I need a change ~ 80% of the way through my story. At the moment, I'm just throwing my characters into different combinations and seeing if they come up with anything interesting.

Two of my characters don't want to talk at all. I threw them together, and they started yelling. On the one hand I think they should yell at each other so the reader understands their history better. On the other hand, they didn't want to be standing next to each other. But I forced it.

(Edit/update: The argument those characters had is not in the final draft, but one scene was heavily influenced by this exercise, and I had good insight into the secondary character because of it.)

Question: Is writing garbage (and then righting the garbage) a valid approach to creating?

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    Actually, This works. If their actions don't make sense at the time of you writing it, make it an important part of the story and make their actions make more sense than you originally planned. (I do this all the time, my character likes nature, but I am prohibiting him from going outside so he helps his friend instead, which then benefits the story." Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 20:58
  • I might do that. At the moment she is slugging him, she's so fed up with him. He was able to put his views down succinctly, which was nice. It kinda works, so maybe I'll try to keep it. I forgot how hard de novo words are. I want to get back to editing. Thanks.
    – SFWriter
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 23:04
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    Is writing garbage (and then righting the garbage) a valid approach to creating? What does it matter what anyone here says? Is it working for you or not?
    – J...
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 9:43
  • It wasn't yesterday, but had in the past, and tossing ideas around with other writers here, can sometimes help. In the end there was some value in what got added to my story. I don't know if it was worth 12 hours of garbage writing, but it is what it is. Al least I clarified a minor character's motivations for myself.
    – SFWriter
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 14:21
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    @DPT the steps you describe for using characters to drive your writing are very similar to what is done in Improv Theatre! So yes I think this is a valid way of creating good writing. Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 18:39

5 Answers 5


Is written garbage better than leaving the page blank? Infinitely!

Does every page you write need to be part of your novel? No!

If you are seeing weaknesses in the structure of your story, and you know what you need to create to strengthen it, then that is what you should write.

If you see the weakness but don't know how to fix it, writing is still the answer, but you need to write without making any promises (to yourself or your characters) that what comes out is going to be a part of the final story.

Garbage writing is experimentation. If it works, great! If not... nobody ever needs to know that that horrible scene ever existed. That is why we call it garbage... to prepare it for its most likely final resting place.

  • 1
    I love the idea of 'that horrible scene.' It's very liberating.
    – SFWriter
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 20:33
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    This is good advice.
    – user31677
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 3:39

Something I've learned as a programmer that translates directly to writing is that quite a lot of what you write will not make it to the final product, and you have to be OK with that. A lot of writing is for your own personal learning or exploration. If that weren't true, we'd all just publish our first drafts and have done with it.

So don't call it "garbage." If it isn't your final draft, then it's just another piece of non-final writing, and quite possibly as essential to the end product as is anything else.

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    The standard advice to a programmer is "plan to throw one away; you will anyway!"
    – user
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 20:28
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    We do the same in research, at least in good research, 90% doesn't go into the papers.
    – SFWriter
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 20:31

Yes using characters to create a story on-the-fly as you described is a valid way to write and create.

The longer answer:

In Improv Theatre (or just improv for short) a similar technique is used all the time.

In Improv Theatre there are many ways to create a story (or scene) and two popular ways of creating a story are:

  • to focus on the "what" (i.e. something happened, an event like dinosaurs escaping)
  • to focus on the "character"

When you focus on the "character" to create the story/scene:

  • develop a robust character in your mind
  • watch the scene for an appropriate time to enter
  • when you enter the scene, all your decisions/actions are driven by your character

The story/scene is then created. And in a way the story/scene is created by the character on the fly. Similar to how you proposed "writing garbage".

Additionally I will add that the improv group The Second City does many scenes before the show. Picks the best ones. Refines those scenes. Then presents the best ones in their show.

The steps Second City takes to get good product would be similar to your writing style where you spend lots of time writing... and then you pick the best writing and refine that writing to get good writing.


I do it. In my current writing project, which I started some months ago, I had this image in my head that at the end of ACT I, character A was going to seek out character B for some help. The twist is, character A is a professional killer, and B knows of him and is terrified of him, so A has to convince B he is not there to kill him, and actually needs his help, and so forth.

I don't write outlines, so my characters were ill defined, but the first scene I wrote was this meeting. Which helped me define the characters. I liked some of that, but even when I had fixed everything I could, it wasn't great, because I had to load too much into exposition or dialogue explanation in order to make it all work.

That scene helped me figure out what had to come first in the first Act. So I wrote that, all the way up to the meeting scene. Then 90% of that was useless, I rewrote the meeting scene, with the foundation of five scenes before it, and now it flows smooth. It isn't too loaded, and as it turns out, B is not that terrified of A after all, because A got some advice from another character earlier in ACT I, specifically because it would have been too stupid of him to approach B cold.

So the first thing I wrote, and had to get on paper, was mostly garbage, but helped me better understand who A and B are and why B would help A, and what must have happened before this. It is still the turning point scene in Act I, just not as I originally imagined it. A still has a problem, B can solve it with some risk to himself, and B (in this particular case) realizes he really wants A to succeed.


What you are talking is reminiscent of surrealist automatism. In that case it is not considered "garbage" but letting go of the conscious process of creation, to replace it by "whatever comes up". If that's what you're seeking to achieve you are likely in good company.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the 100% logical and rational approach of printers and graphic designers who use pseudo-text as placeholders. This is called lorem ipsum. In that case, you can have the computer generate the pseudo-text for you, with the stated no of characters for your chapter. Then you could go ahead a replace it with your real composition.

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