While I was in there (supposedly setting out snack supplies so the kids could make their own teepees out of ice cream cones, chocolate, and hard candy), I couldn’t help but look at all the writing-related posters on the wall.
Fourth grade is a big writing year in elementary school. There were posters covering punctuation mechanics, grammar rules, commonly misspelled words, etc.
There was one poster though, that was a little more interesting to me. “Is your story idea a watermelon or a seed?”
Kids, naturally, sometimes come up with big ideas for stories—that don’t really work for a short writing assignment. “My Summer Vacation” instead of “The Worst Amusement Park Visit Ever!” The teacher’s point was that they needed to narrow their focus to get a better story.
But novelists are working with more pages to fill. We can afford a bigger picture.
Sometimes, though, that big picture doesn’t always work. I’ve definitely read books where I felt lost in the imaginary world the author had created. What was the primary plot? What character am I supposed to care about…and who is the protagonist? These books felt unfocused and rambling. What was the point? Was it a murder mystery or a family saga or lit fic with an agenda? What was the seed?
With genre fiction, the seed is pretty easy to find. The underlying thread of my books is a murder. And I don’t need to get too far away from it or else I’m off-target.
I’ve definitely edited down books before to get to the seed. Maybe there’s a subplot that’s fun, but doesn’t really tie in enough with the main story—maybe it’s an idea that needs its own book instead of being squeezed into a subplot. Or maybe there’s a secondary character that’s stealing the show and needs his own book.
Have you read books that don’t have a sharp enough focus? How do you winnow your plot down to the seed when you write?