Friday, June 29, 2018

Staying Green: Recycling Plot Ideas

What do you do with those extraneous plot ideas that are too good to throw away but don't fit into your work(s) in progress?

by Paul D. Marks

I save everything. I’m a Plot PackRat. I have a file that’s 82 pages long for novel plots and another one 31 pages long for short story plots, though sometimes they intersect. I also have a file called “Bits,” where I save snatches of dialogue, characters, and other things that aren’t story ideas but that I’ve just picked up here or there. And I have a Use Later file, which is for things I cut out of a story I’m working on that can either be used somewhere else in that story or in that series. And I have a titles file. The problem is I don’t often go back to the plot files as I’m always coming up with new plots and because they’re new I’m always hotter to trot on them. I’m not saying I never go back, I do. But newer does often seem shinier. And, believe me, being able to have these files on a computer instead of in paper folders is like magic
When I was working on screenplays one of my then-writing partners would say to me in the highest-pitched, most sing-songy voice she could muster, “Now Paul, that’s a really good bit, and I really like it and we’ll use it…………(her voice drops) just not in this script.” So we’d save it and maybe trot it out again and maybe not and that was in the days before computers so it wasn’t nearly as easy to do.

You never know when or where something will work. In a story I’m working on I took out several hundred words of backstory. I liked it. I thought it worked. But I also wanted to streamline so out it went. It may appear in another story with this character or bits and pieces of it may appear in the story I’m working on. Very little is totally thrown away. Most things are saved for possible later use. Everything can be used again at some point it’s just like recycling your plastic bags or whatever.

And, just as plastic bottles can be recycled into a multitude of things, everything from sweaters to sleeping bags and carpet, plot ideas can be recycled into things that don’t necessarily resemble their original incarnation. One of my published stories, Continental Tilt (from Murder in La La Land), started out as rock n roll mystery that dealt with the Church of Dee Dee Ramone (of the Ramones) and was going to be a story revolving around the Ramones or at least their legacy, though with a touch of mystery and dollop of humor – a church I believe I invented but who knows. It morphed into a satirical mystery with very little Ramones references left.

They, the ubiquitous They – whoever They are – say there are no new plot ideas and that’s probably true, They, depending on which They you’re talking about, also say that there’s really only 5 or 7 basic plots and that Shakespeare did them all once upon a time. So it’s really what we bring to a plot, our sensibilities, our life stories that infuse those five or seven plots. And if we have to recycle some of them, so be it. You know what They say, or at least what Igor Stravinsky is supposed to have said, though I have heard it attributed to others (so someone stole it from someone),  “Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.” So why not borrow from yourself or if you’re a great writer even steal from yourself. Everyone does it.

How ’bout you? What do you do with those extraneous plot ideas of yours?

And now for the usual BSP:

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While the storm rages over California’s notorious 1994 anti-illegal alien Proposition 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.” Private Detective Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack Riggs, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents. Their mission catapults them through a labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church and state that hovers around the immigration debate. Along the way we explore the fiery immigration controversy from all sides and no one escapes unscathed. 


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Madeline McEwen said...

Mine used to be on 3 by 5 cards [scribbled] but now they're in an A4 file [with pictures because I'm a visual learner.] Knowing that I've "captured" them helps me relax. [excuse typos - broke finger so more time to read!]

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I also believe in keeping ideas, plots and blogs. I don't throw my stuff away. It can always be improved upon and rewritten. I've sold numerous reprints.

Pat Marinelli said...

Well, on my computer I have an IDEA file, a SHORT STORY IDEA file, a TITLE file, a CHARACTER NAMES LIST file, as well as a paper IDEA file. I guess that means I'm a collector of writer stuff also.

Susan C Shea said...

Your filing system is impressive. Either that or you're a 21st century hoarder! So you use these bits and pieces occasionally, which is equally impressive. But how do you find them? I mean, do you scroll through these files periodically? Recall just where you filed something?

Cathy Ace said...

Seems as though most of us have more ideas than we know what to do with LOL

Susan C Shea said...

Cathy, that's the good news! Maybe we should hold an ideas swap meet.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment Madeline. I used to keep things in paper files and also on 3x5 cards. I think writing them down or “capturing” them, as you say, really does help.

Thanks, Jacqueline. I agree, why throw stuff away. You never know when it will work either on its own for something or as part of something else.

Pat, I think it’s a good idea to be a collector of writer stuff. It can always come in handy.

Susan, sometimes I just scroll through the files, like the Short Story Idea file or whatever. And sometimes I search key words like “mystery” or “noir” or something. Unfortunately, I haven’t always put those words in the descripitons… And that’s a great idea about an ideas swap meet :-) .

Cathy, better to have too many ideas than not enough :-) .

Lisa Ciarfella said...

I dig the idea of a "bits" file...I'm always seeing or thinking of ideas that come and go in a hot second if I can't get to them right away. A bits file could be super helpful. It's astounding how many ideas I get, and even more astounding how quick they can disappear! Think I'll make it on my phone somehow, maybe with an app. That way, I can jot them down right away before they bail and i'm left wondering it was.

Oh, and what are the five-7 Shakespeare plots??

Lisa Ciarfella said...

Okay, you got me wondering so just did a quick google search and here's what came up:

The Seven Basic Plots and Shakespeare:
According to Christopher Booker, there are only seven types of story that exist in the whole of literature, theatre and film...

Overcoming the monster
Rags to riches
The quest
Voyage and return

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comments, Lisa. In this electronic age it’s so easy to keep bits and pieces of things, much less clutter than when we had to do it all on paper. I’m sure there’s an app you can use to make a bits file. There was OneNote, if that still exists and some others whose names escape me now, but I’m sure you can find them.

As for the 7 plots, five of them seem pretty good, but “tragedy” and “comedy” seem a little too broad to call them plots, imho :-) .