In a conversation with Craig about my post on Inspiration I got on the topic of how much you should be willing to change while writing your novel. I realized that I have been drawing on my experience as a Dungeon/Game Master when working on my own novels. To explain a bit.
When developing a story for a Pen and Paper group, where the story can take on any twist and turn as the players move through the narrative, you must be able to “roll with the punches”. So what I do is come up with my major NPCs and decide what their major goals, motivations, and character quirks are. I get my major plot points down and how I think they all could be connected and start my game. What this allows me to do is make changes to the narrative as the game progresses. Should the players do something that changes my original plan, I can roll with it because I know what the overall goal for the opposing NPCs is–and I know what they will likely do in response to the players.
How does this equate to a novel? I’m doing as much back-story as needed to know what my main character’s motivations are. I even get my major plot points down. Craig mentioned the fear of this limiting your flexibility. However, I don’t think that is the case. I believe the opposite. I believe you have even more flexibility. You will be so informed by your characters that any changes will be easy to figure out. You will allow your characters to tell you how they would handle any changes you see fit to make.
It was also mentioned that making changes may cause you to have to rewrite the entire story, thus putting you off schedule. My response is, “So be it.” Everything should be done in service to the story. You should never be married to a single idea. That will be your death knell. If everything else is telling you to change something, do it! You will end up with a stronger product in the end.
I’m reminded of an anecdote from Brad Bird–arguably the best story teller in Hollywood. When he first wrote The Incredibles he introduced a pilot that was going to fly the family to the island. This character was written in just to die in the explosion–to show that the bad guys, “meant business”. As development went on, he realized that it took up too much time to introduce a brand new character within the third act. And he realized, no one would care if this guy died because we didn’t have enough time to get to know him. He cut out the character, made the mom the pilot, and ended up with a tense and memorable scene. Originally Brad fought to keep the pilot in, but when it was said and done had a stronger story without him.
So I encourage you to listen to your characters and plot line. It may very well be telling you to change that moment which you originally thought was a cornerstone. Don’t be afraid.
Everything you do is in service to the story.