Sunday, October 24, 2010

Revising: The Chain Reaction

Right now I'm knee deep in revisions. I'm adding scenes, fleshing out characters, and trying to decide if the ending is awesome or really crappy. Good times.

One of the problems I run into every time I revise a manuscript is the chain reaction.

The chain reaction occurs when I decide that the choice the main character made on page 5 really isn't consistent with his character the rest of the story. He must make a different choice. That different choice snowballs into changes on pages 6, 8, and 10 and those changes cause problems with pages 12, 16, and 20. Pretty soon I'm rewriting almost the entire book.

This makes me crazy.

I try to come up with some way I could just not change the thing on page 5, but I'm pretty sure the book will stink if I leave it as it is. I try to patch up pages 6 and 8 so they won't cause problems later. Some of the patches work. Most don't. The chain reaction has taken hold of the manuscript and it won't let go until I rewrite every single thing in it's path.

The interesting thing is, though I hate chain reactions while I'm revising, I love chain reaction revisions once I'm done. They fill in the gaps and make the characters believable.

Do you run into chain reactions when you revise? Is this a problem plotters run into too, or does it only happen to those of us who write without outlines?


32 comments:

Magan said...

I've never heard of this called a chain reaction and the way you describe it is EXACTLLY how it happens. All of a sudden I realize that "Oh didn't think my character would do that, but it makes sense with the story." Thanks for the great post!

Kathryn said...

No way - I'm a plotter, and I've run into this a few times. Especially when I don't see something that my betas see, and that results in a huge, overall rewrite. I'm considering drawing a huge map on my bedroom wall, just to make sure I have all possibilities laid out before I begin my next ms, but hubby isn't too fond of that idea.

Keep going!

Dolly said...

I am going through it right now. I had an outline (not perfect), I wrote a book, I revised it, and then I was revising it again. Few things started bugging me, one idea led to another - and now I am doing an entire revised outline, and planning to rewrite the whole thing. The book overall remains the same, but I am changing enough things that I have to start from beginning.

This has however led me to decide from now on my outlines are going to be much more indepth, and so hopefully, this can be avoided in the future.

Emy Shin (Sandy) said...

"Chain reaction" is a great way to put it! That's one of the scariest things about revisions -- that one tiny change can lead to so many other changes. What scares me more than rewriting, however, is the possibility of overlooking a step in the chain, ending up with a scene that's out-of-place.

Good luck with your revisions!

Vonna said...

I love working from a lengthy outline, but for me, an outline alone won't stop this problem. Once I have the basic concept for a story, I have to do a lot of pre-writing to get to know my characters. After that, the outline helps a lot, but even then those characters can be pretty sneaky about changing their minds.

Lola Sharp said...

Oh yeah, I know the syndrome well. I call it The Ripple Effect...and it happens in Revision Hell. I'm slog slog slogging through Revision Hell right now, too. *sigh* It's painful, slow and...hellish.

But, it's all part of the process to have a finished, pristine novel we can feel proud to have written. It's my least favorite part of the process, but possibly the most important.
(oh, and I've tried to patch things/take shortcuts in a fit of laziness and rebellion...then promptly call myself a slacker, rip it all out and do it right, thoughtfully...s-l-o-w-l-y...all the while knowing that getting jammed in the eye repeatedly with a rusty, dull fork would be infinitely more enjoyable. *sigh*) (also, I'm not an outliner either. I start with a character and let them take me on their journey)

Good luck! It will be a better book for your efforts.
Have a great week,
Lola

Jade said...

Ah, that recently happened to me. I changed a major subplot which not only affected a lot of changes in the plot, but also the characterization of the MC. Fun times.

Indigo said...

I'm fortunate enough my chain reaction is all ass backwards. I made changes in later chapters that work well. It's a simple matter of changing up the beginning to match the characterization. Fingers crossed it's as easy as I talked about here. Even so, I'm gutting a lot of my beginning.

Oh yeah, I don't outline either. (Hugs)Indigo

Heather Eagar said...

I don't do the outline thing and I'm just about to jump into revisions. I'm not even finished with my rough draft yet, but I know that I need to change and develop a lot of things already. I don't want to have to re-write the whole last half because of what I'm about to change in the first half. Hopefully this will save me some future revisions, but we'll see. My characters just seem to take on a life of their own and take me for the ride. I like it better that way. It seems more natural.

