I’m a big proponent of throwaway concepts.
They’re how I actually got to the publication stage for my first novel. They’re also how I decompress between Serious Novels™.
I should define my terms! A throwaway concept:
- …is an idea you’ve invested a minimal amount of time in.
- …doesn’t (necessarily) tie into any of your existing worlds or series.
- ..is more likely to be fun and light than dark and serious (even if you’re writing horror).
- …allows you to focus on pure invention, not following preset rules.
Daugment was a throwaway concept. I started with the very fundamental idea that for NaNoWriMo 2014, I wanted to write about talking animals, and I wanted to have fun with it. That was it. It became clear to me that I couldn’t start with an idea that I already cared deeply about, or I’d lose the fun aspect. (I take my serious ideas very seriously, you see.)
Portent was also a throwaway concept… which I then ruined by turning it into a trilogy of trilogies, with a set of necessary plot points and world rules that I have to follow for any subsequent book. Whoops.
Point is, once you’re done with a draft of your throwaway novel, you can do whatever you want with it. You can start taking it seriously. You can stick with the fun and games. You can throw it out into the world and see what happens.
But the reason you choose a throwaway concept is so that you can loosen up. Try new things! Getting it done is far more important than getting it right. And with a throwaway concept, you can actually lean into this and make it true, because you won’t care about getting it right. There is no right with a throwaway concept.
Does this mean you can’t care about your concept?
Not at all. Love it hard. Invest your entire being. All voices and stories are stronger when they have heart and soul behind them.
Just don’t care if you get it right.
Care if you have fun along the way.
Oh, and on the subject of outlines for throwaway concepts: do what feels comfortable. You can choose to sketch out the beats of the story ahead of time or not; if you’re a pantser, I imagine throwaway concepts inherently appeal to you. But if you’re a plotter, you can still give yourself a sense of direction and a series of destinations without ruining all the joy of creative discovery.