A lot of writing, the physical act of writing anyway, is not really writing. Technically it is, but there’s often more time spent on rewriting, which is a special type of writing that’s meant for a specific purpose. So long as we’ve learned to let go of hang-ups with perfectionism, we’re aware that the bits we write down first are going to need fixing.
It’s easy enough to do that for line-edits, when we work at getting rid of typos or making the language concise or otherwise more effective. We might feel as though an individual scene within the story is not as strong as it could be, and rewrite it with an eye to making the consequences more dire, or otherwise raising the stakes.
Rewriting is often looking at the way things currently are, and trying a different take on them. Every version of the scene adds something new, or has a slightly different feel, due to the variation in the words. In addition, the more time spent working on a scene, the more likely it is the scene will feel real to us. It doesn’t mean that every detail we write is used, but what begins as a vague idea of a kid avoiding a bully turns into a small boy in a dirty, ripped uniform, skulking about a schoolyard -and other details come about, too. The specifics aren’t important here, but every version brings us closer to seeing it, and could offer something that wasn’t there before. The boy might pick up a few rocks to defend himself with, or a stick, or leave his hat by a window. The essence of the scene remains the same, but every turn at writing it can result in something different to what came before.
For the structure of the story as a whole, it’s a similar beast.
There are events and details in every story that we want to tell. Some of those directly inform what comes next, and others are just things that happen to be so. If Star Wars had reversed the way the siblings were split up and had Luke Organa raised on Alderaan, while Leia Skywalker was raised on Tatooine, and each followed a progression similar to what their sibling did in the version we know, it would have been a different story, yet still have the elements that we know and love. What if it were Han and Luke that had turned out to be brothers instead of it being Luke and Leia? While this is just brain gymnastics about what could have been in an alternate universe version, you can see that while different (and potentially different with regard to how the rest of the trilogy played out on a small scale while keeping the overall progression the same), it still could have worked.
Some things feel more or less like they had to happen as they did. Obi-Wan dying? It has to happen there, not just because that’s what The Hero’s Journey dictates, but because that’s the moment that adds gravity to the situation through raising the stakes, making it personal, and validating Vader as a threat to characters that aren’t poodoo. It had to be then. If Vader had come down to Mos Eisley, and killed Obi-Wan before they left Docking Bay 94, it wouldn’t have the same weight. They’re events that have to go a certain way. The Imperials destroying Alderaan before they have Leia? Maybe.
It’s a big maybe. Let’s say you move the first test of the Death Star to the start of the movie (ignoring the destruction of Despayre that wasn’t on screen). Tarkin brings the Death Star into Alderaan’s orbit. Panic on the planet. The Tantive IV is in orbit as the planet gets destroyed, with Leia (who’s just coming home after a senate meeting on Coruscant) there to witness it. More panic. They hit hyperspace, and Tarkin sends Vader after her. They already know it’s serious, except this time the stakes are high for Leia from the very start. The rest plays out mostly the same, but it’s not as effective because we have no time to get to know Leia, and as a result we don’t feel the same loss when Alderaan is destroyed that we do later.
The order that events happen in affect the effectiveness of the story being told. What you’ve done in the first draft (or whatever your current is) might not be the best arrangement of the scenes you have. Reading through your draft, you will find instances where events that are unlinked might mirror each other, where there is a rush of events with a great deal of impact on the narrative and other periods where not much happens. It might be that the order needs a mix-up.
It happens the same with characters, and the actual impact that each character has will vary depending on their personality, their race, their gender, and their history or experiences. It will affect how other characters interact with them and change the story. It might make it better, it may make it worse, but what’s almost certain is that it will make it different. Different can be good, especially if things don’t feel fresh to you. Even a name change can present different connotations, or slightly adjust the personality of a character as your own ideas about the name influence the characterisation.
Revision is as much working through these details as it is fixing typos or resolving plot holes. Sometimes going through the process of really looking at the details – why the character is who they are, what causes things happen when they do and so forth – that can reveal what could be changed that not only gives the story a new perspective, but that may satisfy gaps in the narrative. What if your main character had a different gender? If they were vain? Generous? Had a gambling problem? What if they crashed their car later in the story, and it was a catalyst for their change?
If you do make these sorts of changes, the story will be different. It’s not certain that it will hold the same ideals that you began with, but often the details like this only change the minute, while allowing the story to still retain the same spirit. The changes can work, and may even make it better. Even if you keep the characters the same, and the sequence of events holds firm between each draft, understanding these details will also strengthen what you write because everything has a reason that justifies its presence, even if it’s only that it is the story that you want to tell.