We’ve all done it. You write the best fight scene in the world, then realize the story has shot off in a different direction than you planned. Or you have the most amazing snappy dialogue… and it’s three times as long as it should be.
Stories have a way of escaping and running amok. Just like everything else in life. I’m packing up to move in a few weeks, so this is on my mind. You should see the pile of boxes I have to fill. They started as a neat pile of cardboard in the corner, and now they’ve exploded all over the apartment. I think they’re reproducing of their own volition, and they’re still not enough.
Anyway. Back to the salient point, which is that stories can get away from you. For some people, this is a feature, not a bug. Personally, I start with a vague outline and end with a story that mostly follows that outline, but usually has a lot of other stuff added in to make it interesting.
What is a poor writer to do? I see two main options for corralling escaped stories.
-Lots of editing. Write that story; let it escape and wander. Then drag out the red pen and get rid of all the extraneous bits. Don’t ever delete them; save them in a separate file. Because as soon as you delete something, you’ll want that specific bit of description or fun dialogue, and won’t be able to recreate it. All of my stories have a file of ‘notes and extra bits,’ and the ones for the first few novels are almost as long as the novels themselves.
-Make it automatic. The other way to handle a tendency to pants in random directions is to adjust your style a bit. Instead of editing so much, do the work before you start writing. Not necessarily an outline; learn your craft. Learn it so well that you hit the correct beats without thinking about it, even when your story appears to have escaped. Read a lot of books in your genre, and write, write, write, until you don’t have to think about the plot. I’ve been slowly transitioning to this method, and it’s working relatively well (I love to read and hate editing, so I naturally tried to move some of the work to the front end of the project, instead of doing it all on the back end). You still have to do some editing, but at least your subconscious is working with the rest of your brain, and your plot probably won’t require quite as much overhauling.
Of course, you have to find a style that works for you, and some genres are better suited to one solution or the other.
How do you reel a story back in when it tries to escape?