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Book number four, The Mercenary and the Shifters, in the Turning Stone Chronicles series is on the editor’s desk for the first round of editing, and is tentatively scheduled for a 2016 summer release. Yeah!
As we began writing book number four, the story we’d planned no longer worked, and we ended up going back to the drawing board, in part because the original heroine changed (not in the sense of shifter changed either, although she is a shifter) and in part because the number of books in the series changed. In fact, this series has gone from six books, to five books, and back to six books. At least that’s what we think the final number is now.
It’s disconcerting when you think you have a handle on a story and it starts morphing in front of you. We don’t like change. But change is something we must deal with every day.
We were part of an authors’ panel at the Dayton, Ohio library a while back, and one of the attendees asked what to do when a story changes. Her daughter, who is writing sci-fi, is distraught because her characters have suddenly decided to become romantically involved, and she doesn’t want them to go there. Her father told her to write the story she wanted and not let the characters lead. But the girl kept trying to get her dad to understand she didn’t have control The characters were going to do what they were going to do. On the panel, there were knowing nods and murmurs of agreement. We understood her frustrations, because we’d all lost control of our stories at one point or another.
So why do we lose control of our stories?
Sometimes we lose control because we are pansters and don’t know where the story is going. Not having a good handle on the plots or characters can cause chaos part way through your story. The lost control issue doesn’t only affect pantsters. We are heavy plotters and talk a book to death before a single word is written, so you’d think we’d have a tight grip on our plot. Not necessarily so. When Catherine, who writes the first draft dialogue, doesn’t have a good handle on a character, or can’t figure out how some complex plot aspect or plot twist fits together, she gets stumped. She can’t make the story go where the outline dictates. Other times stories change because of stubborn voices in our heads—those willful characters we’ve given life to who want to have their way.
When you find yourself no longer the master of your tale what can you do? Here are some tips to guide you when your story changes without your permission.
- Don’t hold yourself to a rigid concept. This is easy for pansters, but plotters can have problems with the concept. Once the outline is made we often want to stick to it. As mentioned before, we plot quite heavily, yet when the first draft is written and Catherine says, “Oops. This went where I didn’t expect it to go.” Donald doesn’t hit the roof and demand she rewrite it exactly to the plan. Since we’ve talked extensively about plan he could claim that right. However, he considers the new scene and decides if he feels it works or not. You may not have a writing partner to help you decide if the sidetracked scene works, but you can certainly show it to a critique partner or friend.
- Let the characters take over. Sometimes what they want to do has been buried in your subconscious all along. Letting them take the lead may even create interesting dimensions to the story. The young writer we mentioned didn’t want romance in her story, but on some level she knew the characters were right. She knew they had to become involved, even though she thought she hated the idea.
- Don’t be afraid to delete. Once you’ve let your characters run with the story, if it doesn’t feel right, cut the scenes. At the very least you will have removed their actions from your head and will be able to move forward.
- Don’t force the structure or the plot of the story. Let things develop organically. We never plan exactly where or when, or even if, love scenes will appear in our books. We know which characters will get together and that encounter might be an open door scene, if what happens moves the story forward. Or it might not. We never try to force the issue. We let the characters lead us.
- If all else fails, put the book aside and work on something else. Time away from a difficult writing project is never wasted. Believe it or not, but most writers have an instinct that lets them know if something if off with a book. When you can look at it with fresh eyes, you will often see the problem and the solution.
Change isn’t always a bad thing. As writers we are constantly changing our books. We search for the right word or phrase. We tweak and re-tweak our scenes. We add and subtract elements and move scenes around. We revise and then revise again. In fact, if you look at your book morphing as just another revision you’ll get through the process with ease. And your story will be the better for it.
Do you have an instance when your book changed without your permission?