Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Too many ideas?

Can you have too many ideas? In the case of my current ‘work in progress’, the answer is yes. I might be doing the dishes, or taking a shower, or driving to the supermarket, and one of the characters whispers in my ear, “What if ...?” And it’s another idea about the development of the story.
The problem is that I’m on the third rewrite of this story. I’ve reached about 40K words each time, and then felt something was missing, or the pacing wasn’t right, or – well, you name it and I’ve felt it.
I started to think this was happening because I was a pantser, and that maybe I should plot my story more carefully. Then it occurred to me that these characters will still pop new ideas into my mind, however much I try to plot their story.
I’ve also discovered that some of my pre-planned ‘plot ideas’ simply don’t work. One example was having the heroine break her ankle, which seemed a good way to have her staying at the hero’s house for a time, instead of living on her own. After researching, however, I discovered that broken ankles can take weeks, if not months, to heal. That was going to restrict my heroine’s movements far too much. So forget the broken ankle (because I’m not into ‘magical’ recoveries such as we see in TV dramas and soap operas where someone is in a coma in one episode, and hey presto, magically restored to full health two weeks later). However, in abandoning that part of the story, I also had to ‘lose’ some good scenes between the hero and heroine.
Last week a new character appeared out of nowhere, and now I’m wondering if he has appeared at the right time or whether he should have appeared earlier.
I also have various scenes (from the first two drafts) and need to decide whether to keep or dump them, maybe to use in another story at some point.There are some characters who may have to go too e.g. do I really need the 'other' girl who is keen on the hero, or shall I forget about her?
And the characters still keep whispering, ‘What if…?’ If I use all these ideas, the novel could end up as long as ‘War and Peace’.
How do you choose which ideas to develop, and which to ignore – or retain for future stories?  


  1. That can be quite a dilemma. I think if you keep listening to your characters they'll let you know what works for their story.

    It's such a great idea to keep a file of random and/or discarded ideas. You never know when one will be perfect for another story.

    Good luck...and keep listening!

  2. I usually write scenes as they appear in my head and keep them separate until I need them. If they work, I can always drop them in. If not, save them for something else (or use them on your website or blog for promotion). What about a broken arm rather than ankle? And I think "another woman" is a great conflict (however, not having read what you've written, I might be wrong).

  3. Debra, the characters keep coming up with new twists to the story! I have all the scenes written out in the early drafts, but can't decide which to keep and which to save for possible later use!

  4. I am always second guessing my stories. That's why I like to outline my plot. I can focus on the writing, but if a brilliant idea pops up, I can incorporate it.
    I like Jen's idea of jotting down and keeping separate. I did that today on a half-used sheet of label stickers. I jotted notes so I wouldn't lose the idea.

  5. Jen, I usually write chronologically, so a lot of the new ideas are still rolling around in my mind. I think I've abandoned the 'breaking' of anything, as I need the heroine to be able to drive! The 'other woman' is still in there (as well as the 'other man') but I'm getting concerned that the whole story is becoming too complex now!

  6. Ana, my problem is that I seem to have too many ideas to incorporate in one story! So I'm trying to decide which to keep and which to leave on one side!

  7. I'm feeling your pain, Paula. I'm a planner and I'm still going through the very same thing with my latest novel. In the end, I more or less dumped a thread to the story. Time will tell if I've done the right thing though x

  8. Suzie, I guess it's just trial and error until you sort your way through all the ideas, and decide what works and what doesn't.

  9. Paula--now I'm as confused about yours as I am my own. Yes, you have a really bad case of too many ideas. But! Don't ditch them! You never know when you'll experience a dearth of ideas and need to go into the slush pile.
    Good post--I enjoyed it.

  10. I'm a planner and I have run into too many ideas or just conflicting ideas that get me stuck. It can become self-sabotaging if I let it go on. Choosing a clear path for my story and knowing what I want the story convey helps. Eventually, I have to choose just one. I know. It's hard to turn off the alternatives.
    BTW, you could have the heroine just have a bad sprain instead of a broken ankle? She would still have to use crutches, wear a stabilizing boot and need help with mobility, but just for a couple weeks instead of 6 weeks. (Not to get you back on the idea train.)
    An interesting dilemma. I'm certain you'll figure out how you want to create just the right story. I guess we've all been there at some time.

  11. Celia, I won't ditch them completely, but can't decide which to keep for this particular story!

  12. Sarah, that's exactly the situation I'm in - trying to choose!
    I'm almost sure I've ditched the injured ankle - but will definitely keep the scenes I've already written for another story sometime in the future.