Five years ago, one of the reasons I thought I might be able to write fiction was that I was good at generating story ideas. Not necessarily the big stuff like plot points and midpoint reversals, but all the little stuff necessary for fleshing out a story and keeping the reader entertained. My ability to transfer these ideas to paper might be excruciatingly slow, but coming up with ideas has never been a problem. Unfortunately, focusing too much on the idea generation part of storytelling can get you into trouble.
When I first started writing fiction, I had no clue how many ideas were required to fill a three hundred page book. Back then, “three hundred pages” seemed staggeringly large, so I spent every spare moment dreaming up new stuff to put into my story. Turns out I overestimated the number of ideas I needed. So when my first manuscript blew past seven hundred and fifty pages, I had to dive in and rip out a ton of plot threads, subplots, and all sorts of miscellaneous events.
My problem stemmed from the way I approached writing. Instead of thinking of scenes as highly focused sequences of events that propelled a story forward, I thought of them as containers into which I could dump all my ideas, whether they fit together or not. After all, I had all these ideas just lying around and it seemed a shame not to use them. Besides, I also felt that by stuffing as many ideas into each chapter as possible, no one would notice my less than stellar prose.
Of course my chapters were sagging messes.
Eventually, after reading a great many blog posts and books on writing, I learned that a scene’s purpose should be narrow enough that it can be described in a single sentence. Maybe a couple of sentences for an entire chapter. My early chapter descriptions were little more than bullet lists. Once I learned to narrow a scene’s focus, my writing tightened up considerably, although this came at a cost. I had to remove lots of those “great little ideas” I spent so much time dreaming up and toss them into the maybe-I’ll-be-able-to-use-this-in-the-future pile.
Sometimes it’s tough to kill your darlings without shedding a tear or two. But my writing is better for it.
So tell me. How hard it is for you to give up those little darlings you stuff into your manuscript?