Isn’t it just a fact that while us writers like to write, we sort of… like talking about writing even more? And especially our own writing. At least it’s true for me, which is why even as I start a new story, I’m rubbing lil hands thinking of the time when I can do reflections because it’s my excuse to blab about my own writing for a bit. So, that’s what this post is. I like to reflect on a story after I’m done – how the story evolved over time, what I liked, and what I’m not as happy with. I like to do this for me, because it’s my chance to think back and reflect, and I like to think maybe others will enjoy seeing how a writing process can look. I know a lot more writers who plan at least something in advance, whereas I like to start writing and figure things out along the way and editing a lot. It’s a mess, but it’s my mess, so let’s take a look at the messy process that resulted in Heartwood.
Right off the bat, Heartwood has been a trip. The document I wrote the story in was created in July 2019 (before I completed generation 2), and in-between then and completing Heartwood, there’s been a fucking pandemic, I completed my education, started working full-time, and my first (and only) relationship ended. I think, all things considered, Heartwood is pretty coherent. Since it’s so short, I’ve managed to stick to a fairly consistent visual style and feel, at least once I nailed the story down. It took a while, though, and along the way I had to consider what Lia would actually become.
After leaving the rich girl lifestyle behind, Lia was kind of a blank slate. She was always a filler character, created to give her brother someone to care about, but once I started thinking about her reaction to leaving her old life behind, I realised that she has to have had a much, much tougher time of it than her brother. Since he had a university education and a job outside the home, he got to build more of a life for himself and to go places other than his home. Lia was completely isolated and bored, with nothing to look forward to but living in a different mansion once she married and then having kids that would probably be taken care of by a nanny. The problem, then, became what Lia would do once she was free?
I always imagined Lia doing some sort of office job. The transition from sleek, elegant rich socialite to elegant professional lady wasn’t a stretch, but I wasn’t sure what exactly she would be doing.
In earlier versions of the story, I imagined her being a UX’er. For those not in the know, UX stands for User Experience, and UX’ers work in IT, helping developers make applications and websites that are user friendly, accessible, and satisfying to use. I basically picked this profession because it’s something that interests me and is in a field I know a lot about. I can actually imagine Lia enjoying this kind of work, buuuut when it came down to it, I also couldn’t imagine Lia working in IT at all.
After I realised this made no sense, I considered giving her a degree in communcations and a job in marketing. I think this works, too, but at the same time, something about it felt wrong. It didn’t feel right for her character – in hindsight, it didn’t really play into any of her strengths or the experiences she would have had growing up.
The decision to make her a journalist came when I decided to place Teo outside of the city where few people would ever come into contact with him. Making Lia a journalist gave me the perfect excuse – a journalist can be placed in basically any context due to the nature of their job. Once this profession was decided, the rest of Lia’s personality basically slotted into place. Lia is a living lie detector, extremely observant, and in tune with other peoples’ moods, all skills that are useful in journalism. It makes sense that she would have developed these personality traits with her upbringing. Most of her social interactions would have been a struggle to stay ahead of the lying gossips and avoiding scandals.
You may all know by now that I never throw out my old scraps of writing. My process involves writing and scrapping a lot of text, trying on different personalities, voices, and plots, before I finally settle on one that feels right and clicks. Since Heartwood is pretty short, I don’t have that many previous versions, though there are almost 90,000 scrapped words in my document (almost three times as many words as the actual story).
Version 1 – Lorenzo Wuz Here (And I Didn’t Care)
For the longest time, Lia was supposed to get back together with her former lover, Lorenzo. This was around the time when Lia was still working as a UX’er and they would have “met again” through work. Lorenzo is an architect and Lia would have been sent to do an observational study of the software he used at the architecture firm, leading old feelings to bubble up again and a rekindling of the romance. The plot would have included Lorenzo’s dad (whom he used to work with) being severely ill and Lia showing that she was a changed person who could be there for him during a personal tragedy.
