On Writing: Trimming the Plot Kudzu

First, you get some really strong pruning shears….


Into every story, too many ideas will fall. I know, when you’re staring at a blank page or empty document file, it seems impossible that you could have too many ideas. But that’s the sticky thing when you finally get writing. Like any bunnies, plotbunnies multiply.

“Oh, wow, these icehounds used by the Dread Lord are so neat, what’s their ecology like? Who dared to train them in the first place? And is that why the kingdom three realms over is at war, or – oo, I know! It started over an arranged marriage gone wrong, and the princess escaped! And she’s living in exile in the Hero’s kingdom, and if people find out she’s alive it could upend the whole political equation-!”

See what I mean? These are neat story ideas in and of themselves, but maybe not what you want if you’re trying to tell a heroic tale of a (careful!) fire-throwing Hero finally defeating the Icy Overlord of the Winter North.

And then there’s the really sneaky bunnies of the “and then what happens?” variety. With the “then” being after the end of the current story.

Those, I swear, are some of the worst. Partly spawned by not wanting to admit you’ve come to The End, where the story’s tied up the majority of loose ends and the Hero has triumphed! (At least for now.)

So how do you handle this kind of plot kudzu? Because it will sneak in on you at the worst possible moment.

Snip. Snippety-snip. Have a place – physical folder, spare document, pile of notes, whatever – where you can keep all those extra fragments. That way your brain doesn’t throw a panicked fit about discarding all that beautiful hard work, what if you need it later?

Keep your snipped notes separate from your main work, and try not to look at them unless it’s necessary. That way they stand less chance of sneaking back in when you’ve already decided they don’t fit in this story.

And here I’ll digress into, how does the plot kudzu get rooted so deep in the first place?

Fear. Fear and exhaustion.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again; writing a story is a lot of work. It’s your brain’s ultramarathon, the long-distance haul through Death Valley where you run on the white line so the asphalt doesn’t melt your sneakers off. It’s hard, it’s long, and when you’re flailing in the midst of it you can easily believe you’ll never manage to do this again, ever. So every shred of an idea you come up with has to go in, because there will never be another chance!

Bull. I tell you, bull.

I know, it’s survival fear, and that’s the absolute worst kind to fight. You may think, looking at the fact that I have published books, that it can’t possibly have as much of a hold on me as it does on “regular people”.

…It does, believe me. I’ve just learned how to scream and leap my way past it, flailing madly, sometimes with my eyes closed. Which can make for – er- interesting editing later.

(You also don’t see my towering pile of half-finished drafts and ideas that haven’t made it to a draft start. Yet. Gah.)

If your bunnies are insistent that clipping something is a Bad Idea? Take a step back and try to sum up your story in three sentences or less. What, at its core, is your story about? Does the new bunny support that basic Idea? If not, snip it. Keep it for later.

But what if later never comes?

When I finish a work, edits and all, my brain tends to go blank with No Story Here… for a while. Days, sometimes weeks depending on how long and stressful the project was. But. The ideas come back. Your brain just needs a little rest first.

The stories come back. And then you can dive into What Happens Next!


12 thoughts on “On Writing: Trimming the Plot Kudzu

  1. I’ve started writing snippets on my computer and keeping them in a separate file. Helps getting those stubborn ideas out of my head so I can focus on other parts like down time between battles.

    Why are people being people so hard to write?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When I have moments like this I’ll write something just to get it out of my muse. Notes for later use, a single scene, an omake, or whatever. Just get it written down so hopefully that part of my brain can move on.

      I also find it helpful to bounce ideas off of friends and family. It is a lot easier to get something “un-stuck” in my muse when people I trust tell me it is a terrible idea.

      Plus getting input from people with relevant life experiences never hurts. I mean when I’m writing a female character getting input from my female relatives and friends might just be useful seeing as I’m male..

      Liked by 4 people

      1. :thinking: That might help. I’ve been trying to focus on certain things to Get Them Done Soon, so… Maybe just “writing it to get it out of my head” would be helpful for jarring the log jam loose…

        Liked by 3 people

  2. I have two files for stuff like this. One of them is Baby Plotbunnies, which, pretty much what the title implies. Fragments of ideas, interesting prompts that made the bunnies sit up and coo, that kind of thing. (The cooing is literal. It happened once. I was a bit freaked out and copy/pasted it immediately.)

    The other is my ‘this paragraph/conversation/whatever doesn’t fit with the rest and it’s distracting me, but I don’t want to delete it’ file. Cut it from the other story, paste it in there so my brain doesn’t shriek about losing it, and remember to label what story it’s from. Cuts the stress and maybe I can use that bit later.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is why I love the writing program Scrivener. In every work I’ve ever done I have a whole section outside the manuscript for “Ideas and Things that are Cool But Don’t Fit” and scenes that would not get out of my head but are too far down the pipe in the plot to reliably be included. Plus it lets you take “snapshots” of documents so you can save different versions.

    Ditto to the “write the Thing to get the brain logs unjammed” above. I had a rough patch earlier this year where the thought tank on my actual writing refused to fill up at all, but I kept getting ideas for totally different things (that half the time were OC inserts into fanfics I’d read; cue the argh). Just to get -something- on the page I wrote them anyway, and it really did help. If nothing else the silly bits made me smile.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, this is a thing. I took on a huge project and am close to the end of part three of five parts.

    I need this one character to get kidnapped for the plot to progress, but staring at the page doesn’t help when all the buggies are going “Oh, shiny!” at something else.

    So, for the moment, I’ve put my major project down and have been working on other stuff. That other stuff including Draco Paradeus. Mostly it’s been worldbuilding and figuring out who the characters are and what motivates each of them.

    And yeah, doing so has helped me partly unjam what’s going on in my major project.

    The bunnies have decided the Kidnappee has to go willingly, but now the words just are not coming! So it’s back to the side projects again!


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, yeah, been there. And then you’ve got the problem of several different ways you could handle one particular event, all of them awesome, all of them mutually-contradictory. Having to pick just the “best one” can be such a pain.

    Liked by 1 person

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