Continuous change in writing

Changing direction

You’d think that once in print, on paper or digitally, a piece of written work was finished. Well, no. Revised editions, additional content and reworking show that change is continuous. In fact, change is all around us; time, seasons, weather, people moving in, moving out, governments, friends, cars, shops, children, relationships. One of the things that is deep-seated in our psyche and which marks us out as human beings is our ability to adapt to change.

Good writing is nothing if not dynamic. Being open about changing our words is the spirit behind good editing. As a new writer, I acted like a mother tigress defending the precious sentences that I’d wrenched out of my soul, but now I know that was being precious in the other sense. Change through editing can give your words more impact, more power and more life.

Ensuring your story reflects and embraces change will resonate strongly with readers. Your plotline may change and that’s quite normal as you develop your narrative. But two areas are often forgotten: setting and character.

Pembury Kent, 50 years apart: shops, cars, height of trees, zebra to pelican crossing, pub sign

Setting changes
The easy one first – setting, which includes physical environment, weather and atmosphere. It’s unlikely the weather stays the same between two scenes if your story is set in the UK. In France, we have longer periods of settled weather, but shadows lengthen and shorten as sunlight strengthens and weakens. Wind, storms, floods, Siberian blasts across plains and blizzards in mountains convey passing time.

Governments rise and fall, politicians itch with change, the most rigid of social groupings are broken, polarised and re-formed. Landscapes are impacted by war, technology and changes in industrial and farming practice and policies.

Seasons change as do plant cycles. I once read a book set in January where ripe grapes hung on vines! No, you should be pruning stick-like remnants then to within an inch of their life. Less romantically, roads are built and repaired (or not), new industrial buildings erected and shops open and close. Who hasn’t gone back to their childhood  home and noticed how much it’s changed?

Character changes
I’m taking it for granted that your characters change and/or are changed by your story whether through an experience, an event or an encounter with another character, or all three. A child grows up, a teenager learns a harsh lesson, a retiree suddenly has to cope alone when a partner has gone.

But if your story takes place over a few years, people should age: change in hair colour, skin tone, the need for glasses or hearing aids, illness, childbirth, disease or injury. A sixty-year-old can’t hack it like a forty-year-old who can’t hack it like a twenty-year-old. That confident twenty-year-old who thinks she is the mistress of the universe doesn’t generally have the experience, wisdom or maturity of a sixty-year-old.

People often change their names through adoption, marriage, divorce, widowhood, emigration or a need to hide their past. They also change their style of clothing, or sometimes stay fixed in the fashion or their youth, or what is comfortable.

And people’s needs change, not just in the physical environment like housing or food. After the acquisition phase of life, many people yearn for a simpler, streamlined existence and refocus on experiences and relationships rather than things.

If you write series, some of your characters will soften or harden attitudes, and change needs while retaining and honing their core values. The older Aurelia in my first Roma Nova trilogy is a lot calmer and wiser at 70/77 and 85 years old than she is in the  prequel trilogy which takes  place in her youth (28 years old) and middle period of her life (45/47 years old).

Great stories can come from change, or lack of it. I suggest you keep the word ‘Change?’ pinned up on somewhere visible on your writing noticeboard and consider it for every scene you write.

Happy writing!


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIAINSURRECTIO and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, is available for download now. Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter

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