If your house is anything like mine, the stuff just sort of seems to accumulate. (Doubly or maybe exponentially true if you have kids, and doubly exponentially if those kids are particularly young.) You see this or that shiny doodad, and you think, gosh,the kids would just love that, and because we live in America we buy the thing. Or a loving and well-meaning grandparent will make a gift of some battery-powered monstrosity that belches out Christmas music if it detects movement within a square mile. Or the kids themselves will bring home toys covered in foreign guck and another kid’s nose slime. (How do they get these toys away from other kids, I wonder? My kids can sense it — and immediately pitch a fit — if I so much as touch a stray eye from a long-lost mister Potato head doll.)
But even without kids, it happens. You’re at the mall for some reason, and you think, that’s a nice looking shirt. I wear shirts. Let me give some of my money for that thing. Even though you need another shirt like your kids need another toy. Or you pick up another fancy running gizmo or some inspirational book of quotes or an odd lamp you like the look of.
And it just adds up. It’s not a bad thing, per se. But with so much stuff, it becomes easy to lose track of things. Easy to take things for granted.
And if you’re not careful, the same thing can happen to your stories. For me, this usually comes in the form of a sentence, half-formed in my mind, that goes something like: wouldn’t it be cool if…
…this minor inconvenience character turned out to be related to the main villain?
…the bad guys stole the thing that the good guys need to make their lives work?
…the mentor character’s cat starts phasing forward and backward in time?
All of which are fine and interesting and may well reach the final cut. Unfortunately, the mind, like the house cat that indiscriminately murders local fauna and deposits them on the doorstep, also drops off less-inspired idea corpses like…
There should totally be a paper-and-pen motif in this chapter.
Maybe the villain should have an electric puppy.
Feathers. Feathers everywhere.
Problem is, in the heat of a daily word-count grinding session, the gems are indistinguishable from the crystallized turds. You see them float past on the shelf of consciousness, think, oh, sure, that works for my story, and into the story sausage they go.
And again, that’s not a bad thing per se.
But just like the stuff that piles up in your house, this crap accumulates and chokes off a good story. Before you know it, you’re struggling to pick a clean path through your story, its every spare passageway littered with the half-formed iterations of these little oddities that, like the snot-caked stormtrooper my kid brought home the other day, you have no idea where they came from.
The little curiosities are a powerful spice, fascinating and interesting in moderation, overpowering and inedible if overused. Which means that, just like every now and then you have to go through the house and purge all the junk that no longer brings you joy, so, too, does a story in subsequent drafts need a brutal bit of spring cleaning.
The tricky thing, of course, is making sure you don’t accidentally put a priceless heirloom out on the curb by mistake.
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.