of the benefits of that is that freedom to roam where I see fit as I hash out the story. Lot’s of people like having an outline, and that’s fine.

So what did I do when I deviated from the paved road? Took everything that I’d previously written, things I’d use and things that should never see the light of day, pasted them into the same file as my outline, and started using that as a reference. I knew my beginning, climax, and ending needed to stay the same. There were other things that I wanted to keep in the book, deaths and other major life changes, but those things didn’t really have to happen in the order I had them in. At one point in the story, a character dies and another decides to leave town for a few days. Originally, it was a different characters death that triggered the desire to leave. The scenes moved from chapter twelve to chapter six. It still worked overall, no reason to panic, and I think the
pacing of the story is actually a bit better now.

That’s the only thing I think really needs to be considered when plot points move. Does the story make sense? That means things still happen in order, and still fit well between other events. Other than that, you’re golden. No one’s going to know you intended Bob’s decapitation to take place in chapter three before you rewrote it into nine. If you read it and it sounds good, bam, you’re done.

This is really just something I’ve been thinking about over the past few days. I’ve never had to approach one of my partially complete works after a considerable break before. It’s going well this time, which is nice, but I have had to question what I thought was the norm about my work flow. Really, I think that’s all this is. It’s me reflecting on how I work on projects of novel size. Hopefully, this introspection will prepare me for larger works, and help me make my work more dense. Either way, I hope reading this is inspiring in some way. If you haven’t thought about if before, then cool. I’m going to go
outside. There’s thunder, and I’ve got to go for a drive.

Happy writing!


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