I recently completed two good chapters for my western novel, “Ryder Mann”. They had good characterizations, good conflict, and involved a certain amount of humor and a certain amount of revelations about my two main characters. But later, I realized that these chapters had to go.
And I told my wife so.
She asked me why? With such good work, shouldn’t you keep them?
I replied, They don’t belong.
She asked, Do they advance the story?
I said, No. They distract from it.
So she suggested I create a file for the chapters and keep them, in case I could use some aspect later on. So I did.
But why get rid of them? Well, like I stated, they distract from the story.
See, conflict in all fiction is necessary and important. So is character development. And so is character revelation. But even if they all work together, if they decrease the tempo, as these two chapters did, they don’t fit.
Constructing a good story is like building a Lego design. There are eight-peg rectangular blocks. There are six-peg rectangles. There are 4-peg square blocks. There are sixteen-peg blocks and twenty-peg blocks. There are circular-wheel blocks. There are one-peg blocks, two-peg blocks, six-peg narrow blocks, and a whole lot more blocks and pieces. And when constructing a design, they only fit a certain way.
Now, there are designs, like castles and cars and boats and what-not, that come with their own pre-designed plans. But for something that you’re building from your own imagination, without pre-designed plans, some things just don’t fit. Building a life-sized Darth Vader or Imperial Storm trooper without a previously prepared design is difficult enough, without going off on a tangent.
The great thing about free styling with Lego is it teaches you how to use your imagination, how to figure things out, how to see without seeing, how to know what works and what doesn’t. It develops both puzzle-solving skills and editing skills.
And just like building a free style Lego design, writing fiction is the same way. You start with one block, or paragraph, and you put in another and another. Sometimes they fit and sometimes they don’t.
But the hard part, the truly hard part, is having the personal strength to let go of things that don’t fit. To know when they don’t fit and to discard them because of that.
There are lots and lots of stories that are overdone, over written. It happens in journalism, it happens in television news, it happens in movies, it happens in fiction. I know, personally, because I’ve over written quite a few stories, and a fair number college essays.
But, like I said, the true strength is being able to excise what doesn’t belong.
Lately, the for the last few years, I’ve used up precious time letting myself get lost on a tangent that does little for the story I’m writing. It does’t matter how strong of an outline I create, I get lost. But more importantly, I find my way back.
So, what I suggest is that you have the courage to know when to let go. Whatever your relationship with your character is, just like in real life, you have to have the courage to let go, to say goodbye. To fire the characters or actors who don’t fit and don’t work out.
See you out there.