When you're in the zone and the ideas are just flowing in, sometimes you can't help but to come up with various versions of your invention.
Showing various embodiments in your patent application is good for a couple of reasons. First, it helps others understand better how an invention works. Second, the more information you disclose, the more you can claim in your application. This can broaden the scope of patent protection when your patent registers.
But including too many embodiments can back fire. if a variation in your invention makes one version of your invention totally different from another version of your invention, a patent examiner can impose what is called a "restriction requirement."
A restriction requirement is when the patent examiner asks you to choose one version of your invention to pursue. This is to ensure that each patent application provides patent protection for one invention. I usually see a restriction requirement when a patent invention discloses a device that includes a version having electrical components and a version having no electrical components. Sometimes restriction requirement is imposed when an application claims a device and a software app that goes along with it.
Whether you agree or disagree with the patent examiner, you must choose one version of your invention to continue pursuing your patent application. This is called making an "election." But you can traverse the examiner's findings to reserve your right to petition at a later time, should you choose to do so. That means if you elect without traversing, you have no right to petition later.
I am usually not a huge fan of traversing unless: 1) I feel like the examiner is dead wrong; or 2) the client wants me to. Why? Because the examiner wins vast majority of the times. It's almost like it's not worth it.
When you choose one version of your invention, your application is essentially split into two. As for the non-elected version of your invention, you can still pursue patenting it in a divisional application. So all is not lost when you choose one version of your application over another. I guess it's more of an annoyance for some inventors because it means they have to spend more money on another application.
Restriction requirement seems to be such a subjective process that there is no telling exactly how many embodiments you can include in your patent application. But when in doubt, I still say include as much information as you can. At least then, you can take advantage of the filing date of the parent application.