Writing is navigating a million decisions

If you are indecisive it will be difficult for you to be a writer.  Just my opinion, of course, but the longer I write the more I realize that a novel is just a series of decisions that keep branching, sending you down a path that could be much different if you had just taken the left fork instead of the right. This is one of the reasons why I outline, but as I’ve said before, outlining doesn’t mean there is no discovery along the way.

Part of that decision-making process is what you reveal when.  Some newish writers have problems putting information in the wrong place. I recently was helping to provide a critique to someone and in their opening chapter, during a horse chase through the woods at night, the main character started thinking about how afterward they would go to the tavern, and meetup with a certain woman there…seriously?  Is this really the right place to introduce this person’s love interest?

I’ve read some other opening chapters where in the first few pages I know a quick encapsulation of  the characters whole history.  They were raised by their aunt and uncle after their parents were killed when their home was raided by a horde of invaders.  Again…is this the right place for this information?   Has it been a defining event in their life…probably…but you have a whole book (or if a series maybe several) to get that information.  You aren’t going to lose me if I don’t have this piece of information right away.

One last point I want to make about decisions…you have to walk a tightrope between careful readers and those that fly through and miss some details.  In the Riyria Revelations there is a romance that develops.  It spans multiple books and I provide little hints along the way. I often get letters from people part way through the series that say, “If  abc and xyz don’t get together, I’m gonna be very upset.”  So obviously they see the bread crumbs and where they are going.  But Publisher’s Weekly mentioned this in  one of their reviews, “Sullivan is not a subtle writer, and the sudden romance between abc and xyz is hastily tacked on.”  My response to that is you just proved your point to be false. For you, I was too subtle a writer because you didn’t see the clues that I had planted.  A romance that spans multiple books is only “tacked on” if you missed all the subtle details that were early indicators.

My best advice, don’t  get yourself  stymied by the plethora of decisions that need to be made. Take that fork, the next, and the one after that.  Trust in yourself and know why you chose the way you did. And always keep your character’s motivations in mind and they’ll usually steer you the right way.

3 thoughts on “Writing is navigating a million decisions

  1. “If you are indecisive it will be difficult for you to be a writer.”

    This. This has been my problem for as long as I’ve been writing. Always second guessing my story choices – plot events, character traits, etc. Analysis paralysis, as they say. I’m finally learning to let go of this during the first draft of my outlines and make notes where I think I made a silly or bad decision. I then come back to those notes, if needed, to think about why I didn’t like that decision and brainstorm alternatives.

    I’ve also found it good to reach out to others… where you think a big plot hole exists, someone may not see it and they will tell you *why* it’s not such a problem.

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