Another version of this had Lorenzo doing a guest lecture for Lia’s class (communications, at that point) and that’s how they met up again. I think the plot would have been much the same, though this version included Lia getting a new friend, something she had otherwise struggled with. Lia hadn’t changed or grown as much in this version, so there would have been more focus on her development.
Now, why then, did I eventually scrap this? Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I do not give a crap about Lorenzo. He has even less personality than Lia and was literally a boring sim I pulled out of the bin to give Enzo a friend. I made a point in gen 2 of how he was a good influence on Enzo and, to an extent, Lia, but I never did manage to actually care at all about him or his boring EA face. Everything started falling into place once I acknowledged that and started creating a new guy for Lia.
So, Teo became a character when I realised I wanted a new guy for Lia and I started thinking about what she would actually like in a man. Like with her job, she was pretty much a blank slate when it came to romantic preferences. All I used to think was that she would want Lorenzo back, but after he got kicked to the curb, I started thinking about what she would like in a man. What I wanted was for her to meet someone she would admire, since she’s done a lot of being admired, but I can’t say she would have really done much admiring herself.
I thought of common things a woman could admire and thought of things like high-paying professions or maybe musical skills. But Lia comes from a family of well-paid lawyers who are forced to play the piano. I couldn’t imagine her being more receptive to a guy with an acoustic guitar or a rock guitar, for that matter. Instead, I thought of something she absolutely wouldn’t have experienced before: A man who was good with his hands. That’s how Teo became a weird hermit guy, who’s pretty much self-sustaining and who built a house. It’s something so completely out of her wheelhouse that I could see her actually really admiring these things – so yes, Teo living far outside the city in a cabin was always part of the story. Of course, with that in place, I had to figure out how to get Lia to talk to a weird hermit guy.
Version 2 – Teo the Old Friend/Former Rich Guy
In the earliest versions, Teo is an old friend of Lorenzo and Lia meets him when she goes to see Lorenzo, who in this version wasn’t married yet and invited Lia to his engagement party. (I know – real classy, inviting your ex-lover to your engagement party. Fuck Lorenzo). Teo would be delivering some produce for the engagement party, meaning they would meet again at the party. I think my problem with this one was finding an excuse to get Lia and Teo to interact again. Why exactly would she be meeting up with her former lover’s old friend?
Another version had Teo as a former rich guy, who fled into the woods after a series of accidents that killed his entire family. There would, of course, be rich person gossip about it and Lia already knew him and had some idea that he disappeared. And can I just say? I sort of wish I kept this aspect at least – since Heartwood is a very short story, it was actually hard to develop a believable romance between two people who just met. If you ever want to write a short romance: Have the characters already know each other. Just trust me on this one.
Version 3 – Teo the Co-worker
For a while after this, I wrote a version where Lia and Teo worked for the same company. He was in IT, she was in marketing. Teo was a bit of a smart-ass, infamous for living in a cabin in the woods where he took his female co-workers, only to then ruthlessly break their hearts (though of course he would have turned out not to be so heartless). Lia was not having any of his shit even though he was super into her.
During the course of the story, Lia was roped into joining a workshop type thing and lo and behold – Teo was there as well. The workshop was called ‘Work Is Leisure!’ and was a ploy from corporate to make work seem like it wasn’t work so that people would want to stay at the office longer. Everyone there hated it and it was hilariously full of terrible, corporate buzzwords and nonsense which Teo and even Lia would make fun of constantly. During the week the workshop took place, Teo and Lia made a bet that he could make her smile every day. If he won, she would go visit his cabin and if she won, he’d never talk to her again.
I think what made me do scrap was that some of the sets for the corporate workshop would have been kind of hard to do in ts3. Another thing is that, when it comes down to it, it would be hard to imagine Lia putting up with smart-ass Teo. There’s also the fact that, as mentioned, Lia’s job in marketing just didn’t click for me. I still kind of want to tell a story like this at some point, because when I read it over again it was honestly so fun to read.
