No matter how many times I start the process over again, meaning starting a new book, there’s always SOMETHING I forget from the last dozen times. And it always trips me up. Most recently, I’d forgotten my own mantra to simplify at the start. Keep the starting plot manageable, something you could describe to another person in a few sentences. Once you’ve got that, you’ll build off of it with your writing and characterization. The fancy decorations and frosted roses can come later, but not before you’ve baked the damn cake right?
But no. I managed to forget all that, and suddenly I’m building subplots with subplots and shooting webs out in all directions until I literally don’t know WHAT is happening, never mind WHY it’s happening.
I couldn’t seem to dig my way out of my own plot threads, to the point where I didn’t care what happened to the characters anymore. For the very first time, I showed the start of my story to a beta reader early, because I needed to know if he’d see it as the big pile of shit I thought it was and urge me to dump the plot. He responded “Which plot? These characters have great potential but you’ve just got waaaay too much going on here.” He urged me to get rid of MOST of the backstory and in a word…simplify.
I was reminded of this funny scene from The Wonder Boys where Hannah tells the Professor that his book needn’t include so much detail.
As Hannah says here, I didn’t really make any choices, because I made too many choices. And while I wasn’t stoned like Professor Tripp, I was equally lost up my own ass.
And once again, as has happened before, I remembered to tone it down and start simple. A simple idea to build on. It will get meatier as the book progresses, it always does. Secrets will be revealed, and characters will say what they have to say. But to start out like that, with spider web upon spiderweb of plot threads for them to navigate, well…my characters were suffocating under the plot before they got a chance to breathe any life into themselves.
And thusly, I was forced to kick that sand castle over and start again. But this time I’m starting with a more simple floor plan. Because I remembered, the foundation needs to be solid and reliable, the cement needs to be flat and dry, before adding on any of that delicate, fancy trim work. Because if you try to do it the other way around, the entire thing might collapse into itself.