Metamorphosis of a Cabin… ahem, I mean Novel

It started as an ugly shell – just hand-sawn timbers and rough plywood. Our wilderness cabin wasn’t meant to be anything more than a fishing shack, and that’s all it was for many years.

Then the dynamics of our family changed and we decided it had cottage potential. We began to modify the shack to make it habitable year ‘round. The porch was closed in and insulation, wallboard and flooring were added. A wall went up to create a 6’ x 7’ back-corner bedroom. Cedar siding rescued from a demolished city house finished the exterior.

Improvements were gradual, but through the years each renovation and refinement made our little cabin in the woods more livable. A recent expansion doubled the design to a generous (?) 480 square feet, and now the exterior has been re-clad in recycled vinyl siding.

What was once ugly has become passably attractive. The drafty fishing shack is now snug even at -35 degrees. It’s still rustic, without electricity or running water, but it has morphed into something relatively comfortable.

The cabin’s metamorphosis could be a metaphor about novel writing. I know, I know… you have to stretch your imagination a bit here, but think about it. We start with an idea, begin constructing the bare bones, flesh it out, stand back and evaluate, and then revise the whole configuration until it becomes an organized and interesting story. At each stage it’s recognizable, but not particularly exciting. It takes a lot of work and a fair amount of know-how to develop the initial idea into a solid structure.


I wonder how many shacks in the woods were destined to become more elaborate buildings.


Do you have many sketchy ideas in your notebook waiting to be developed into something more? How much planning will be needed before they take shape? Will you draw up a detailed blueprint first or construct as you go?


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

15 thoughts on “Metamorphosis of a Cabin… ahem, I mean Novel

  1. I usually start with a character, an idea and a general them. I build and construct as I go. Sometimes I do a bit of planning but most times I simply go with the ideas as they come..

  2. Carol, I love this analogy. I think I “construct” as I go. Often times I wake in the middle of the night with an idea, but forget about it by morning. I used to keep a pen and paper at my bedside and turn the light on, all night long. I would be so excited about an idea, and thoughts would continue coming, that I eventually gave in, got up and headed to the computer. Now, I don’t “allow” myself to have paper and pen——in the middle of the night—-

  3. My current novel in progress came from a nugget my mother discovered during a genealogy search. I had always wanted to be a fly on the wall in the house of Lydia and Morris. But since I couldn’t be, I get to make it all up. Whee!!

  4. Carol,
    I love this analogy! It’s one I’ve used for years to explain to people how my novel evolved and was made stronger with each draft.

    From the foundation, to the last flower box in the windows, creating a building takes time and careful planning. A novel is no different.

    Christi Corbett

  5. Morphing, yes, a very novel-like progression that finally produces a marketable novel. Great post. If novelists are unwilling to bear with the work involved, unfinished stories will populate their files. I’m trying to encourage myself to go the extra mile. I’m not driven with the excitement to finish my MS as I should be, but I did spend time in the middle of the night revising. Sometimes one must push a load over a mountain, after which it may roll down the other side in its own dynamic. Time is always an issue for me. Blessings to you…

  6. Great metaphor, Carol! I can testify to the long process of rebuilding and adding on and improving our novels need. My second book is still going through re-modeling. I’m praying that in the end it will become something readers can get inside of and really enjoy. But it takes a lot of work to get to that point. And I’m afraid at this point it’s still a bit drafty! 🙂

  7. I’m hounded by these imaginary characters that won’t leave me alone. I tell them to go away, but will they? NO! And strangely, once I begin to tell their stories, I realize they really are kindred spirits. When it’s time to say goodbye, it’s not easy. In fact, I still visit them once in a while. For instance, every time I stop in and say hi to Valerie, she’s exactly the same. Guess that doesn’t constitute constructional changes. Although, her story did go through a lot of renovations while we were working together. Now, she just smiles and says, “Remember when…?”

  8. I always outline in some shape or form before I begin a story or novel. I need to have a plan of the basic plot and scenes I’m already beginning to think of. These are usually made into bulletpointed word documents, but originate from scuffy, barely illegible notes in my notebook. I don’t want to forget a thing.

    I do a very basic fact sheet about my characters, only so I have a basis to build my story on. Character development is something I build up during the story – it’s one of my favourite parts of writing. Then, I can go back and edit my first draft to make my characters seem whole rather than the sketchy details at the start.

    Brilliant analogy, Carol. Good luck with the cabin!

  9. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your ‘construction’ processes. Jeanette asked how often I stay at our cabin. We usually spend two or three weeks there in the summer, a week or two during hunting season, and maybe a long weekend here and there during the year. Other members of the family go during the winter for a snowmobiling holiday. There’s no real schedule so it varies from year to year. Joylene, I love your image of completed novels being permanent residences for the characters where you can revisit them. Kiara, thanks for coming by to read and comment.

  10. The great thing about construction is the chance to see progress (or lack of) on a project. The creative part of me – miniscule to be sure – starts out with a lot of “what if”. My business (construction) side is …. “What idiot came up with this design & ……”

  11. As the wive of a contractor, I really really enjoyed seeing these pictures and then taking the analogy to our writing. Thank you!

  12. I’m glad the construction image resonated. It’s still a very little cabin but after more than thirty-five years of puttering with it, it’s significantly better than it started out. Hopefully it doesn’t take any of us thirty-five years to get the improvements done on our novels! 😮

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