By Jane Bigelow
Sometimes I feel like a fictional character.
Allart Hastur of the Darkover series has a terrible gift: he can see all the futures branching off from each decision. Some with this type of precognition are so overwhelmed by the torrent that they withdraw into their own minds, stop eating, and die.
What a writerly threat to one’s life. My characters can live multiple futures without starving. The Main Character (once I’ve decided who that is) can sneak out of the castle, but at the last minute be bitten by the moat monster and have to find a healer, which may or may not lead to a romantic relationship, which may or may not be anything other than a distraction. MC can be caught sneaking out and therefore see the monster swim up, maw agape, as the character’s captor hauls him-or-her back by the heels, and then–Egad. I just had to delete several lines of possibilities here, and I don’t even intend to write that story.
I’m not going to die of writerly indecision. I do think I’ve done my career some damage by spending so much time writing out all those futures that couldn’t coexist even in fiction.
What to do? Here’s what works or doesn’t for me. Your mileage will vary.
Outlining doesn’t solve the problem for me. It can even make it worse by trapping me in an infinite series of decisions that smear into a blur of pixels.
Talking about it is a mixed bag; sometimes it solves the problem and sometimes it kills the story.
An old-fashioned technology, the index card pinned to a display board, helps. It’s easier and faster to sketch out a scene on an index card than to write it out in full, and to move it around. Far easier to tear up an index card than to admit that entire chapters have to go.
It shows me the shape of the whole. That’s what I can’t get from computer programs like Scrivener, and it’s essential. It makes it so much easier to choose among all the charming possibilities. There are lots fewer wasted scenes.
Now the computer’s my friend again. I can shove some of those written possibilities into a folder. They’re not gone; they’re only sleeping. And it’s just electrons. Nobody really dies, or even gets hurt.
Now I need to forget about those saved alternatives, at least until I finish the WIP. Of course, I could always do that linked set of short stories from different POVs that a certain Wild Writer suggested. That would be fun.
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