When you write something—especially the first time you write something—there’s a sense of inevitability. That’s the way the scene goes because of course that’s how it goes. Especially if you like it. That’s it, man. No room for error.
Except there is. I’ve played enough tabletop RPGs to know that one critical failure at the wrong time can change the best-laid plans of mice, men, and hobgoblins. And real life always has room for chaos.
Of course, writing a story is different than playing a game and, you know, living, because you do have more control. You can make sure things go the way you want. I’d be lying if I said this control wasn’t a big draw to writing for me.
But that sense of control can put shackles on your creativity. Sometimes we get so enamoured with the way things should go that we forget about the possibilities and miss out on something a hell of a lot more interesting.
Imagining a critical story point going a different way is also a useful tool for detecting plot holes. If your story relies on a staggering amount of things amazing failing to go wrong, you might want to rethink that. A reader will accept one or two coincidences, but a whole string of them smacks of laziness and a peculiar contempt for the reader’s intelligence.
This is not to say that whatever counter-factual scene you imagine will replace the one you already had. Sometimes you do get it right the first time. But tweaking so the hero accidentally casts the Spell of Ultimate Destruction and Tacos on her friend instead of the villain can lead to some interesting places.
And let’s face it: we wouldn’t be writers if we didn’t like fucking with people.
Monday Challenge time: There’s a scene you’ve written that went a very specific way. It’s hard to imagine it going any other way now.
Write it going differently.
Maybe instead of saying exactly the right thing at the right time, someone says the wrong thing. Maybe they screw up. Or, if the scene is a screw up already, maybe they roll a natural 20 on their skill check and fucking kill it. Maybe they’re not there at all, and someone else has to do this.
Twist it, shake it, and see what falls out. You never know: it might be your new favourite thing ever.