7 Tips to Working with a Serpentine Idea

Look, many of us can’t say that our original plans go off without a hitch once the pen meets the paper.  Even outlines change as you move along, so there’s a very organic undercurrent to writing in general.  Maybe it isn’t that strong with you because you have it very controlled, but there’s something at some point.  It could be the editing stage when you junk 95% of what you wrote and then act like it was all part of the plan.  That’s another version of a twisting, serpentine idea, which can be difficult to wrangle.  It can easily derail a story if you aren’t careful or flexible.  So, what are some ways to handle this potentially inevitable hurdle?

  1. Ride the wave when it strikes because it can be your subconscious showing you a connection.  This doesn’t mean to do it blindly and without holding onto the reins a bit.  If you see a cliff coming then don’t assume there’s a sea of comfy marshmallows waiting below.  It could be jagged rocks.  After all, your subconscious can be a real jerk at times.
  2. If you’re in the outline stage and an idea isn’t congealing then leave it vague.  You might know where you want the characters to end up or a special event, but not the pieces leading up to it.  By starting the story, you jog things loose and begin the path towards the shining idea.  Could be that you’re so fixated on that one spot that you aren’t looking at anything else.
  3. Do NOT think it is mandatory to junk 80-95% of your completed story.  Yes, I know many authors love to say ‘kill your babies’ or whatever when it comes to editing.  It doesn’t mean you purposely destroy everything, including the good stuff.  If you end up with a story that is nothing like the original then you might have just murdered one idea and started a new one.  Oops.
  4. Listen to your characters since their personalities will drive events.  You put a lot of work into crafting them, so they will act like an extension of your own imagination that interacts with the world/story.  They might sense something you don’t.
  5. Do NOT listen only to your characters and ignore your own voice.  Some of those voices aren’t too bright and they don’t know what’s coming down the road.
  6. You might find that you have created several paths with foreshadowing and only one of them reaches the finale.  See if you can make the failures merge with the successful one during editing runs.  Maybe they were tricks left by the villain or false assumptions made by the heroes.  They are capable of coming to the wrong conclusion if they are still trying to figure the mystery out.  This is what I did in War of Nytefall: Eradication.  Book plug successful!
  7. If you’re really unsure of hitting the dismount with an idea that is winding its way as your write then get some beta readers.  All you really need is one to read specifically for continuity and if things make sense.  Just ask them to focus on that part of the experience and admit that you aren’t sure it came out clearly.  A second opinion can do wonders.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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23 Responses to 7 Tips to Working with a Serpentine Idea

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! Very critical to look before leaping as #1 mentioned. Also beta readers are invaluable! I’ve talked through some plot shifts with mine. Sometimes, they put the kibosh on those.

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    • I used to have a few people who I could bounce ideas off of. They weren’t authors, so they didn’t try to turn the idea into something that they would do. Found that to be a slight issue at times. Sadly, I don’t have that kind of crew any more.

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  2. Another great post. All seem like valid ideas, and I can confirm some of them. If this is any indication, then your fantasy tips book is already looking good.

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  3. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    More great tips from, Charles 👍😃

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  4. Great tips. Listen to your characters, though. I had a young thief who surprised me by refusing to bathe when the men went in the river. Turned out he was a girl, running away when she heard her mother saying she was thinking of sending her to the local brothel. I had no idea about that until it happened. Your characters often know where the story should go. But not always, so beware.

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    • I half agree with that. There are times where characters know something the author doesn’t. It’s a nice twist that works out. Yet, I’ve also had characters go off the rails and make a mess of things. To the point where I realized it wasn’t going to work and almost lost the character entirely. Some types are purely self-destructive when they aren’t guided.

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  5. Lindsey Russell says:

    You write fantasy I write crime – worlds apart you might think (see what I did there?) but there are parallels (oops did it again) – a hero/ine righting a wrong being the main one.

    All good points in your article but I’m drawn to [ 1 ] as I find myself in the same situation. As in: everything going fine, only to find instead of sticking to the rough map the horse has bolted across country (the horse analogy is apt as it actually involves horses). First instinct was to pull hard on the rein and get back on course but my subconscious was niggling there was something in it and decided to let it run. I’ve now got about thirty pages that don’t belong in book two – but . . .

    Book two (WIP) of an intended series is about sibling jealousy against the backdrop of the art world.

    So while I knew there would be a book three (four and so on) I had no theme and no backdrop. I’ve still no theme as yet but by ‘writing on’ those thirty pages have given me the makings of the backdrop – horses..Those pages will need extracting to another file for book three but for now I’m leaving them in place because there is a chronological overlap and I need to make sure I don’t yank out something that needs to stay

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    • It really is like riding a horse. If you assert too much control then it moves slow or fights back. No control means it goes wherever it wants or doesn’t move at all. It’s a real challenge to let things flow while diverting it when and where you can. Kind of like rushing forward, but still making sure you hit the primary turns in the road.

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  6. Super advice, Charles.

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  7. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this great post from the Legends of Windemere blog with 7 Tips to Working with a Serpentine Idea

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  8. I like this post, and I think it comes down to experience. Once you’re chased after a twisty plot a few times, you start to trust your own skill to make it work.

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