My Writing Process: Multiple Threads

Okay, here’s another one from the good people over at Hal Con. During my the November Con, in one of my writing panels, a young woman asked me what to do when you have too many ideas. We were discussing writer’s block at the time and what to do when you can’t come up with ideas for stories and characters. She had a different problem: she had too many different ideas for what to do.

I responded at the time with something like: “that’s a wonderful problem to have.” Which is true and got a few laughs, but I feel maybe I could have done a better job answering it. So that’s what I’m trying here today.

The problem as I understand it is that you have two (or more) different things you want to do with the character that contradict each other, each with their own unique plots stemming from it.

I understand the frustration. Imagine if you have Jane and Tom in a relationship and you have two story ideas: in one Jane dies and the story is about Tom’s emotional journey. In the other Jane lives and the story is about their relationship struggles while visiting relatives in Cape Cod.

Clearly you can’t do both. At least not unless you’re doing a very strange Scifi story. But assuming you aren’t, let’s go from there.

I call this problem “Multiple Threads,” after a comic-book concept of alternate realities. Basically the concept goes that with every choice you make you create an alternate reality: one in which you made the choice, and another in which you didn’t. The same is with you, dear writer. It’s Shrodinger’s cat. Until you make the choice, Jane is both alive and dead… And you’re stuck.

For my money there are two main causes to this.

The first is indecisiveness. It’s a tentative nature on the part of the author that prevents for the making of big choices. My advice is to make them. Because the alternative is a story where nothing happens, otherwise known as an anti-story. And they lose appeal fast. Just make the choice and never look back. If you’re worried about making readers mad, just remember: if you don’t finish, you won’t have readers.

The other cause is less severe. It’s a lack of characters. If you’re worried about, again, say killing off a character because you won’t be able to tell certain types of stories, perhaps you haven’t fleshed out your supporting cast enough. Just because Jane is dead doesn’t mean Tom can’t eventually find love.

If you’re out there, I hope that helps.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

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