The Current Version
The current version of Heartwood has a lot in common with the first version, but instead of Lia and Teo meeting elsewhere and then going to the cabin, Lia went to the cabin right away. I decided to have her going with Costanza instead because, once again for the people in the back: I do not give a crap about Lorenzo. I care about his wife, though, she’s cool. The writing of a biography came about as an excuse for Lia to go back to the cabin more than once. If she were simply writing an article, she would maybe come there once or twice, but a biography would take longer. While this version of the story has stayed pretty consistent, there are a few things I changed or scrapped entirely.
Teo Had a Lover
For most of the writing of the story, Teo was supposed to have had a lover, Rebecca, whomst was bad. They had at one point been seeing each other, but then she abruptly broke it off with Teo but still came by to buy produce. It would have turned out that Rebecca was actually married and cheated on her husband with Teo, she decided to divorce her husband, but she stopped seeing Teo out of fear that the divorce wouldn’t turn out good for her if her husband knew about the cheating. She kept coming to Teos to buy produce so nobody would suspect that she was going out there for anything but buying. Since Teo didn’t know this, he assumed that she got scared away by him confessing what had happened in his past. If this storyline had been included, either Lia would have discovered her marital status or Rebecca would have come slinking back once her divorce was finalised.
The boots Lia borrows are the last remnants of this storyline. So yes, someone guessed that maybe he at one point had a lover whom these boots belonged to. When I decided to scrap Rebecca, the boots became Teo’s mums – fortunately, it made sense.
I scrapped the storyline because it would have cheapened the connection between him and Lia. He lets Lia in because she’s unusually careful, considerate, and smart and if he had already let somebody in, then suddenly their connection isn’t as special. Every time I tried to include it, it also just felt super tacked on, as the story became more and more about his issues with family.
Lia Was Bad at Relationships
One version I wrote had Lia becoming scared after the two of them got together because she had never been in a relationship before. At one point, my idea was that the two would get together, then break up and find each other again. I decided not to do this because I was writing in the middle of a pandemic, things were tough, and I didn’t feel like dealing with too much drama in my writing. If I had the chance to go back in time I would maaaaybe introduce this again as it would put some more emphasis on Lia’s story as well as Teo’s. I don’t think it was a bad plot point at all and could have tied into her arc. I still think the story stands pretty well without a lot of extraneous drama – sometimes, you just don’t need a chill little love story without a lot of heartbreak.
Lia and Her Brothers
I at one point had some chapters with Enzo and Amadeo planned. One chapter I wrote had Lia being sad after a break-up with Teo and Enzo coming to comfort her when he noticed she was overworking and isolating herself more than usual. This chapter would have also included this absolute dork of a man revealing that he collects stamps. (IT IS CANON, FIGHT ME). Another brother related scene I considered was in the chapter where Teo visits Lia. Originally, my idea for that chapter was that they would be having the interview there because she had to go to a family event where her brother and his family would be driving her. Lia and Teo would be doing their interview and it would conclude with them kissing and, of course going ‘that never happened’ after. Then Amadeo + husband would have shown up and immediately noticed that something was between these two. It would have concluded with Amadeo telling Teo he had lipstick smeared over his lips – wink, end chapter.
I scrapped this because it would just get bloated and a little self-indulgent. As much as I love the brothers, they’re not characters in this story and are less relevant to have appear than Teo’s family. In the end, the plot became pretty minimalist and I think it suits the story well.
What I Would Change
I think Heartwood is a solid story. Of course, no story is perfect and I think Heartwood suffers from a few things. I don’t plan on going back and changing anything right now, because as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m done with the story. But I have a few things I would go back and change – and who knows, some day I might.
