Which is better, a ham sandwich or eternal happiness? Well, a ham sandwich is better than nothing, and nothing is better than eternal happiness. Therefore, a ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness. -- Raymond Smullyan
An old joke, but a good one, and it came back to mind the other day when I was talking about how to make one's plans for a creative work. Out of nowhere popped this phrase: "Even a bad plan is better than no plan." I mulled than one over.
A bad plan at least gives you something to push against. No plan at all doesn't even provide you with something to say no to. The process of struggling with a bad plan forces you to respond. It's hard to respond to nothing at all, because no choices potentially encompass all choices; there's no specific choice you're being invited to respond to. It's too open-ended for its own good.
On the other hand, there's no embracing a bad plan just because it's better than nothing. It's something to be transcended, not something to be settled for. Yes, every creative work is ultimately abandoned and not finished, but that doesn't mean every act of abandonment is done in despair. Sometimes it's a matter of shifting focus.
A side note in this vein. In conversation with a friend last night, one of the things I noted about a story is that even if I don't know how the story will end in terms of plotting, I always know how it needs to end in terms of its emotional impact. I know how it has to feel when it's over — whether you're happy, sad, bittersweet, or what have you.
Then he said, "What if there's more than one ending?" My response was that the different possible endings can be embodied in different characters, but that the protagonist should always have the ending that seems to be most reflective of the story's underlying philosophy — in other words, your own outlook on life should be reflected through that person whenever possible, and through the ending they come to.
If the plan changes up, though, I find it's not because that character has changed up. It's because you've better discovered what kind of person they are, what kind of person you are, and what kind of ending is best needed. The plan's a reflection of what kind of person you are trying to show them as — what sort of argument you're making in their favor.
Here, too, a bad plan is better than no plan, because it forces you to confront bad decisions. If you find that the plan you're making for your story is coming at the cost of turning your main character into an asshole, maybe it's a bad plan. Unless, of course, that's the idea, in which case you have an even tougher assignment than most ...
I'll come back to this subject when I'm not feeling quite so feverish. Damn post-travel flu.
Other Lives Of The Mind