When to Set the Cool Ideas Aside

This is the biggest project you’ve attempted yet.  It’s going to be your masterpiece, and you can unleash the full force of your creativity and writing knowledge gained since your last project.  It’s a fantasy novel, with X, Y, and Z cool elements.  Ooh, and what if you did this?  And what if they all had genetically-edited fluffy ears?  Oh, and that other thing should happen in the middle of the story too.

Before you add literally every cool idea you have while writing, hold up for a moment.  I know from personal experience that when something is the first major project you’ve attempted, or are doing after you’ve learned more about writing, it can be tempting to use every new idea you have at once.  It’s your masterpiece, and you want to do as much with it as you can.  Before you keep throwing in more random details though, you should consider one thing: Is this the right story to include it in?

All the elements in a story should serve a purpose.  Notable events that happen should be tied into the plotline (if it’s a long work – obviously this doesn’t apply to, say, microfiction).  Details like talking about how cute someone’s genetically-edited fluffy ears are should be relevant to the characterization or worldbuilding, rather than just being this random, one-off thing.  Which means, sadly, that not every idea would fit well in a given story.  For example, those ears.  I wrote a short story about a year ago that was initially going to be set in a futuristic society where people could give themselves fluffy ears.  Unfortunately, I had to cut that detail because the story was focusing on the group interactions, and the extra space required to clarify that the world was slightly different wouldn’t have contributed anything to it.  (Why am I apparently obsessed with this, you ask?  I don’t know.  I just like fluffy ears.)

So when you keep coming up with more elements to add to a work-in-progress, it’s helpful to ask yourself: does this connect to anything else in the story?  If it does, or can be added: how complex is the project already?  Because obviously brainstorming is great, and we don’t want boring stories.  It’s just that everything in the story should be there for one reason or another, so you have to filter which ideas you include because there isn’t room to write everything, and doing so might make the story worse, not better.

Don’t just ignore the extra ideas, however.  Write them all down for next time!  Maybe you keep a physical notebook somewhere, or maybe a computer file.  Personally, I tend to jot down all the ideas I have – for blog posts, or plots, or cool character names, etc. – on my phone, and then organize them into categories in my ideas file later.  That way, I don’t forget anything that could be useful, and I can focus on writing my current story with only what’s relevant to it.

Thoughts?  Drop them in the comments! Also, happy spring break (or belated spring break) to all my fellow students.

4 thoughts on “When to Set the Cool Ideas Aside”

  1. When you do fluffy ears, can you also include glowing noses?

    Seriously, though… When I started homeschooling, I wanted to cover everything during the first week of kindergarten! I had to learn to pace my ideas for that occupation, just as you describe the need for pacing and focus in writing. There’s always time for more later, right?

    1. Ooh, I’ll keep that in mind…
      Yep. Heh, that reminds me of that Babylon Bee article about homeschooled kids graduating before they’re even born :P.

  2. Excellent thoughts, Mia! Definitely writing down or keeping track of extra ideas digitally is important. Those ideas may come in handy at a later date. Some use apps like Trello to organize thoughts and ideas in projects. I personally like to jot things down in a notebook to review later, but I’ve also found Trello useful. I look forward to reading your work. 🙂

    1. Thanks! Hmm, interesting – I might have heard of Trello before, but I’ve never used it. I’ll have to look into it.

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