April 25, 2012 You're Lucky it All Falls into Place, Josh
I believe that I have admitted before that I do not always plan for certain events to transpire in my work. I will write a bit of something and then it will sit there, and only later will it dovetail into something else and make much more sense than it did on it's own. I'm doing it all of the time. Case in point is a deadly encounter involving some new friends that Josh met in the Umbral Intentions blog. It has proven, and will continue to be a focal point of discussion for several topics and themes that I wanted to address in Josh's blog entries. However, it did present me with a difficulty to which I found an answer in something that I had introduced previously almost seemingly on a whim. Suddenly a dead end, that may have required odd acrobatics to get out of, instead has an elegant solution that opens up another series of discussions that seem less like a data dump than they do a natural outcropping of what has transpired.
While this is handy for work on the fly like a weekly blog, there should be a way to make these kinds of connections on purpose. The easy answer of how to do that is extensive pre-planning. Plot outlines, character dossiers, understanding the processes of events--like standard operating procedures--and understanding what you want the story to do before you begin putting it together. You can also put in scenes and ideas that do not bear fruit immediately and see where they lead later. Then if those scenes and ideas go nowhere you can pull them back out again. That is not a very efficient practice though. The blog format, or a "series of correspondence"-style of story telling is more flexible in allowing this. It allows for minutiae and material without any real substance otherwise to add realism, help massage the timeframe of events, and provide pacing contrast.
This is not to say that even these kinds of additions should not serve a secondary purpose such as filling in setting details, foreshadowing, introducing characters for later use, and creating or managing the mood. Those character introductions provide a relationship context that the readers are already familiar with, rather than hinting at it or flashing back to it when that character returns. This is a place to let things hang out. Let those normally deleted darlings live if they're not going to mess up the flow. If they are disruptive then find a different spot for them or leave them out. Just remember all those setting bits, bit characters, and sundry details. They could be useful later. You could elevate their status. Imaging something akin to product placement where a particular brand (safer to make them up yourself) shows up frequently and is a signature for a character or just generally indicative of the setting.
I see a quote making the rounds online every so often. It says, "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good" and is attributed to Samuel Johnson in 1762. Think about that next time you have what seems like a throwaway character. What does their treatment by more important characters say about those characters? With a little thought there isn't anything that needs to be a pointless waste, even as they don't have to be earth shattering or intrinsically plot-tied in and of themselves either.
Music: Where The Rubber Meets The Road by Meat Loaf and Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper.