I found a huge, huge problem in working on my new novel is that I’d have these great ideas that I’d never get rid of or change as I’d become dedicated to them – meanwhile the story, characters, and setting had evolved beyond them. I had all these Big Rocks I just wasn’t willing to get rid of, yet all my other great ideas kept running into them. The solution was to ditch them. If you have an idea that squashes all your other ideas, this dense ball that distorts the story like a weight on a rubber sheet, that idea is the problem no matter how great it is.
The way I've put this to myself is, "Love your ideas but don't marry them." The way others have put this is, "Kill your darlings."
When Flight Of The Vajra was in its very early stages, a number of conceits — I guess that's the best term to express their significance to me in the story — entered my head and refused to leave. Most, if not all, of that stuff got weeded out during the process of writing the first and second drafts. They were a product of that prototyping phase that many stories go through, where you throw lots of stuff at a wall and see what sticks and what slides off. Sometimes you fall in love with a couple of those things; maybe they have a coolness factor, maybe you have a personal affection for them; maybe you think the story benefits immeasurably from having something that distinctive in it. Whatever the case, it's stuck there, and sometimes you're not even aware it's stuck there, the way a broken-off pencil point can get stuck under a hunk of callus in the ball of your thumb.
With Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, though, there were some conceits that sort of came with the territory — stylistic touches, flourishes, I guess you could call them — that were mostly about giving the story some flair. They didn't have to go, but I felt like the story would have lost some color and flavor if they had been excised. What I did instead was find ways to make the justifications for their existences back into part of the story itself, and then mine the vein of insight that opened up from that. It was highly serendipitous.
Here's the thing, though: I threw out from this story a lot more things in that vein than I ultimately kept. If I couldn't connect any one particular thing back up to the center of the story in a way that complemented both the center and the ingredient, the ingredient was sent sailing. And since many of those kinds of gratuitous additions took away more than they could added, I lost nothing by dumping them — and, in many cases, I was able to find replacements that better complemented what I was trying to do anyway.
This last part is the key. When you first start any story, there's a lot of thrashing about and looking for focus. Eventually, what the thing is really about comes into view, and you can start explicitly linking things in the story to that focus — and find things to derive from that focus that belong in the story. Sometimes that means the cool idea you started with has to be jettisoned in order to really achieve top flight speed. The trick is to experience, over and over again, how in the end you won't ever really miss it.
For a novel with some cool ideas that survived to the final draft, check out my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold, and showing your support for it by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.
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