Sunday, April 22, 2012

A to Z Challenge: String Theory

No matter how we write, at some point, we will have a completed draft that will require revisions and edits. Multiple rounds.

And this is where string theory comes in (and yes, I know it's not the same as its use in physics). It's incredible how much everything in a draft is connected

So, if you change something in the story, it might have an immense impact on the rest of what you've written. Or maybe it's just in my writing, but everything I write down either directly or indirectly means something later. Because of that, when you need to add something in, I strongly suggest that you put a lot of thought into how far that string goes. Otherwise, the reader might be pulled out of the story for one of hundreds of reasons, depending on the nature of the string.

Conversely, if you take something out, you need to make dead certain that every sign of its existence is removed from the story. For example, if you take a character (let's call him Jim) out. Anything that Jim did has to be removed or reassigned to other characters. And every sign of the remaining characters ever being aware of Jim's existence has to be taken away.

And removing things that characters did can really weaken the plot, so tread carefully. Don't assume that one round of edits will be enough. Changing things to the plot after rewrites are done can have a huge impact.

I was still finding loosened strings five edit rounds after I added things or took them away.

So keep an eye out for strings that came loose because of previous editing rounds....

Look Out for These:

1) Names of characters no longer existing in the story being mentioned.

2) Orphan chapters. Chapters that no longer connect fully to the plot because of changes you made.

3) Plot holes forming because you took the explanation away.  

Do you keep track of the strings of your story as you edit? How do you do it?


  1. Good lord yes. Happens to me with revisions all the time. Take out one thing and suddenly a few pages or worse a few chapters later and something is unraveling.

    I recently made a little change in a novella I was revising where the characters are stabling their horses. Within a few pages I realize I need to start cutting and rewriting. I had a funny scene I needed to remove, then a character I needed to include and another to rewrite. Two chapters down the road and the characters are off to fetch their horses and I realize I moved the damn things and need to start rewriting an entire running fight filled with atmosphere and action.

    I think it made better sense the way it came out, but it as just one teeny tiny change that started snowballing and pretty soon I'm being chased down a mountain by the world's biggest ball of string.

  2. Yes, this happens to me all the time. Small changes in the first few chapters have repercussions throughout the story and I have to keep a track of the character I have added or included, what he or she has said, done or thought. Whew, its tiring.

  3. Great post! Funny, you liken the major editing to string theory, I liken it to surgery. Same difference, really. If I just go in and do a small opp, it's no big deal, but if I do major surgery, I have to go through the entire ms and cauterize all loose ends, dangling scenes, bleeding characters. It's a difficult and tricky process.
    BTW, I love string theory!
    I'm over from A to Z. pop on by if you like! (Catherine Stine's Idea City)

  4. Good connection with strings :) I'm reminded of some of my very early attempts in novel writing and how I had to actually go back and forth, tens of pages of handwritten material and strike things over. Seems a very silly thing. I suppose I've learnt to value plotting my stories a little bit at aleast since then.

  5. That makes the revisioning hard. I fall into a trap where I revise as write, but that, I think, is even worse.

  6. Like ripples in a pond - every action sends ripples throughout the story.

  7. I always edit with a printed copy of my MS. That way, if I make a change like that I can make a note of it on the paper and check forward leaving notes for myself throughout the manuscript. Never edit without your trusty red pen!

  8. Ooh, great tips to be aware of. I try to watch for these things during all my edits.

  9. I have two screens open when I edit: one with the story, the other with a detailed chapter summary. That way I can make notes in the appropriate spots for big changes.

  10. Oh, yeah, this can be a problem. When I was on the 10th revision of "Tainted Souls" -- no, wait, maybe it was the 11th -- I added a short scene in a bar that required me to make little revisions in several chapters. I really dislike inattention to detail in other authors, so was determined there wouldn't be a single loose string anywhere in my novel.

  11. Wow thats a great blog... i am really happy reading on AtoZ of book writing


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