I don’t know if this has ever happened to you (or whether I’m the only obsessively anal neurotic writer out there), but I recently faced a problem where I could NOT make a decision. I had two choices for how a story could unfold. I knew each path pretty well, and both had their positives and negatives. But which was the BEST? I couldn’t decide. I waivered back and forth, stewing about the right choice, and meanwhile, I couldn’t make progress down either path, because OMG, what if I was going down the wrong one and had to start all over again?
I finally decided to write out an outline, sort of, for each option so I could step back and try to objectively make a decision. Since I had two options, I decided to use colored notecards so I could compare and contrast by color.
First, I wrote down a few key story points that were the same no matter which option I used (general points — of course there were many details that would work for one but not the other depending on which direction I went). The first was “Miss Charlotte refuses the Sheriff’s proposal.” I used blue for these so they’d stand out easier and I could quickly identify my notes vs. the next plot point.
Then I selected two other colors (neon yellow and cream, not exciting, but I was trying to use them up). For each plot point (blue), I wrote several key details about each option. In A, Charlotte is this type of character. In B, she’s someone else entirely. In A, her motivation is to project the sheriff from the forces hunting her down. In B, she’s ashamed of her past. etc. Some elements were very similar, and I made note of them. e.g. in A, she’s ashamed of her past, too, but for entirely different reasons.
I was really surprised how well — and how quickly — this worked. From the very first blue card, I could see that story A would be much stronger. The character’s motivation was deeper. I have very powerful forces chasing the protagonist from the very first scene, and there’s really no way she can defeat them if they find her. The conflict is obviously much higher, and the premise is more unique.
There was nothing wrong with B, and maybe if I hadn’t had this other thought, it would have been okay. But compared to A, it was just that, okay, and as Conn would say: I’m not the sort of person who’s satisified with okay.
On the plus side, I now have my story outlined and I threw out all those boring cream (B) options!
On an entirely different note, I foresee several word wars or timed writing stints in my near future. In several 15-20 minute intervals today, I was able to write over 3K, even while responding to comments for Writer Wednesday. Whoo! Just a few more days like that and this novella will be done!
P.S. And yes, I did have to start all over again, but the story is much better for it.