Friday, February 11, 2011

What Have You Got In Your Trunk?

I'm much too sleepy to be intelligent today, so I'll leave the talk on Dorothy L. Sayers and other golden age mystery writers until next week. For Saturday, I give you an exercise -- one I recently went through myself.

Anyone who is a writer, or wants to be a writer, has been collecting stories and ideas for quite a while. You may have rough drafts lying around, or partial stories, or outlines, or just ideas. Whether they are physically on paper, or on your hard drive, or just in your head, we refer to these as "trunk stories."

Technically, I suppose that a trunk story is a story you've actually finished, but either never did anything with it, or you got discouraged after a round of rejections and put it in the trunk never to be seen again. However, I include any story you may have abandoned -- including drafts and ideas.

We abandon stories for lots of reasons. Not all of those reasons are good. The story was too hard to write. Couldn't think of what else to do it with it. Got bored. Had another spiffier idea. Ran out of markets.

The thing about most of these reasons is that they go away with time. Seriously. If a story has been in a trunk long enough, you may well find that you now suddenly have better ideas for it. Suddenly you know what's wrong. Or maybe you can see there was nothing wrong with it -- there just weren't any markets that fit back when you wrote it. But there are new markets now. Or there still aren't markets but it's fun, and you can publish it on your blog or in a collection for Kindle.

So today's exercise is to clean out that trunk. Take a look, dig things out of wherever you put them. Or take notes from the dim memory of the virtual trunk in your head. Look at all of the ideas, even the stupid ones. And list them -- list all the finished stories, and the mostly done stories, and the partial stories, and the ideas. Take an inventory.

Is there anything there you might want to publish on your blog on a Sample Sunday? Anything you now have a hot new idea for? Anything you might cannibalize to make another story better?

And if you're a young writer, or you just don't have much of a trunk, I challenge you to start filling that trunk. Takes some risks. Write up some ideas, some openings to stories. Half-baked ideas. Because it's just the trunk, you are free to try things out. Maybe start an idea that you don't know how to finish. Do something stupid.

Give yourself some creative raw materials.

Because, in this new world of publishing, you're going to need it. You will need things to "feed the beast" of publishing, but also to reach out to your audience with. To gain a reputation, whether through publishing it on your own blog, or submitting to magazines or just to other blogs as guest posts.

Tomorrow, for Sample Sunday, I'm going to publish something I pulled out of my trunk -- a mini-romance crime story that I wrote when I was trying to break into Women's World. The story is called "Balancing Act" about an awkward woman, a hot guy and a stolen ring.


A.J. Zaethe said...

I am glad that at least someone out there promotes the ideal of never letting a story die in truth. I have argued with so many writers on this topic of letting ideas go. In all that I have experienced and argued over, I have learned that you should let the story go, but never the idea.

It is said that not all ideas are publishable. I say that is horse noodles! Yes, noodles. I say not all STORIES are publishable. Idea does not equal idea. And if the idea isn't working, that means you haven't twisted it enough, in my books!

You can always redo the story, you can always combine ideas and get a middle product. There is always a way to save an idea.

For many who would allow their ideas to forever remain in the trunk. I call you lazy, but more importantly, I call you murderers.

"The murder of the living is tragic, but the murder of the idea is unforgivable." - Janus - The Mirrodin Cycle.

a said...

You're absolutely right, Camille!

And I like A.J. Zaethe's observation "you can always combine ideas and get a middle product." This recently worked for me, so I can attest to its value.

As for cataloguing, a spreadsheet works wonders. Helps you track your total words over all projects, to any degree of granlarity you like. And just seeing those title there, the ones you haven't worked on for months or even years, is a good motivator.

The Daring Novelist said...

'Horse noodles?' Can I steal that for the heroine of my other mystery series? She tends to make up her own swear words, but that one sounds perfect for her.

The thing to remember is that you are never done with a story even when you're done. Dean Wesley Smith famously never rewrites. He writes a story and sends it off to markets... and if there is anything he didn't like about it, he just writes another story. He says that's how he came up with his Jukebox Timemachine series -- he just kept rewriting the same story and it was different every time.

As for spreadsheets -- wow! I'm not that organized. Although, I actually get something out of the act of cataloging, so after I've written things down, I throw the list away. I'll go back and list it all again when I need the material.

a said...

I get something out of the act of cataloguing, too. Throwing away the list, and making another when you need it--I can understand why you'd do that. It's related to how we remember and analyze things. For example, when I was studying for exams, I'd make detailed and meticulous notes, write and rewrite them--because that fixed the information in my brain and helped me to learn it. By processing your inventory of WIPs, you extract meaning in the context of your current objective for cataloguing.