When the WIP forces change on your writing style


I didn’t expect to, not this late in the middle book of a trilogy.

I capture these thoughts when they happen, hoping to have something to refer to when it happens again.

The constraint here is both the calendar – the end is near, and the content until the last scene is what it has to be – and a sense of pace.

In the real world, things have their own importance, and can’t be hurried – or slowed. Their pace is what their pace is.

In fiction, however, technically every bit is under the immediate and complete control of the writer – nothing happens without her say so – and completely not. Why? Because the pace you work hard to develop as you go seems to have a built-in speed you didn’t put there.

I’m not used to this

All pantsers are familiar with this.

Whereas I, an extreme plotter, like to think I’m in control of everything.

The story takes over.

And you bumble around in the dark until you learn.

Oh, and try doing this with WRITER brain fog!

You can’t write chaos smoothly

But it can’t be completely chaotic stream-of-consciousness either, not for very long on the page: the Reader won’t stand for it.

So it’s a mixture, and, from deep third multiple pov, you have to credibly present a chaotic situation for a character you’ve already developed (starting that way in Chapter 1 or with a new character is a different ballgame), and who is usually much less confused.

So you will get a little indulgence from your audience, but don’t want to presume on that – or they’ll start skimming, and you’ve lost them.


So, another skill attempted in the craft.

I wonder what the beta reader will say.


If you’re a reader, do you notice this kind of thing? And how much patience do you have for a change in how you see characters, especially when they’re under stress?

If you’re a writer, has this one bitten your ankles?



24 thoughts on “When the WIP forces change on your writing style

  1. joey

    Rarely, when I am reading, I find things grow stagnant, and then whoosh up again, and I always wonder what was so damned important about the things I was reading in the stagnant spot, as if it was a space maker, time keeper, filler section. The Boneclocks had a lot of that — so frequent, I actually recall it years later. It’s a magnificent book, but there was a change in pace too often for me. I can’t say I’ve noticed any annoying character shifts the way you describe. I think a good tool is to change a character’s well-known behavior to express the degree of stress, so you’re probably doing it right.
    I’m a pantser and I only struggle with everything 😉


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      If you can tell, as a reader, that the pace is all over the place, it is frustrating – because there’s nothing the reader can do about it except skim.

      The chaos shouldn’t go on too long, especially if it’s a necessary short piece with a different ‘feel’ to it. But the times were overwhelming as the character went through them. I hope that shows properly – we’ll see.

      Now do it all in high heels, and backward, as Ginger Rogers said about dancing with Fred Astaire. Not so easy.

      My beta reader is really good with noticing when she’s taken out of the story. I will defer to her.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Widdershins

    Just dropping in to say , ‘Hi’. 😀 … I’m finally fully back online, with a shiny new monitor that’s considerably bigger than my old one, and curved, which is very cool, and makes more of a difference that I gave it credit for when I was looking at it in the store.
    Hope you’re doing well, m’dear 🙂 … and the new year is trundling along nicely. 🙂


  3. Silvia Writes

    As a reader, I notice almost everything because, much as I don’t always like it, my writer mind kicks in. I’m getting less and less patient with overly long scenes and sudden change in character – anything sudden, for that matter. As long as the scene is credible, I’ll go along, but once taken out of the story in one tiny scene, it’s hard to go back, even if the story only gets better.
    As a writer, I took to writing and reading short stories, where there is only so much space for character development and pace. I’m mostly a pantser, so it takes me longer to get something done, but as they say… the joy is in the journey.


  4. Chris

    As a writer of introspective literary fiction, my work involves a lot of subconscious work, allowing the book to take over as it needs to. I also have an obsessive, immersive approach to writing: intense bursts of writing energy for a few weeks, and the book is ready; I don’t have time to feel doubts or see a change in style (though some subtle ones might be dictated by the subconscious process)

    As a reader, these are noticeable. When they happen consciously (as a result of the writer trying to solve a perceived issue), they’re usually awkward. Paul Auster is one exception coming to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I am bound by a different set of constraints: for me, for this trilogy, the story is primary – and cannot happen at all if the planned stepping stones aren’t in place, each one reachable from the previous one.

      I have put years of thought into how to make this journey happen, after years of wondering if it was the right story.

      Because, in the end, I want readers to believe it. The scope is large, the length deliberate, the characters selected for the story as well as the plot for the characters.

