Understanding that storylines change

Because all of fiction is imaginary, it is fluid.  This should not be a surprise, but after a lifetime of reading more finished products (published authors) than works in progress (mine), it is difficult to consider one of my ‘finished’ pieces (‘finished’ as in ‘turned into visible words’) as a crappy first draft, especially since most word processing programs use Times New Roman as a default font, and not Courier.  Courier looks like a typewritten draft (and won’t paste here), Times New Roman looks typeset.  My unfinished word-processed work has the same finished appearance as any costly book.  I suppose I could compose in Courier, but that’s just one more step among many in making a file for this, and one for that, and whoops!, we need a timeline.

Getting past the look, shoving around crappy first draft furniture, landscapes, and characters is hard.  The characters don’t like this and stumble about the shifted landscape, bumping into the furniture and asking, “Was that my cue?  Do I come in now?”   Or they wander off for a coffee break thinking they don’t come in until Chapter 5, while the frustrated author flips among the various pages and screens of notes trying to remember who it was that shot John this time.  Is John still in the story?  By the time the author tracks down the coffee break characters at the closest Krispy Kreme, it’s time for supper, the author’s supper.

Not only do the characters object to changes, but so does the logical side of the brain.  The logical mind is quite happy that we’ve written anything at all (and obsessively clicks the word count button).  Logical Mind complains that this part of the story has already been written and why are we starting all over again?  Onward!  Upward!  Get over it! Keep that word count moving!   To the logical side of the brain, hobbits always had fuzzy feet, Hercule Poirot always wore pince-nez, and Harry Potter always had a lightning shaped scar.  That’s just the way things are.

The creative mind feels a migraine coming on and points out to the logical side that “this story is not working,” and besides that, how do you know that hobbits weren’t once shod as sturdily as the dwarves, that Hercule Poirot did not have a monocle, and that Harry Potter did not start out with a star-shaped scar?  The creative mind can be testy, and listening to the bickering between the brains is like having The Odd Couple in charge of your head.  (It’s a wonder anything is agreed on.)

Finding where all the information is stashed

Once the right brain has prevailed and there is consensus that things must change, and once the right side has figured out what it is that needs changing, then you’ve got to go do it.  The easy part is changing simple things such as names in computer documents.   All one needs to do is open up a document, use find and replace, and click OK.  Changing all the instances means that you open up all twenty documents, and fix whatever it is you’re changing.

What is not so easy is changing the same type of items in a notebook.

It may seem strange for someone to use both computer documents and a loose-leaf notebook while forming fiction, but for me some things work better on the computer, and some things work better on paper.  Using two (or more) different types of media also helps me to differentiate between various pieces of information as, after a while, a series of Word documents blend into one never-ending Word document, even if you use different colors for the typing.  Clicking between documents just shows screens of words, words, words that eventually make as much visual sense as the Lorem Ipsum text.

I also find it easier to spread out papers or note cards than to click on different screens to see the a larger view of the project.  A cascade of document titles look even more alike than do the documents themselves.

The difficulty in making changes on paper comes when a person has to flip through the notebook dividers and scan each page in order to erase the penciled words, or line out the ink/type and ink in something new.  If you’ve made inked-out changes once already, and there is no clear space left on the paper, then you cut a teeny tiny strip of paper and use a glue stick to paste the paper over the previous changes.

Now write on the teeny tiny strip of paper.  Voila!  You’ve made a change.  Repeat the erasing/penciling, inking-out/inking in/gluing teeny tiny strips of paper throughout the notebook.

One caution: don’t try to peel off previous layers of teeny tiny strips of paper.   The removal usually just makes a hole in your sheet of paper and that repair eats up more time and further annoys the logical side of your brain who jogs off into the real world griping that all the presents are not yet ordered, nor is the Christmas letter written, and just who do you think is going to put up the tree, at which point you need some chocolate, and that means you have to exercise longer because you sit too much in any case, never mind the times after you eat the chocolate, and this takes up yet more time.  Do not peel off previous layers of paper.  (Do we wonder that writing has a an aura of dysfunctionality about it?)

Changing the herded cats into ducks, and putting them in a row

As with so many things that people do, writing is like herding cats.  The twenty-four letters of the alphabet are something of a limit on the number of words that can be made from them, although this number must be very large (see the Oxford English Dictionary).  The rules of grammar likewise restrict the combination of words that can be used — it is unlikely that anyone will put together words in an odd way and expect them to be considered a sentence: “it good the time at seemed the a like idea.”  Few people would do this, even if it seemed like a good idea at the time.  The characters in a story are also limited by what behaviors a reader will find believable for the story.   All of these limits, though, allow for an almost infinite number of differences in character population, interaction between this population of characters, and the kind of physical objects around them as they interact.

At the moment, I am going round and round as to where the main character will eventually settle at the end of the story.  If this character stays at place X, then that character will go in a certain direction.  If the character goes back to place Y instead (place Y is in the mix regardless) then the character’s path will be different.  I can’t tell which path will develop the better story, and I don’t feel like writing two books to find out the answer, but I must make a choice because the main character has to be either ‘here’ or ‘there’ unless of course the main character is bumped off, …

I suppose the only thing to do is haul out the metaphorical rubber-bladed garage floor scraper and sweep all the flaky fluid fiction down the drain and start over.  My apologies to my left brain.  (It’s a wonder that writers mange to produce any fiction.)