The Peevish Penman website posted something important today (Serve the Story), advice from Clark Brooks about writing, that reminded me of similar advice I’d received several years ago. The advice on PPM was that you can’t just throw something into a story because you think it’s cool or it’s an in-joke or something. If it’s going to be there, it has to serve the story, rather than the writer’s ego or whim.
I attended a novel-writing workshop a few years ago, over a two-month period, and I remember receiving similar advice from the facilitator there. The organization giving the workshop follows what they called the “freefall” writing method, in which you simply write, until you get to the end, without stopping for constant editing or rearranging. You just push the story forward till it’s done. Then you have the whole picture in your mind and can go back and edit organically.
This method may not work for everybody, but it certainly worked for me. And one thing the workshop facilitator hammered at, over and over, was that whatever you put into the story as you went along had to push forward the plot. If you got an idea or some kind of “filler” that wasn’t somehow helping to push the plot forward — it shouldn’t be in there.
This made all the difference in how I wrote the novel I started for that workshop. I’d never written that way before, but I think it’s why this novel is probably one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever done.
It’s really important to remember. You can’t insert characters or events into your story just because you “like them.” They have to have a reason for existing, determined by where the plot is going and what the main message of your book is. This principle — serving the story, or pushing the plot forward — is what makes the difference between writing a wish-fulfillment story purely for your own entertainment and producing a coherent work of art that can reach other people.