Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Stories In Dust: The Morgue File

Your former glories and all the stories
Dragged and washed with eager hands - Siouxsie and the Banshees

Over at Write On Edge, Cameron talks about The Loser Pile and the importance of not scrapping your work:
Save your ideas. Even the losers. Not every idea is a winner, but hidden in the junk pile might be the seed of something amazing.

As I see it, the "loser pile" is the place that contains all the errant scenes, dialogue, themes, and maybe the not entirely stable characters you've dreamed up over the years.

They could be half-finished ideas jotted down on a scrap of paper that you forgot to take out of your pocket. (Subsequently, the scrap ended up in the wash and now the ink has run, but the words are still readable and, just in case, you've tucked it safely away in a drawer.)

Or, maybe, they're truly wonderful pieces of prose (components of a larger work) that you discovered just didn't fit the story you were trying to create.

I'm a word hoarder. I rarely throw away my writing.

Even the really bad stuff that I wrote years ago during my hang-out-in-my-room-with-the-window-open-curtains-drawn-candles-lit-incense-burning-Bauhaus-playing stage of life.

Hell, I think I still have the floppy disk on which I started writing my first young adult novel (at the age of 8). Never mind the fact that I no longer have a drive that will read a floppy disk...

Where the ideas live. (Image via stock.xchng)
I digress.

Everything I write that doesn't go anywhere goes into my Morgue File, which isn't really a single entity. It's a combination of files saved on my computer and flash drives, a good old fashioned file cabinet and in my own memory. 

I never know when I might need to cannibalize something, be it a particular setting or a theme, so instead of throwing away what I've worked so hard to build, I save it. (And, in the event that I'm really strapped for ideasan old fear I used to have that I'm always laughing about nowI have a well of resources to turn to.)

Years ago, when I was in high school, I had a group of characters come to me out of the blue. An artist and her older boyfriend, an actress, the new kid at school (bullied for being gay), a curio shop owner who was always ready to lend an ear (and a pot of tea).

(Honestly, their group felt a little like The Breakfast Club meets Chynna Clugston's Blue Monday cross-bred with Clerks.)
Images of my childhood.

I wrote short, developmental scenes for each of them. Aisling (the artist) and Ash (her boyfriend) made an appearance in an assignment I did for my college manuscript writing class. And again in a little scene I was inspired to write after being stuck in traffic on my way to work one morning. (Dreaming the Domestic)

None of them ever really went anywhere.

And then, one day, a few years ago, I had two story ideas fall into my head. And I needed characters. None of the new ones I came across seemed to work. They were all flat. Boring.

That's when Aisling popped up out of the blue, tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that she and Ash had taken a trip west for a Poe inspired photo shoot and were ideal to cast for the San Diego ghost encounter.

Her visit inspired me to drop in on the other characters in their clique and my shop ownera young man who's fascinated with mythology and always on the look out for strange encounters but who, I learned, has honed a keen skeptical eye over the years—turned out to be the perfect person to make contact with an Undine.

These aren't quite the same characters I met years ago. But then, neither am I the same writer.

I can only think that as I was off growing up, getting a degree, getting a job, they were doing the same kind of growing. And now they've come back to me, experienced, well rounded and much more human. More real.

And ready to find their niche.


L. M. Leffew said...

This is an interesting concept that I have heard couple of times only recently. I have only ever created characters for a specific story. Never have I thought of characters as something outside of a story and working with them at different times for different stories. Thanks for this insight.


L. M. Leffew said...

Glad I could offer some new thoughts. :) Thanks for stopping by.

L. M. Leffew said...

Excellent! I like this. I have heard of (and agree with) keeping your unused work, juuuust in case, but the thing that always got me was editing a piece. How do you do that?! Maybe I suck at editing, but I would end up with 60 copies of each page, saving the original, editing, saving that, editing... Ugh!

L. M. Leffew said...

Well, I'll be doing a post about self editing soon and I talk about what helps me take care of the "OMG! I'm going to buried in a mountain of revisions!" feeling. :)

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