I've noticed something as I journey along this writer's road. It's getting harder. I thought it would get easier. Writing. But it's kind of like the old 'the more you know, the less you know' adage.
My first novel poured out of me like water. Not flavored or bubbly. Plain water. It was a story that had sat inside my soul since childhood, and I just needed to get it out, so I could make room for new ideas. I completed it, published it, and now I adore it.
I worried if I'd ever write another. Where would the ideas come from? How would I know which ones were worthy?
This was not a problem. New ideas flooded in. One spoke to me more than others, and I chose it and wrote it. Now the floodgates burst open wide. In the middle of working on "Birds on a Wire", other story ideas and characters started butting in. At first, I thought they belonged in my current work, but later I figured out that they didn't.
They were plot crashers, and I needed to kick them out. Trouble was, they were interesting. Still, they weren't invited; I needed to schedule them for a future date.
I started keeping more journals, using more writing apps, buying more post-its.
I have about half a dozen story ideas and a myriad of characters waiting to be immortalized. I don't worry that I'll forget about them because I have them written down (somewhere).
Some of those ideas and characters found their way into my third novel (now with my editor).
My problem remains: what's the best way to recognize characters and ideas that belong from those that don't?
Here are three exercises for deciding whether or not a character or idea belongs.
1. Friend or foe: Place the interloping character in a scene, and let her talk with your MC. What comes up? Do they have something in common? Does the party crasher push your MC's buttons? Do they click? The crucial question is: does this new character move your plot forward or help your MC transform? (Consider how an irritating workmate pushes you to want to be better than them.) Think about the myriad of minor characters in a Harry Potter novel and what they bring into the story.
2. Truth or dare: Take your idea and write it out. Does it reveal a truth to your story, your plot, your character's journey? Does it put your character in a scene that tests her in some way? Sometimes, you need a scene that's not so much part of the plot but does place your character in a situation that transitions the plot where it needs to go. Think about the minor moments in a Sherlock Holmes mystery and how a previous incident plays a part in the plot's development.
3. Comma or period: When you are examining a new character, scene or event, consider if it pauses action with purpose; gives the reader a moment to put together previously important action or prepares him for a major plot reveal or climax. In contrast, perhaps these party crashes stop action all together. Do they give away too much too soon or even take the reader down a completely different path? Think about The Hunger Games when Rue dies. It pauses action enough to let Katniss reconnect to what's important. Her death is crucial to Katniss' own journey.
Good luck exploring your party crashers. Share your experiences here with all of us.