Keep it SIMPLE, Stupid

I stare at the computer screen. No, this can’t be. But yes, it is. I have too much plot. I didn’t realize it until I wrote them all down. I feel as if I’m juggling an elephant, a giraffe, and six hyenas, but the dodo birds want in on the action too.

Darkness closes in upon my soul along with that dreaded thought every writer must face: edit. Cut plot. Cut characters. Which would be fine if they weren’t all sitting in my living room, waiting for me to emerge and break their hearts. I shudder. I glance around the corner at a gaggle of figures dressed in early 1500s fashion, including a sinewy, thin-faced, semi-paranoid monarch. I feel a twitch in my spine. I envision shouts of protest, the arguments that will break out over which characters are more important and deserve more time on the page. At least one will burst into tears and wail, “But I don’t want to be left out!” The king will declare his plot the most valuable; he’s in a crisis with enemies at every turn! His wife will look forlorn; she thought she was going to get a point of view this time but is too polite to protest.

I rehearse what to say in my head: look, I love all of you and think you all have terrific potential, but I have six plot lines here that don’t intersect, and I feel like I’m going to shortchange some of you if I don’t eliminate some of these ideas.

And they’ll respond: so you’re just going to kill us, give us no voice, no access to the reader, ignore us?

Guilt gnaws at my soul. I hate this! The thought of walking away from any of them is painful, but I can’t write that much plot without getting lost in it, the secondary characters will have no presence, my readers will be annoyed by the fragmentation, and none of the plots will have depth.

I square my shoulders, grit my teeth, and prepare to enter the room, steeling myself for abuse, arguments, and disappointment—and a tall, formidable looking man steps into my path. I created him, but he still scares me. Royal enforcers tend to do that. But for all his dastardly deeds, he’s smart. Sometimes too smart for my good. He has no problem asserting what he wants… in a firm tone. He says, “Last night while you were trying to sleep…”

So he watched my sleepless night of angst, trying to figure out how to handle this problem and pick just one from among a room of friends. Great. Nothing is secret anymore. I cringe, waiting for an objection, but instead he stares at me with cold, dead gray eyes and says, “Keep it simple, stupid.”

Tact isn’t his strong point.

I blink.

He leans against the door-frame and says, “If you have six ideas in this time period, you have six books. Pick the plot you’re most excited about and write that. Don’t worry about inserting all the characters you had last time into it; give them their own novels later. They can wait, and have a richer story for it. Flesh them out, focus on their plot, do it right.”

Sometimes, he’s a real pain; other times he’s an evil genius. Tension flows out of me. This isn’t no, it’s later. It’s a great idea! Why didn’t I think of it?

“I don’t know,” he replies, startling my thoughts; I see he no longer observes the unspoken laws of stay out of the author’s thoughts while they happen. Not that I’m going to correct him. “With the amount of complaining you’ve done about a certain series being scattered, not focusing its plot, developing 60 main characters, and taking forever to resolve itself, why you never thought you could do the same thing you wish that author did, namely write a great first novel introducing these characters, then use sequels to focus on single character arcs, is beyond me.”

I’m too relieved to be insulted, but a little sass never hurt anyone. “Maybe I’m too busy keeping you out my business to concentrate.”

“No, you just have the problem all humans do.” He pushes away from the door. “You add more, never subtract, and don’t realize ‘all or none’ doesn’t work. Learn to postpone with intent. Decide when to do it. Put it from your mind in the meantime. Focus on simplicity, in life and your plots.” He pauses and almost smiles. “You’re welcome, and by the way, we’re writing my book first.”

8 thoughts on “Keep it SIMPLE, Stupid

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  1. Yeah, I can totally relate. And doggone it, those characters can be so helpful, and at the same time, cause so much extra work!

    I have a character sitting on a horse grinning at me right now and egging me on, and I don’t want to write the upcoming scene at all, but he’s this guy that refuses to ever let me off the hook, so… off I go. Duty calls, etc.

    1. Don’t you especially love the side characters who won’t stay in their place, but assert themselves as being worthy of a lead position? They sneak up on you with grand schemes and tackle you from behind, then rub you face-first in their dreams. And you stagger up, wipe the muck from your eyes, and whine, “But I didn’t PLAN on any of this!”

      But… sometimes what you plan the least turns out to be the best. 😉

      1. Oh, heavens, yes. Like that one time a walk-on role ended up getting himself promoted to secondary character and then contracted for two sequels. Grabby, grabby dude. But those three stories he’s in are some I go back and read and enjoy! So… worth it in the end 🙂

        1. He might think that justifies his hostile takeover, but you cannot let your characters run your life!!!

          Excuse me, my enforcer is shouting my name in that angry tone he has. I must go and see what’s wrong.

  2. Hahaha! Oh, I so love this post. And love that last line. Hee! Haven’t had that particular plot problem, but characters like Mr. Royal Enforcer… oh, yeah. That’s all too familiar. I’ve even had characters from another novel, who I thought were patiently waiting their turn, come stomping over to chime in with advice on a completely different book. They’re always right, too.

    1. Lovell can be… well, bossy. Pushy? And since he could manipulate the facts to get me convicted and thrown into the Tower, I tend to want to avoid angering him much.

      That’s hilarious.

      I’d say characters need to learn their place but… they never will, and it’s nice to have their input. Sometimes.

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