Does your understanding of the story you are writing change during the course of the book?

Before I wrote A Spark of Heavenly Fire, I did extensive research into pandemics and into the government’s response to such emergencies (I based my fictional response on actual executive orders that Clinton signed), so there wasn’t much change in my understanding of these matters during the course of the book, but there was a big difference in my thoughts about what “they” want us to know and what they don’t. When I learned about Pingfan, the Japanese biological warfare installation where they did horrendous experiments on POW’s and nearby villagers, I thought I’d stumbled onto something really explosive. Yet, as happened to a character in A Spark of Heavenly Fire, the very next novel I picked up used Pingfan as a setting. It got me to thinking about the nature of cover-ups, and many of the discussions in the last half of the book were actual discussions I had with a friend while I was writing the book.

Here are some responses from other authors about how their understanding of the story changes during the course of the book. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Sherrie Hansen, Author of “Love Notes”

I start the story, my characters finish it. Themes come to me as the book goes on, and often, when it’s totally finished. Sometimes I have to rewrite the beginning of the book, because by the time I’m done, I know the characters so well that I think they would never say or do the things they did at the beginning of the book.

From an interview with Cynthia Vespia, Author of “Sins And Virtues”

Sometimes. That makes it fun though. You expect it to go one way and instead it veers off course and takes you to an entirely new level. For me, when that happens, it feels like I’m reading it myself.

From an interview with Alan Place, Author of “Pat Canella: The Dockland Murders”

My understanding is constantly changing as the character evolve their own lives, I never try to force them to do things that I feel don’t fit.

What about you? Does your understanding of the story you are writing change during the course of the book?

(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire and follow the instruction.)


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

4 Responses to “Does your understanding of the story you are writing change during the course of the book?”

  1. Bill Chance Says:

    I had a writing teacher complain that the characters in his novels simply, “would not do what I want them to.”

    That’s always been an interesting idea to me, and a guide on how to make writing come alive.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    That was definitely how it was with Reborn City. It started out as a science-fiction adventure, plain and simple, but evolved into something much more as time went on.

  3. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I agree with Hansen. I start a story and my characters finish it. Writer’s block only ever comes when you are forcing a character to do something that is out of character for them. Hence as you come to more and more understand the wants, needs and abilities of your characters the novel changes. It would be a rather dull work if this was not the case. As in real life change is part of the game. The writing needs to have energy. It needs to be robust. You don’t get that if your characters are all the same or similar and you are merely pushing them across some imaginary player’s board. At the same token I agree with you about research. Get the scene as right as you possibly can. In the book I’m writing at present my main character has bought a 2011 cherry red Beetle he’s named Ruby. I’ve looked into this new fashioned Beetle. I’d love to own one myself.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I think it’s that understanding of a character that makes writers feel as if the character is running the show, when in fact, that is impossible. When your character is in character, the character’s actions and feelings become inevitable.

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