For those who don’t want to click and read, she is talking about writing a series and how, even if you have great series ideas, you need to write the first one well and make it a true stand-alone; or, as Lawrence Block would say, concentrate on the book at hand.
This led me to thinking about story ideas and ‘saving’ ideas for later stories. I used to do this. I used to think that I shouldn’t get carried away with ideas, that I should hold some things back for future stories. I didn’t want to spend all my ideas in one blaze of glory and have none left.
I now know that, the more you write and exercise that idea ‘muscle’, the more they come, until the problem is more how to write them all than how to come up with new ones.
I also know now that layering in the trouble is good writing practice. Donald Maass says in The Fire in Fiction, that he never rejected a book for having too much story. Conflict is the essence of story, so we should pile up the problems for our protagonists. Load ’em down, make ’em suffer! Pile up those problems till they have to use crampons to climb over them. Nothing will tell you faster how much they want to get to the other side.
I am fully on board this conflict train, now, but here is my question:
How do I make sure that the conflict is finely tuned and deeply layered and not just a jumble of trouble?
The painting above is by Jackson Pollock. Some think his work is genius. Others think it’s a colourful mess.
I want to leave it ‘all on the floor’ as they say in those dancing shows (so you think you can write a novel?). But (with apologies to Jackson) I also want it to be coherent. How do I know when enough is enough? How can I tell when nail-biting suspense becomes breathless nonsense?
Any bright ideas, this Monday?