Melissa said...

Yep, it happened to me when I started revisions. It's so hard having to make those changes, but the book will be way better when it's done.

Trisha Leaver said...

I so love this post!!! You nailed by revising day perfectly. I made a change to a character late last night, and bam -- messed up the whole ms. Problem is it was a good change, so I am stuck plowing through until everything reads just right. Makes me think maybe I should consider becoming a plotter LOL!

Tess said...

Another writer I know compared it to moving furniture... when you move the couch but now you have those divits in the carpet that need to be covered up. It really is tough and not for the faint of heart!

Adam Heine said...

I'm a huge plotter, and it still happens. I had to change the age of one of my protagonists. Now, because a third of the chapters follow one character's past and because my story timeline was plotted so tightly, the chain reaction is reaching backwards into the past. It's weird.

Kelly Lyman said...

Oh, girl. I feel your pain. This happened to me in May. I had to change an aspect of my story in the beginning which caused me to write a whole new chapter and finally rewrite the entire story! I didn't do an outline...

Tracy Loewer said...

The same thing happened to me with my current MS that I thought would be ready months ago. Life settled down enough for me to finally get around to finishing the edits, which only led to some changes that required more tweaking. Sigh. It's better, so that's the bright side. I'm trying to have patience with the process...but I'll still pout about it a little. :)

Patti said...

All the time. Then you have to think of a way to make page 30 fit with page 10 and 103.

Jolene Perry said...

Totally with you. Love the chain reactions, the little things that come up over and over and I LOVE them while I'm writing. And I LOVE them while I'm reading but yes. While revising? They suck.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Plotting a little more has helped cut it down some, but absolutely this still happens to me.

Those characters love to think they're boss!
~ Wendy

Giles Hash said...

The first book I wrote was FILLED with those kinds of chain reactions, but for some reason, the second one went a lot more smoothly. I had to make a few fixes here and there, but they didn't really take up much of my revision time. I lucked out :D

Georgina Dollface said...

I guess revising is kind of like renovating a house too! Once you change the bathroom it no longer fits with the kitchen which no longer fits with the floor covering which no longer fits with....and on and on until the whole place is redone! But I guess manuscript revisions are a bit easier on the wallet!
Good luck and congratulations on getting to the revision phase, that's a big milestone in my eyes! - G

Em-Musing said...

Totally can relate. Today I'm knee deep in revisions.

Sara B. Larson said...

I think most authors can relate to this. Yes, we plot in an effort to avoid it, but sometimes... sigh. I've also heard it described as pulling a card out of a house of cards. You try not to even breathe so that house won't collpapse, but once you pull the card... down it goes. Good luck!

Terri Tiffany said...

Not as bad as you've had it--but it has happened. My biggest weaknest is making sure my character is consisitent in their choices.

Joanne Fritz said...

Great post, Natalie. I like Lola's name for it -- the Ripple Effect. But chain reaction works too. And it just happened to me for the first time! Had already revised nearly half of my first novel, then suddenly realized I needed to change a major character's motivation. And now I have to go back to Chapter One and fix it all the way through. Lots of work, but worth it.

AchingHope said...

I'm still figuring out my editing process, but I know The Chain Reaction is one of my greatest fears. Actually, Re-Writing in general is too, but anyway.

Hope all goes well with your revisions! :)

Regina said...

I think everyone runs into a snowball from time to time. no escaping at least one in a lifetime. :) You will work it out, just remember to breathe.

Chris Phillips said...

I feel the same way. I would rather rewrite it though than try to compensate because the second I go back and read how I had it without changing the thing on page 5 I fall in love with the stuff on pages 12, 12, and 14 and don't want to let go.

Jaime said...

I ALWAYS run into chain reactions! YES! i'm in the middle of one right now. I so relate. Great post!

~ said...

yes!! But it often happens backwards... like I get to chapter 30 and decide there isn't enough depth.. and have to go back chaning the character all the way to the very beginning!!!
great post.

storyqueen said...

I have a revision coming up and I am just sweating bullets.....so scared that it will be HARD.

Medeia Sharif said...

I've been through this. A small but necessary change causes a chain reaction.

paulgreci said...

I've plotted some stories and winged others and I've always had to deal with the chain reaction cycle, sometimes the chains are short, sometimes long but they've never not been present.