Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Stop applauding. I haven’t gone green just yet. I’m referring to finding new life in dead ideas. Remember all those notebooks I keep talking about, with bits and pieces of stories and books in them that were abandoned for one reason or another and then got stuffed into my closet? The ones that make it tough to get to my shoes? They can be reused, recycled, refurbished, cannibalized. All it takes is the right inspiration.
I might finish a few of these stories someday. Some are better off left abandoned. Others make me shake my head and go, “What the hell was I thinking back then?” For some, the time just wasn’t right. Or maybe it was the right idea, just the wrong execution.
When I do my periodic inventories, I mostly look for half-finished stuff that I can get back to. I’m lazy by nature—that’s why finishing anything takes me so long—and these are the easiest to work on. That’s not to say I discount the rest of it. There might be a scene or an idea or a character or a couple of lines I can use in something else, or use as the jumping-off point for a whole new story.
That’s the beauty of writing: all those words never go to waste. Even that piece of crap you scribbled in a white heat at 4 in the morning after you had that really freaky dream serves a purpose. I believe you can learn more from bad writing than you can from good. Good writing is tough to emulate. Bad writing can be repurposed into another story to become better writing.
This is great if you decide you want to write a series. What concepts, characters or throwaways can be built on to create additional books? Maybe that fragment you tucked away in a notebook, the one that didn’t go anywhere, would go someplace if married to your current WIP. Mashing an old idea with a couple of new ones might just be the thing to kick-start that plot that’s giving you trouble. Pretty much anything can be dressed up and reused. This is why a lot of us have drawers with old screws and buttons in them, and why I have stacks of spiral notebooks cluttering up my closet.
Not that I need more things to work on—I’ve got about four in the pipeline already—but the other day I had an idea. Back when Dorchester still existed in the publishing world, they briefly ran a line of quasi-SF romances. I decided to take a shot at this. Science fiction/fantasy with romance attached is what I like to do.
The project did not go at all well. I suspect the reason was the POV. I kept hearing my female protag’s voice in first person. In a romance, that means I’d have to write first-person sex scenes. I struggle with writing sex scenes, period. Do one in first person? Oy. There are writers out there who can pull it off with panache, but I’m not one of them.
The concept was fine, and I had a nice twisty mystery plot in mind, and a workable quasi-SF element, and a character with a problem and a hunky guy to help her, but I couldn’t make it come together, and I think that fear was the problem. Into the closet it went.
That was then. This is last weekend. I was wandering the YA section of Barnes and Noble, noting the plethora of young adult novels and wishing I had a workable concept so I could join in the fun, when it suddenly hit me: I’ve got that abandoned romance sitting in the closet. The quasi-SF setting would fit right in with modern YA subgenres. Just make the protags about five years younger and ditch the sex and I’ve got a New Adult novel. I can even keep the first person POV. Why didn’t I think of this before?
Because I wasn’t reading Young Adult before, other than Harry Potter. Since the time I set the romance aside, I’ve had a chance to read some of the better, or at least popular, representations of the genre as it currently stands. I believe I could recycle this story into a decent YA/NA novel. The basic idea was sound; I just targeted the wrong genre.
Now I’ll have to root through all those notebooks and see if I can dig up the couple of chapters I completed and see what I can do with them. While I’m at it, maybe I’ll exhume the remains of that fairy tale/Western I started. My haphazard research dug up a market it might work for. This, in addition to the other stuff I’m currently working on, should keep me busy for awhile.
Where do I get my ideas? Out of my “ditch this crap” files. Sometimes hoarding can be a positive thing. You never know what’s in there, waiting for a new coat of paint. Besides, it’s a good excuse to read instead of writing. Told you I was lazy.