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Should the story be allowed to take control? August 13, 2011

Posted by shannonmuir in Advice, Writing.
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This particular blog has always been a little more formal in nature, whereas I have one on Goodreads that is more “conversational with the author” in tone as if I were just sharing ideas off the top of my head over a cup of coffee.  I dashed off a thought over there recently called “Writing Where the Story Wants to Go,” where I was struggling with a story I’d chosen to release in mini-chapters via the web that wasn’t going where I expected.  In particular I struggled with it going places I didn’t expect.  The blog post is here: http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/1430392-writing-where-the-story-wants-to-go

Since that day I’ve struggled with the concept of how much, and if ever, we should just allow a story to take control.  In an outline stage, or if we as writers are just writing privately and don’t plan to show anyone anything until we’re done, it’s less of a big deal.  However, there are situations that make this tricky I think and I was in one of those.

Examples are:

a) when the story is being released in pieces and thereby expectations have been set (as I was doing with the mini-chapter style);

b) when the story path has been or needs to be pre-approved by someone else (as often happens in the scriptwriting process).

With the first example, the biggest problem encountered is that appropriate foreshadowing will not exist in the prior releases.  One way that could be used to work around this is to write a flashback sequence to the earlier time and show part of what wasn’t shown before, though that could be cheapening to the reader.  Another would be (in the case of an online posting like mine) is to go back to the piece in the question where the information is needed and just quietly add it, though this is unfair to past faithful readers because they don’t have the critical information and will wonder how they missed it.  However, the dilemma with making the correction and notifying the readership that it’s been made is doing it in a way that doesn’t make you as the author look sloppy or uncaring – yet letting people know publicly after it is released of the correction shows courtesy for the reader.  This same courtesy can also be used when a print edition is re-released with  corrections, no matter the magnitude of the changes.  It shows compassion for the faithful reader and fan.

In the second case, while a writer may discover a great way to change something, the reality is that you have a concept or outline that someone else approved.  At best, depending on the relationship with the client who approved it, you might be able to open a dialogue as to why your way is better.  Generally though this is not an option.  This kind of situation really puts the definition of “professional writer” to the test, as you need to be able to write to the demands not just to yourself but to your clients.

Whether or not  you’re the one in total control, though, definitely look at being true to the story as best as your are able in your circumstances.

 

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