Can You Rebuild as Well as You Tear Down?

Construction Man

There is a time for everything . . .  a time to plant and a time to uproot . . . a time to tear down and a time to build. Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

I watch a certain show on Tuesdays (or at least I did until the season finale) where everything is in an upheaval. This show dovetails with a series of popular superhero movies. That should be enough of a hint for you to guess which show I mean. If you’re still at sea, feel free to ask me in the comments which show I mean, especially if you don’t live in this country and might not know. But I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, since the show is current. Suffice it to say that a major upset has taken place and the characters are putting the pieces back together.

That makes for good TV, right? It’s like when we were kids. We liked to build huge block towers only to knock them down and see what happens in the aftermath. Or, we wanted other people to build huge block towers while we had the satisfaction of knocking them down. That’s conflict. Shock, destruction, and chaos add up to a great season finale. Who didn’t reel when **SPOILER (and you’ll have to scroll past the next two pictures)** Captain Jean-Luc Picard had been assimilated into the Borg and called himself Locutus in the third season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Yes, I’m reaching way back. And maybe you were in diapers when the show aired so that reference means nothing to you. But the Borg were the enemies of the Federation. Picard belonged to the Federation.


Jean-Luc Picard

Jean Luc as Borg

Picard as Locutus **END SPOILER**

Overturns occur quite often in books, especially in some trilogies featuring a relationship between a hero/heroine and a would-be love interest. In book 1, which I think of as The Chase, two individuals dance around each other for 90 percent of the book until finally they get a happily ever after (or HEA) of sorts. In book 2, The Separation, the HEA is overturned. In book 3, The Renewal, the plot builds toward the couple swooning over each other again.

As much as I like a good overturn with organizations crumbling and cities in chaos, my skeptical button lights up when an overturn is presented on the page or on the screen, especially if the destruction is widespread. I wonder, Can the writers/producers/trained cats reconstruct to a satisfying degree what they’ve destroyed? I’m not saying the reconstruction always has to be like Bruce Wayne’s vow to rebuild Wayne Manor “brick for brick”—exactly the way it was—at the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005; script by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer)—thus ensuring that the world is exactly the same. (Okay, yeah, that’s a spoiler too.) Nothing is ever quite the same after a major upheaval. Think of the shape of our world after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 or the aftermath of a disaster like a hurricane.

Authors like J. K. Rowling and TV series creators/writers like J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), Michael Dante DiMartino (Avatar/Legend of Korra), and Bryan Konietzko (Avatar/Legend of Korra) know that a good plan for a series is paramount. Crafting a satisfying and credible season or a series, with all of the twists, overturns, and reconstruction leading up to its conclusion, takes time.

I’m reminded of the explosions that occur in movies. I recently watched the behind-the-scenes documentaries for Batman Begins for the sixth or seventh time, so the subject is fresh in my mind. Nolan and the effects team discussed how painstaking the planning was for the stunts, particularly the explosions. Once something is blown up, it stays blown up. You don’t get a second chance. But you need to plan for how an explosion will work and what it will change.

Overturns are like those explosions. Upheaval is a game changer. Consider the upheaval of The Avengers movie (2012; directed by Joss Whedon). Every Marvel movie after that has shown the aftermath of that event. So, how do you rebuild after that? What do you keep? What’s gone forever?

The Avengers Wallpapers 17

With that in mind, I’m issuing this plea to anyone who is in a destruction/reconstruction mode in their stories. I include myself in that plea, since I have a fair amount of destruction in my novel and am sometimes tempted to take the easy way out as I plan the sequel. Fellow authors, you wowed us with the destruction in your works. Now wow us with how you rebuild your world, or barring its destruction (i.e., Earth is blown up), how your surviving characters move on in a satisfying way. Please knock my socks off. I’ll be forever grateful.

earth blowing up

Earth destroyed

Construction sign from Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard/Locutus from and Earth blowing up image from Avengers image from

28 thoughts on “Can You Rebuild as Well as You Tear Down?

  1. A very good point, and you know, it’s something I never thought of 😀 I haven’t ever written anything major destruction wise, but if I do, I will definitely remember this advice.

  2. I love this post, Linda. It’s so true – that we need to use as much care and attention in rebuilding the world (or character) as when we tore it down. For me, it’s the putting things back together, however they are changed, that’s so cathartic.

    • Thanks, Sharon. Yes, I’ve been disappointed sometimes with sequels after a major upheaval takes place. Some of this has to do with an author taking five or ten years to write the first book, and then having a matter of months to write the sequel. And if he or she is writing on the fly, careful planning isn’t always possible. That’s why I know I need to get this sequel planned, even as I finished editing book 1.

