Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Some things need to remain dead

I’ve always been a fan of resurrecting a dead character in D&D and other RPGs (though I have never actually had to do it). However, it occurs to me that sometimes what’s dead needs to just stay dead (especially the cat in that Stephen King movie). And sometimes this even applies to writing projects.

A few years ago I started a project about a human boy raised from infancy by Orcs. I really liked the characters, the background, and I enjoyed writing many memorable scenes. As usually happens, I got burned out on it, and put it aside. Mainly this was because I hadn’t really plotted anything out. I was just trying to let the story tell itself naturally, building a plot off of the events as they occurred. That didn’t really work so well, as I got lost and started meandering.

Today I decided to reopen that project and work on it. My original vision was a novel-length work, with the possibility of it being the first in a trilogy. But, after much reconsideration, I thought that maybe I would rewrite some of what I had, and turn it into a novella. With this thought in mind, I proceeded to reacquaint myself with the story.

And that’s when I realized that the writing sucked. It’s bereft of colorful descriptions, and filled with mundane terms like “asked” and “said.” In order to make it entertaining, I would need to go through and do a major rewrite that would almost match the amount of work required if I just scrapped it and started over.

In short, the project is dead. And I’ll probably just let it stay that way. For a while. Maybe someday I might pull a Dr. Frankenstein and steal the better scenes for a future project. But, as a whole, the story will just be a file on my computer, and not much more.

Has anyone else had this happen?


Chris Blanchard said...

I have totally had that happen to me. A few years back, I wrote 60,000 words of a 80,000 word novel for NaNoWriMo. It had a great premisis, where fires were gateways to a demon home, and a special breed of knight called Fire Fighters would come to fight the demons. The story followed the daughter of a Fire Fighter after his death as she learns to use his staff and discovers who killed him and why. I took a long break from it after NaNo was done, and then when I came back, I realized that my writing had improved so much that I couldn't just finish it, I'd need to re-start it. And really, that was probably a good thing, because so much of the begining of it rambled, or was just badly written.

But, let me say that starting over is not a bad thing. I've listened to many authors say that they will often sit down to a new project and just start typing away. They'll get as many as 10,000 or even 20,000 word before the story itself starts. Most of that is them discovering who the characters are and what those characters sound like. That's 20,000 words that get ditched as they try to find the story!

So, take what you have and file it away, but don't be afraid to return to it. Dust off these scenes and consider them notes. Outline the story from what you did have, ditching what you didn't like and make sure to add what you did.

Keep writing, Tom. I, myself, never consider a project truly dead. It's just in storage until I find it's proper place for it. Some day, I will come back to that Fire Fighter story. Will it be the same story? I have no idea. But I know that at the very least, ideas from it will come back in something else I'll write.

Ken said...

Chris' advice is sagely, as usual.

When I have trouble crafting a story it's usually because I haven't created a protagonist's core value. In other words, why do I care about him or her, and why am I interested in writing about them.

While I spend a great deal of time thinking about the individual, I sometimes forget to summarize this interest, and delve immediately into a situation, conversation, thought, which may not be the best course but the creator in me wants to create.

That's a mistake.

Pushing myself ahead of the characters and the plot is just ego-sailing...

I'm sure the nectar of the story is still among the embers you're sifting through. A poker jab will stoke the fire once more.

Again, why do YOU care about this orphan? Why do YOU care about the character's adoption among Orcs...

Journal from that for a while and see what happens.

Good luck.

Ken said...

Been thinking about your concern, mundane words such as "said" to indicate who is speaking.

I was reading a story in the anthology, Realms of War, titled Continuum, by Paul S. Kemp.

He uses "said" so sparsely I didn't notice it right away. Narration and motive lead into "dialogue." Because of this narrative style, the characters and plot flow simultaneously, without the "said" gap.

If you can find the paperback in your area, I'd give it a quick read. Other stories are equally good reads. I thought that story might be helpful to you while crafting a story from another time, another place...

Charles Gramlich said...

I wrote a western novel a long time ago that's like that. But I did use scenes from it in a couple of later stories, including those published in the Killing Trail ebook.