Last weekend, an ambitious little spider strung a web across the front of my house. “Ambitious” is the operative word. Despite being no larger than gumdrop, it anchored off to the edge of the roof and then swooped over to the bushes by our front door, effectively turning the walkway into a sticky obstacle course. Since arachnids aren’t my favorite creatures, I found a stick and severed that far-flung strand. The web promptly collapsed.
In a sense, stories are like that. Critics may pick over this or that element, but narratives are whole, of a piece. You can’t add or subtract bits on a whim. Decisions affect the entire structure.
You see this most clearly with themes. It’s hard to make a CEO the antagonist and have readers come away with warm feelings about laissez-faire capitalism. Making a UN peacekeeping force rescue the hero from hostage-takers sends a different message than if he’s saved by soldiers-for-hire, à la the Iran hostage crisis. Ditto for other parts of your narrative. Setting your action in the 1970s changes your characters. Making one of them a kleptomaniac moves the plot in different directions. And so on and so on.
This is important to keep in mind during revisions, especially if you have a lot of people perusing your manuscript and the suggestions are flying. Without a thick skin and a clear head, it’s easy to sever some important strand and revise your work into shapelessness.
(Picture: CC 2008 by bitzcelt)