  3. It’s definitely a shame when someone destroys something for ‘shock’ and then they’re in a bind because they still needed it. I was going to blow up one of my Windemere cities in a later series, but then I realized it was still holding some level of importance. Trying to think of a good example of something being destroyed before it’s time or there being no reconstruction. I guess anything where a character is killed and the survivors seem to go on as if nothing happened. I kind of like it when that creates change and they bring up the deceased from time to time.

    As for the show: It’s Law & Order, right? It’s always Law & Order. Or CSI. Those shows will never die.

    • It’s Agents of Shield. 🙂

      I know what you mean about shock value. That only goes so far. Or, sometimes, we might not know the true significance of something until later. The Clone Wars is an example of this. In the original first movie–A New Hope–just about all of the Jedis are dead. But the two Clone Wars animated series (and I include Genndy Tartakovsky’s in this) show how rich a period that time was before all of the destruction.

      • Prequels are always a danger. Star Wars is a good example of how continuity can be messed up. Not sure if they ever explained why Kenobi didn’t recognize the droids, especially since Anakin built C-3PO. I don’t know. I think it’s safer to do a reboot than something like that.

      • True. And I don’t think Padme was mentioned in the earlier movies. So much can happen when decades pass between works. It’s so hard to work backward. I hope I don’t have to write a prequel!

      • Not a peep of her. I think that was one of the reasons it was so hard to take the Anakin/Padme thing seriously. He was so broken-hearted about killing her that he never spoke of her again. 😛

  4. I’ve never written anything that involved major destruction, like things blowing up, Linda. I have written destruction in relationships and your post is screaming for me to ramp it up a bit. Thanks for the great advice! 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Jill. 🙂 Sure, relationship changes are a major point of upheaval. I also need to ramp up the tension as the relationships in my book evolve.

  5. One of my projects involves taking away everything my main character values, and leaving him with the kind of hopelessness that he sees all around him. But when someone (or a society) takes everything from you, and you feel you have nothing to lose, that often gives you the freedom to fight back. Or as the song goes, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

  6. I never, ever thought of this as concisely as you put it. In spite of the number of HEA books I’ve read (many of which, ironically, were murder mysteries) I never thought about how inconsistent it is with reality. I think my own writing usually reflects the can’t-go-back-home-again reality so many people experience in real life. Whether or would wrote anyone our not is not for me to say. Now that you’ve mentioned it though, I wonder why more people don’t just automatically incorporate rebuilding, given that most of us have experienced SOMEthing that redefined normal.

    • It’s easy to knock something down. The rebuilding part, I think, is the hardest. This is why I absolutely love The Return of the King and the SPOILERS hobbits’ return to Hobbiton. Here we see the aftermath of war and the hobbits’ attempts at rebuilding their lives. We see the ugly, new constructed buildings and Saruman’s awful influence. Rebuilding began once Saruman was killed and the buildings torn down. END SPOILERS. This is what I need to think about as I think about the next book in my series. How do I rebuild what I’ve torn down?

      • Tolkein really was brilliant when he wrote the aftermath of the war. Given he lived through both world wars and the great depression, though, he had waaaaay more experience with rebuilding than most of us. Even so, I think even something as simple as failing a class or losing a friend carries the seeds of some of the emotions involved.

  7. Gosh, I love every post you write, Linda!! So articulate and thought provoking. It’s fun to watch your process as it’s happening and your tweaking of your art. 🙂

  8. You always hit me with just what I need, Linda. While I’m always looking for ways to experiment, to push boundaries, I still must adhere to these principles and understand how and when to employ them. I often roll my eyes at these destruction/rebuild sequences, because they’re so predictable if the author doesn’t do that extra work.

    • Aww. Thanks. 🙂 I also do the eye roll if the destruction is just for shock value and the rebuilding that follows pales in comparison. This just points to what we already know: writing is hard work!!!

  9. Good advice Linda. Upheaval plays a big part in the backstory and current story of “Wolf’s Tail,” so I always like to hear people’s perspectives on them. Thanks for the great article! 🙂

  10. Whether it’s Upheaval on the large scale, as you describe it here, or a smaller-scale event (death of a grandparent, breakup of a couple), the ripple effect has to be considered. While I usually have no problem with such things when it comes to the main character(s), I do find I have to spend a fair amount of revision time looking at how various secondary characters would be affected.

    There’s a line from Robert Frost that helps me remember: “the question they ask in all but words//is what to make of a diminished thing.”

    • Good quote! And I agree that the ripple effect among the secondary characters is one I spend a lot of time on too. I find myself writing and readjusting the back stories of those characters to try to understand how their lives have changed.

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