You’ll sit down to write, and things are going well. You’ll pause to think, and you come up with a great new idea that will make your story better, so you scribble a note on the margin of your outline. You start working on your new idea in, and then Bam! You get another idea.
Well, the last one is panning out well so far, and this new one just makes it all flow better, so you cross out a few lines on your old plan, draw some arrows on your outline, and start moving towards the new idea. Then you get this other great new idea, but now you have to stop. You’ve changed so much that you can’t even see the story for all the changes. Your draft is a mess of dead ends leading nowhere, and you can’t even remember what you were trying to accomplish with it in the first place.
This changing and rechanging of plot ideas has happened to me many times, and I’m sure it’s happened to you, too. I like to think of changing plots more as evolutions of the story, but it doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s going to happen. You can count on it. If it already has happened to you, then bet that it will happen again. No matter how much plotting or pantsing you do, your story will undoubtedly change in some unexpected way. So what can you do about it to keep yourself from screaming?
1. Take a Break
You may be itching to get to work on your shiny new story ideas, but that may not be a good plan. If you’ve had several changes to your original plan, your head is probably spinning, and it may be time for a break. When we’re writing, we love creativity, but maybe your mind has been stuck in inspiration mode. Writing is a delicate balance between creativity and logic, and you may be in creative overload.
If you think you really need to change your story, you may be right, and some time away from your draft might give you a bit of perspective to make the right decision. It probably is not a good time to start writing when the wheels are still spinning, and so is your head, so get some air, take the afternoon off, do whatever you have to do to clear your mind.
2. Revisit Your Original Idea
Usually when I’m having idea overload on a particular story, I find that the changes usually center on some problem I have ignored or avoided. It’s easy to jump into new ideas when you’re coming up with your story, and there is even a lot to be said for working it out as you go, but maybe your subconscious is telling you that there is a problem and it’s trying to come up with solutions. I would caution you not to assume that there is a problem, but this is a great time to look for one. Usually I know exactly what it is if I’m being honest with myself. Is the idea flawed? If so, then you may need to look at some of your new ideas or come up with other ones to solve the problem. Once you’ve identified the issue, you can think through your options for fixing it.
3. Weigh Your Options
If you’ve determined that there is a problem or that the story can be improved, chances are that you have identified several ways to improve your story. Sometimes deciding is tricky. You may have two or three great, but totally different ideas that might all work, and in that case, you may have to go with whatever excites you. In these situations, I try to think about what feels most natural for the story, what is the closest to my original concept of the story, and whether the new idea is really a new story that I’m forcing into this context or if it truly does fit. You still may have trouble deciding, and at that point it may be wise to discuss the ideas with a writing buddy or trusted friend. He or she may be able to shed some insight. Also, keep in mind what is usually done in your genre. Would this new idea change the genre, or is it overdone in your genre? Maybe you are trying to conform to your idea of what the story should be like when your idea is totally different. Don’t make changes for the sake of someone else. Make changes that will truly benefit the story.
4. Go with It
Once you have a fair idea about what you want to do, you have to go with it. Find what you can get excited about and write that sucker! It can be scary to commit to one idea, but you’ll never finish if you don’t, so work on sticking to the idea.
5. Stay the Course
While you’re writing, particularly something long, such as a novel, you may have more ideas as you work. Start thinking through your ideas again like you did before, but don’t change anything unless it’s addressing a problem. Of course we all want to listen to our great ideas, but if you change the story too many times, you’ll never finish, and you’ll find yourself writing a completely different novel. Solve major problems, such as ones that mean the plot cannot go on, if you need to, but try not to resist changing as much as possible and just write. Make notes of your ideas, finish the draft, and then weigh your ideas. You can review your ideas later, and if any of them seem particularly good for the draft you finished, you can add them in after you finish to help flesh out the story.
If you keep trying to make too many changes while you write, you’ll keep rewriting your scenes and never get to the ending. You’ll end up with a messy draft with major holes from each change you made, and it will make editing the draft more difficult. Besides, you never really know what will work for your story until you get to the end anyway. Push for finishing, then address your new ideas.
Have you had a plot change on you while you wrote? What did you do about it? Let’s discuss it in the comments.