Some writers contend that it’s better to just toss in everything that occurs to you as you’re writing a first draft, and worry about cleaning it up later. If you’ve been hanging around here long, you know I’d really prefer to start with a cleaner story. In fact, I’ve been more careful with everything I’ve written since HPC was finished – finally learned my lesson after five drafts.
Writing “cleaner” has risks though too – the main one being missing out on story lines or sub-plots that could make the story richer, better, and more dramatic. I think there has to be room in both the first draft and revisions to explore ideas that organically come up while the story is flowing, while not letting it get too far outside the original main plot. Clear as mud? What I’d like to cultivate in my own processes is flexibility with boundaries – room for new ideas, but only as far as they enhance the original main plot.
I unintentionally set up an object lesson in this for myself when I decided to make the latest serial novel interactive. For those of you who aren’t reading Indelibly Inked as it comes out every Friday, there’s a poll at the end of every chapter allowing readers to choose some way in which the story will develop next. I generally give some options that seem logical to me, and some that seem a bit “off the wall” – and I’ve been surprised on several occasions to have one of the “off the wall” options chosen. This week readers handed me another curve ball and asked for two of the options to be incorporated – which I’ll gladly do, of course.
Whatever the readers choose, I then have the task of working it into the story. This means I can’t use an outline, because I can’t predict what readers will choose. I can’t write ahead, and most importantly, I have to work the reader choices into the story *in a way that makes sense* with everything that’s come before (without going back to weave it into the previous chapters) – and I have to resolve any sub-plots or new twists that occur due to taking the story in that direction. I have to tell you – it’s been one of the most challenging writing exercises I’ve ever done, but also one of the most valuable.
I just finished revising the first chapter of HPC, and even just in those four scenes, I still found myself stumbling across new ideas as I revised/rewrote here and there. I treated any new ideas just like I would for the serial novel – if they would require going back to add to something already done, I tossed them out. If I could add them in a logical way that would enhance and further the plot, I did, so long as I already knew how they’d be resolved later (and marked that on the revision outline). It’s working beautifully so far, and giving me some twists that I didn’t see coming, even when I revised the plot/subplot lines. At the same time, I’m not constantly going back to weave new stuff in – I can keep moving forward instead of being stuck in an endless revision loop.
How do you deal with new ideas that crop up “organically” as you’re writing or revising? Toss in everything? Set limits? Would you change anything about how you deal with impromptu ideas?