Kill your ideas, start over. Kill again.

Because your first ideas probably need work. And your second. And by “your” I mean “my.” But the rule applies to all of us.

I used to think that the fruit of inspiration meant that it was the best. The purest. When you’re inspired, your ideas must be great, right? I mean, the definition of inspired is “of extraordinary quality,” after all. If you are writing as a result of inspiration, best not touch a word or you could destroy the magic, right?!

Thhhhbbbbbppppt (fart noise).

The more I’ve written, I have learned that your inspired notions are the beginning, not the end. I’ve made it a practice of internalizing that my first pass is just a blob of ideas. Not only is it obviously far from a finished product in terms of the writing, it’s not the finished product in terms of the substance. Even if the substance is exactly what I wanted. You know why? Because there’s always a better idea. And it’s in your head. You just have to let it find its way out.

The first book of my trilogy is technically done (it’s with my first reader/wife right now), but I regularly think of improvements to it and make them. Even it if means sweeping changes. For instance, my wife pointed out that my antagonist seemed a lot like the bad guys from a very well known science fiction series. She was right. I’d unwittingly (I hadn’t read the series) made them virtual copies of the nemeses from this already widely-read story. So I had no choice but to revise my enemy. It took a lot of work, but I ultimately created a villain that was far more interesting than my first attempt. I’m glad I encountered the quagmire.

As I said in my last post, I’ve taken to running to settle my mind which has allowed me to brainstorm in peace about my story and to problem solve plot holes, gaps, character issues, etc. And you want to know what I’ve realized? If you have a positive attitude and are committed to making your story as good as it can possibly be:

The more difficult the problem, the more awesome the solution will be. 

Now I no longer dread having to untie plot knots. If I commit to thinking about it long enough, eventually I find the answers. More often than knot. 🙂 You just have to be patient. It sounds masochistic, but I look forward difficult situations in my stories. A few rules apply, however, for resolving issues while maintaining the integrity of the story:

  1. Most obviously, I think, is maintain your characters. They have to be who they are. Don’t have them deviate just to solve a plot hole.
  2. No sudden magic. This can be anything that technically *solves* the conundrum but for which there is no basis earlier in the story, such as: IT WAS ALL JUST A DREAM, WE’RE ALL GHOSTS, THE HERO JUST LEARNED HOW TO SHOOT LIGHTNING FROM HER EYES, IT’S A PARALLEL DIMENSION WHERE SHIT HAPPENS!

The cool thing about writing a book is that if you do need an extraordinary measure to solve a problem, you can go back in your manuscript and add what you need to justify such a thing–or even better, to make it inevitable, while not obvious. 

Cliff’s notes: Plot knots; fart noises.

3 thoughts on “Kill your ideas, start over. Kill again.

  1. I remember writing a short story in high school once that, as far as I believed, was the best thing since sliced bread. And I absolutely love sliced bread, so that’s a big deal to me. I was so excited by the quality of the idea that had somehow made its way to this small little peanut I call a brain that I didn’t stop to think about things like plot holes or too-good-to-be-true scenarios.

    When a good friend of mine first read it, the first thing he did was point out a major plot hole. He told me, “this is far from the best I’ve seen you write.” Which I found extremely insulting — because, of course, this idea was the pinnacle of my abilities so it was as if he were saying that I was the worst human being on the planet. Well, not really but he may as well have said that.

    I think it was mostly to spite him that I reworked major parts of the story to cover this ‘plot hole’ that I had personally thought wasn’t important. But as I did, I realized that fixing it really helped the story flow and gave me the chance to completely change the ending — which was a huge twist that even had me surprised. It was so, SO much better than the original. Large explanation aside: I definitely agree with you.

    “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” ~ Arthur Quiller-Couch, who had it right on the nose.

  2. Yes, seemingly inevitable; never predictable. And re rule 2: absolutely no deus ex machina where a contrived plot twist or intervention from up high is plunked into the plot to solve problematic situations. This is why I stopped reading “The Hunger Games” after book 1, which relies heavily on outside interference. And patience is indeed not only a virtue, but an absolute necessity in all the arts, as you so well have learned and practiced. I’m enjoying your blog, Chris.

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