      It’s not allowed to take over. It’s a ‘big book.’

      But that doesn’t mean it can’t be written well, characterized deeply. One of my reviewers said I’ve constructed “characters whom one comes to know, ((dare I say this?)) rather better than one knows one’s spouse, or significant other. She does this better than any other author I have yet read.” Exactly what I’m aiming for.

      Fiction has different aims, and in some cases even the author claims not to know some of them. Letting the book take over is an option – but not for me and not for this one.


  5. Lloyd Lofthouse

    I read something recently and I can’t remember the name of the writer. Maybe I mentioned that writer here in an earlier comment.

    He or she said when they hit a roadblock, they throw an unexpected conflict at their main character that wasn’t planned for. Such as having the main character’s house burn down with everything they won.

    That author said doing that gets stuff moving again.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      That’s a pantser move (popularized by Lawrence Block, who said to bring in a man with a gun when the story flagged).

      It’s, in my estimation, a very pale effort compared to plotting well – because when you plot well, that house-fire is completely unexpected AND completely inevitable when it happens, and the repercussions are in every thread.

      But that’s just me.


      1. acflory

        ‘completely unexpected and completely inevitable’ Yes!!!!!!! Believe it or not, pantsters, or at least /this/ pantster strives for exactly that as well. And…when those scenes work, they lift the whole story to a higher level. That’s the potential they hold. Good luck and may 2022 be a Really. Good. Year. 🙂


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Pantsers may have to retrofit to make this happen. I didn’t say it couldn’t be done! But sometimes it requires major rewrites.

          My energy is a scarce resource; planning seems to make it work better and last longer. And it is my way of making book-long decisions – which I then micromanage at the chapter, scene, and beat level.

          Believe it or not, courtesy of folk LIKE Lawrence Block, I started out as a pantser. Then I realized it really isn’t me.

          My advice to newbies is to figure out where they are on that spectrum (clue: look to what you like to READ) from pantser to plotter, and find the right teachers and books to learn from. It may save them years.

          Or maybe everyone has to make that mistake/choice organically, on their own, in their own writing.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. acflory

          Yes, ‘retrofit’ is a good word for it. Well into book 3 of Innerscape, I had one of those moments to do with the scent of lemon. That scent ended up giving that scene its oomph, trouble was, if it was to be a signature scent, it would have to be a part of the character’s arc from the beginning. A very small part, but necessary. Then I remembered that in book 1, I’d mentioned a perfume for Miira. Weaving in another scent for someone else became the obvious thing to do.
          lmao – luckily I didn’t publish any of the books until I’d finished the last one of the trilogy so retrofitting was easy and ‘natural’.
          I guess that writing an entire trilogy before publication is the pantster way of trying to make the plot is deep, rich and /consistent/…along with the pace and all the million and one other things that a story needs.
          I wish I’d known I was a pantster hybrid when I first started writing. 🙂


        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I think you are what you are as a writer – and you spend your writing life discovering it.

          I had no problem publishing PURGATORY because there was nothing that I worried about changing (arrogance of the newbie?) – and I haven’t had to (cockiness of the newbie?).

          More normal people don’t take as long as I do!

          Liked by 1 person

        4. acflory

          lol – I agree with the first bit. Totally disagree with the normal bit. There are some who can publish something every month – novel, novella, whatever. And then there are the in-betweeners who may publish once a year or once every 2 years. Then there are writers like us. It took me 9 years to publish Vokhtah so I’m hardly a speedie gonzales either. We are what we are. 😀


    2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I’m not against pantsing, bringing in a gun, burning the house down… it’s just not ME.

      And it turns out that I usually don’t like those books – again, ME.

      Other people LIKE them – possibly because stories like that are very close to the total randomness that can invade real life.

      Me, I’ve had enough of real life.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. naleta

    As a reader, I don’t mind seeing characters change under stress, as long as they don’t change TOO much, or in too wildly different directions. After all, stress in real life can change folks, emphasizing cracks that were already there, creating a few new cracks that may develop over time, etc.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author


      But it SOMEHOW has to make SENSE to the reader. If the vessel is going to crack, the fault lines have to be built in from the beginning.

      Those deeply-buried fault lines have to exist before you use them – and the reader has to say, “Of course!”

      IMNVHO, of course.



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