First of all, I think the story is much, much more focused on Teo than it is on Lia. This is, on the one hand, due to the fact that he’s a new character whereas Lia was already somewhat established. Not to mention the fact that he’s the interview subject. On the other hand, it’s because I wasn’t actually sure about what Lia’s arc was until pretty late in the game. So if I were to go back now and change it, I’d tighten her arc up a lot. Lia is someone who used to live idly and due to the nature of her past relationships, she feels like she was selfish and took too much without giving anything in return. Because of this, she has worked hard to become independent and self-sufficient, so what she really needs is to learn that there’s a balance between selfishly using people and going it completely alone… which actually also complements Teo’s lesson. I’d love to emphasise her belief that she’s selfish, to have her be afraid of throwing herself into a new relationship, especially with someone like Teo who’s very giving and generous. The theme is there, especially in chapter 11 (the sexy chapter) which kind of has two ‘parts’. One part is the climax (heh) of Teo’s arc, where he realises that Lia isn’t scared of him and doesn’t need him to hold back anymore – in the second part, Lia’s part, the tone is soft and warm and Lia realises that she can lay back and let herself be spoiled without falling back into her old ways. The story could have really benefited if I knew that from the beginning and emphasised it.
Another thing is, i wouldn’t have delved into Lia’s relationship with her mother at all. I mentioned it briefly in one chapter and of course everyone who was here after gen 2 already knows that Lia and her mother made up and are on good terms. New readers obviously didn’t and I think it was super confusing.
Finally, I wish I had spiced up the narrative from the beginning. I feel like the sudden shift into the smut is a little abrupt. I made a few attempts early on, but the fact is just that I’m still settling into writing sexy scenes. I think the scene in Heartwood is closer to what I want to write than the scene in gen 2 (that one is so fookin’ tame 🤣), but I’d like to incorporate sexuality into my narratives with a little more confidence so it’s not as jarring when it suddenly gets smutty.
I’m generally pretty happy with how the images for Heartwood turned out. In my older stories, I often had visuals that were what I like to call ‘talking heads’, basically just a close-up of sims’ faces. For Heartwood, I decided to have pictures that focus on landscapes, set pieces, and mood. Towards the end of the story, I also decided that fewer, but impactful images are better than more ‘talking head’ photos. I’m generally happy with how that all worked out with a few exceptions.
Chapter 5 (The Park) has a very different colour scheme to every other chapter. It does make sense, seeing as it takes place at Lia’s flat, but it’s also kind of jarring to have this chapter that’s very green and has a cool colour palette. I also forgot that it was autumn while doing that chapter, so all the trees are green. 😅 Styling wise, I also don’t know why I put Teo in green. In all other instances I’ve dressed him in darker, warmer colours and his outfit here is just weird. I think I dressed him in green to contrast Lia’s usual reds, but I don’t know – it just looks odd to me. To be fair to myself, I took these pics when I was still not feeling quite human. It was less than a month after my first break-up and I felt like I was pushing myself to getting this chapter out and sticking to the story I envisioned to begin with. I don’t actually think the pictures are bad because they’re taken in Boroughsburg and you just kind of can’t take bad pics there, but they’re a little out of place in my intensely golden, soft, autumn-y story.
I’m also not huge fan of chapter 6 (The Dinner). That one I took pictures for after I started talking to my ex again and we tried to work things out. My energy levels were really low and I just didn’t put much effort into the pictures. I especially think the outdoor shots are lacklustre. They’re kind of washed out which is clear if you compare with a chapter like 4 (The Journalist) which I think is one of the best chapters picture wise. I think it’s something to do with my ReShade settings, but for whatever reason they just seem hazy and they don’t pop like I’d want them to. Still, they’re not all bad, the interior shots are nice, but I do wish that I had complimented the chapter (which was one of the most fun to write) with more striking pictures.
To end this little musing on visuals, here are my favourites and least favourites in a little slideshow.
So, this is the end of Heartwood, my little side story. I want to, once again, thank everyone who came along for the ride. The journey didn’t end up being what I wished, since this was just supposed to be short and sweet, but I enjoyed it all the same. I hope you did as well and I hope you’ll join me for… whatever comes next. I’m not actually sure. I have two projects now and the next one will be whichever one manages to click for me first, either Clarity (generation 3) or another thing I’m not ready to talk about yet. Whatever it is, I hope all all you lovely people will join me on the journey. 😊
Love you all so, so much,