As I write this (yesterday compared to the earliest you could have read this), I'm finishing up my post-two-novel-edit vacation. The only real work I did during that vacation, besides building and subjugating many a civilization in Civ VI, was to take my chapter quotes for Death by Cliché 4 to my writing group. I usually just let them critique the chapter quotes with rest of each individual chapter, but I'm doing something very difficult with the quotes in 4 and they needed to be critiqued as a whole. For one thing, I was about 70% sure they were just way too long and about 40% sure the entire form was wrong and about 10% sure that I needed to scrap the whole idea altogether.
We discussed them at a high level at fairly great length and determined:
- Yeah, they are either too long or too short and making them longer probably isn't an option.
- The original idea I had for the form, which I couldn't make work, was probably better, and while this one might work, it isn't great.
- It's a neat idea and if I can make it work I should. (But man, it's hard, structurally).
Have you ever had an author give you the advice that sometimes you need to write scenes that will never make it into the novel, just to help inform the greater work? If not: sometimes you need to write scenes that will never make it into the novel just to inform the greater work. This is like that. The chapter quotes in 4 tell a unified story. They are, in the form I wrote them, not unlike the 10% of a screenplay that hits all the really plot-relevant parts. If I hadn't written what I wrote, I wouldn't have the full shape of the thing in my own head, and therefore I wouldn't be able to knock it down to about 10% of that and squeeze the thing into the head of the reader.
I did say it would be hard didn't I?
But I think I needed to work through that to get to where I am now. Sometimes we get to where we need to go in stages. Sometimes we have to throw out something almost entirely, but we don't think of that as lost work. We think of that as a draft and we move on. It's a part of the game. It's the price we pay for trying to create. We have to innovate, at least in part, on everything we do. Even when you work in tropes and hackneyed ideas, hopefully, you're innovating in your use of those tropes and hackneyed ideas. Of course, some of my reviewers would disagree, but that's something you have to work through too. In a way, everything we have done is a draft for everything we do in the future, and everything we have done in our life is a slightly more broken version of our next attempt as we push forward, chipping away all the pieces that don't look like an elephant until we come to that perfect, platonic ideal. Unobtainable? Sure.
But that's no reason to stop trying.