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Monday, March 18, 2013

Evolution Isn't All Bad

CynthiaRuchti tells stories of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark through her novels and novellas, devotion collections, speaking, teaching, and a history of 33 years as a radio writer/producer. Her books have been recognized by RT Reviewers’ Choice, Retailers’ Choice, Family Fiction Readers’ Choice, and other honors. Her novel When the Morning Glory Blooms (Abingdon Press Fiction) releases April 1, 2013, and has received an impressive 4-1/2 stars AND Top Pick from Romantic Times. In July, her nonfiction project—Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of OtherPeople’s Choices—releases from Abingdon Press Christian Living.

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 “I can’t imagine this scene any other way.” … “No, I can’t kill off such a beloved character!” … “Read my lips. I’ll never write historicals.” …“I’ll never write contemporaries.” … “You’ll never find the word Amish in one of my novels.”

I don’t remember saying the words aloud, but the last of the foot-planting fell this past month when I keyed in the letters A-m-i-s-h in the final draft of a novel that releases in 2014. I know. It surprised me, too.

Another novel, releasing April 1, 2013—When the Morning Glory Blooms (Abingdon Press)—could form an Evolution is Not a Dirty Word chapter of a fiction craft book. In its earliest form, it had one viewpoint character and one timeline—the late 1800s. It languished that way in the primordial ooze for years. Not quite whole. Its limbs weren’t fully formed. The character telling her story did a lot of that. Telling.  But I couldn’t imagine the book any other way.

Tenacity is prettier than stubbornness. So I traded up. I let imagination wander far enough to include a second era, a second point-of-view character. Better. Now the story could both swim and crawl. It crawled and swam for three more years. But I wanted it to fly, too.

On the phone with a writer friend one day, I moaned, “I feel as if it needs a contemporary element. A third viewpoint character. A third era. That’s crazy. How could I make that work? But I can’t get away from the feeling that it needs the contemporary component.”

“Then do it,” she said.

Evolution? In the world of writing, it pairs well with creation. The book that started out as one woman’s story turned into three women’s stories told in three eras. When I quit fighting the things I said I’d never do, the novel was free to become something better, richer, deeper, more satisfying—even to me—than its original version.

 “I’ll never” may be among the most dangerous words a writer can utter. Stubbornly clinging to an initial concept could cost the heart of the story that longs to be told.

Swim. Crawl. Fly. What questions should a writer ask to help a story evolve to its full potential?

  1. Would the story be stronger in a different setting?
  2. Are all the secondary characters worth retaining? Are they worth the page space?
  3. Am I stubbornly hanging onto a favorite scene, chapter, line that needs to go…or evolve?
  4. What’s missing? Am I brave enough to consider something radical?
  5. What’s holding it back from soaring?
  6. Have I resisted the depth of research it would take to pull the story out of the ooze and onto solid ground? Is resisting fair to the story?
  7. Am I tapping into the wisdom of others who have the story’s best interests at heart—a wise author friend, my editor, my agent, a mentor…?
  8. Am I looking at the words I write as if they are untouchable treasures or as tools of storytelling? One will make them petrified. The other will make them pliable.
  9. How far am I willing to let imagination roam in order to discover what the story lacks?
  10. Am I thinking dangerously about this story, using words like “I’ll never” or “I can’t imagine it any other way”?

Just a few days from the launch of the novel that evolved when I was willing to ask questions like these, I’m grateful for the friend who challenged, “Then do it.” I’m grateful for the editor who said, “Go for it, but make sure all the threads of all three stories are tied up at the end.” And I’m grateful for a God who isn’t stingy with imagination, a God who decided creativity was one of the character traits we could share with Him, a God who cared about the story before I did and wouldn’t let me settle for half-formed.

If you pick up a copy of When the Morning Glory Blooms, try to picture it with any one of the three eras and three viewpoint characters missing. It wouldn’t be the same, would it?

When have you waded through a similar process in one of your own projects? How hard was it to give up the form you thought the story was meant to take in order to let it find its breath? 

Leave a comment about that process or your thoughts on these “evolution” questions so we can keep the discussion going, and I’ll enter you to win an autographed copy of When the Morning Glory Blooms.


  1. Great and encouraging article! Thank you for the tips. :)


  2. Thanks, Stephanie! I can't write a post like this without being taught and encouraged by it myself. :) It's actually applying to a project I have on my computer today! Thanks for the comment.

  3. I love it when writers think out of the box. God is amazing the way He speaks to us and changes a story to touch readers. Thanks for sharing, Cynthia!

  4. Thanks for stopping by, "Thoughtsonplot." I agree. So often--no, always!--what He thinks up is far superior to what I planned on my own. It's a great life lesson, isn't it?

  5. Love your mention of the evolutionary process that allows our stories to grow into the things they would have been from the beginning if we could have birthed them fully formed. All I can say is that I'm grateful mine weren't scarfed up earlier--the process allowed me and my characters to grow and change and become so much more fully formed.

    And you're absolutely right that the "I'll nevers" may be just the thing that will get us out of our rut if we make them "possibilities" instead.

  6. Well said, Normandie! I'm going to apply some "possibilities" to some "I'll nevers" today as I work on another proposal!

  7. Very thoughtful and thought provoking, Cynthia. I, too, found some of the best scenes in my novel were unplanned and took me by surprise.

  8. Being brave enough is one of the greatest challenges for many of the questions you posed.

  9. Lyndie and Rachel, your points are so on target. Bravery and welcoming the unplanned. Rachel, when you read the book, you may discover a whole other layer to your comment! :)

  10. Hi Sandra and Cynthia, sorry I am late posting due to watching my almost 1 year old granddaughter yesterday. Us grannies have to have their priorities, you know! I loved this piece because I am presently re-writing a story I sent to an agent who wanted me to rewrite it leaving out a crucial (I thought) plot point and adding in another character. I started adding in the character, then spent weeks holding on to my writing and not trusting God enough to reach out for a solution until I talked with a good friend who gave me some direction, and now I am on my way to finish the rewrite. Wisdom is certainly helped by wise friends! Hope I win this book, but if not it will go on my TBO (to be ordered) list. Thanks for showcasing it.

  11. Hard questions, Cynthia, but I can totally see how these would evolve a story from so-so to superb. I know I struggle the most with secondary characters - I want them all in my stories! I've killed babies, ended pregnancies, killed off granny, Uncle Joe, the Bess in a Nancy, Bess, and George trio, and even a husband or two. It's not fun, and it makes me look positively sociopathic, but it's necessary.

    Great article.

  12. Becky and Rose, you both made me smile! Thanks for your perspectives. My, don't we grow when we let go of what we once held dear?

  13. what a great posting, really makes you think! thanks for the chance to read your latest novel.

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com


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