There are countless talents that an author needs in order to be successful. Just to name a few, there is: creativity, a comfort with language, an ability to form single sentence hooks and a knack for developing unique, believable characters.
However, there is one talent that is often overlooked: the ability to keep the story fluid.
I never considered this a skill until a fellow writer complemented my ability to move around various characters and scenes in order to implement feedback. Once I started to think about it, I realized that I seldom hear this skill discussed and have never seen it taught in classes or workshops.
Regardless, keeping a story fluid in your mind is vital to revisions. When you give your writing to test readers they will (if you’re lucky) give you clear, honest feedback. Some of the feedback will require you to change plot elements or characters in ways that will send ripples throughout the world you created.
Something that is often said (but few of us ever believe) is that until your writing is actually published, just about anything in your world can be altered. Characters can switch genders. Your story can move from modern day to the 1970’s. You can go from a third person to first person narrator.
Being an author means living in a paradox in which you create a world that feels real but everything is open to a total overhaul.
Here are some suggestions as to how we keep a story fluid in our minds:
1) Just accepting that the story can change. At some point after college I came to realize that when I showed people my writing there was a very good chance they would give suggestions that would require me to take out entire characters or chapters. Once I started going to workshops with this attitude it became much easier to implement massive changes.
2) Outlines can help as long as you don’t overuse them. Outline the story you currently have in lower case and note changes throughout in all caps so you can see where they are being implemented. This will make it easier to track the changes and how they affect the rest of the tale.
3) Look for places in your story that you already know are weak. These are places where you can bring in characters/scenes/story elements that your readers believe need to be added.
4) An oldie but a goodie: Take a week or two to work on other projects. When you come back you might not be so close to your world and become more open to major alterations.
5) View your plot elements and characters as puzzle pieces. This may sound cold hearted but this will make it easier to move various aspects of the story around. Instead of being overwhelmed by the number of changes you need to make you can just say, “Well I can move the scene in the cabin to before they go to the hardware store and then we can skip this unnecessary scene.”
6) Never forget, you are lord and master over this world (let’s face it, most novelists have God complexes). If something needs to be changed, you can make those changes.
And never forget, you are a writer because you love writing so realizing that you are going to need to re-write major portions of your story only means that you get to do even more of what you love.