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?
- Would the story be stronger in a different setting?
- Are all the secondary characters worth retaining? Are they worth the page space?
- Am I stubbornly hanging onto a favorite scene, chapter, line that needs to go…or evolve?
- What’s missing? Am I brave enough to consider something radical?
- What’s holding it back from soaring?
- 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?
- 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…?
- 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.
- How far am I willing to let imagination roam in order to discover what the story lacks?
- 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.