Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Trimming Wild Growth

Books can become wild growths of kudzu if we let them.  Our heads are often full of so many great ideas that we just can't wait to put them on paper.  Sometimes these extra threads can add to a novel, but they can just as often distract.  We need to recognize when that starts to happen.

You should have a main plot, and possibly one or two smaller plot threads that tie back into the primary storyline.  Unfortunately, not every idea does this, and when we discover that, we need to cut it off.

If we're lucky, we do this early in the process.  Maybe we make that great idea a throwaway designed to highlight a character flaw or introduce someone new to the story.  However, I've seen story threads that just kind of cut off, leaving the reader wondering what happened.  Worse, I've followed story threads that keep going and going and going and going, maybe resolving by the end but having next to nothing to do with the main plot.  I've sometimes looked back in disgust and wondered, Why did the author take me on this meaningless journey?

If you decide to create a tangent, think hard in advance about why you did so and where you want it to go.  Was it a quirky idea you wanted to play with, or was it something you need so that you can resolve things in the end?  Extraneous bits of story might be fun for us to write, but they distract the reader and end up wasting time, both theirs and yours.  The reader gets miffed that you pulled them down an empty road, and you wasted valuable writing time on something that didn't matter.

Make it matter.  Make it all matter.

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