Thursday, June 28, 2018

Swerving dead things.

CRAFT:  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 Catriona

One of the biggest challenges of my writing life- Wait. One of the medium challenges, coming in below the royalty structure, doing page proofs and shrugging off bad reviews- No, hang on. A tiny niggle just the right size to make a blog - there it is - is the problem of trying not to have ideas. 

Ideas suck. 

When I was writing my first book, I'd wake up in the middle of the night, seized with dread that I'd never have another idea. "Well," Neil would mumble into his pillow, "Try and have one now. Then you'll know you can. And you can stop worrying." So I made tea and sat in the dark and had an idea. Phew. 

The next morning, I started writing the WIP and the idea seeped into the draft like ground fog.  So a couple of nights later, I sit bolt upright in the small hours and say "But what if that's it? Just those two ideas - and I've used them both?"

"Have another one," Neil mumbled. "And if you're going downstairs to get tea can you bring me up a glass of water?" I got the tea and the water and sat up in the dark and had a third idea.

Day or so later, there it was in the WIP. Another idea gone; another sub-plot born. Maybe that's why my first book is a wee tiny bit overwritten. Maybe that's why all first books are a wee tiny bit overwritten.

After that, I worked at not having any more ideas and I've stuck with the same method ever since. I can tell where an idea is. It's like a drunk on the bus or - for pet owners - that certain unmistakable something in the air that tells you there's been a digestive adventure nearby.  I'm aware but I avoid the area.

Actually, the pet analogy is wrong. Of course I don't just swerve the spot on the floor where my cat started eating a mouse but couldn't finish it. Maybe it's more like a dead seal on a beach. It's there. You walk past. It doesn't spoil your day. But you don't have your picnic nearby. 

Then, when it's a sensible time to have an idea - at the start of a new book, or when you need a subplot to avoid the WIP being underwritten - you retrace your steps and scoop up the idea that's sitting there . . . decomposing. I wish I'd picked a different analogy. And not a drunk on a bus either. 

Retracing my steps is usually no more than repeating the words I picked as an aide memoire when I quick-marched away from the idea in the first place. Sometimes I write them down on a scrap of paper. 

I've just been through to my study to get my "scraps of paper" file. Here are some of my idea memory-joggers:

Cerumol ear drops
Dread stoner guy
Place mats
Shoe collection (wide fit?)
Horse logger
Urgent unique
Lifeboat alibi
Paper trousers

But wait, I hear you say, aren't those ideas going to spark back into life now  and ruin the end of your WIP (nearly done, should finish this weekend)? Well no, because I can't remember what any of them are supposed to mean.

I'm not recommending this system; I'm just reporting.

Anyway, as well as the lost horse logger ear drop paper trouser lifeboat masterpiece, I did uncover three decent ideas (on the flap of a Christmas card envelope, on the inside cover of a Malice-at-a-Glance booklet and on the level 3 map of a Tate Britain guide pamphlet) that are pretty good. And now they're humming and I need to stop thinking about them fast, because Dandy Gilver No 14 is just about there (see pic of desk below; I'm that close) and any of these ideas would be a major deus ex machina at this stage.

So I'm off to make tea and clear my mind.  Please don't use me as a shining example of how to write. I'm a much better dire warning. 


Susan C Shea said...

Catriona, for starters, Neil's a genius. And for seconders, your metaphors and not only leaving me dizzy but bringing on a bit of nausea between the half-eaten mouse and the decomposing seal! You're in some kind of mood, methinks. But the bottom line is that, unlike the rest of us Minds, you seem to be able to extract something fresh from discarded ideas now and then. I salute you and will go back and look at my little mouse innards again. Thanks for the inspiration!

Lyda McPherson said...

Hello Catriona: Happy to hear that Dandy Gliver No. 14 is so near the finish line. I've started reading the series and it's nice to know there is more on the way. Just one question. The audit trail on your post says it went up at 2:00 am? Is this right? Was it a case of "I'll get up, have a cup of tea, side-step an idea, and blog."? If so, you win the award for multi-tasking. Now, get some sleep.

catriona said...

I scheduled it, Lyda. It's early because one of the mystery community's tip-top blogger reviewer's, Dru Ann Love, lives in NYC and gets up at an ungodly hour. Every time I go to set a blog publication time, I think of Dru and make it earlier!

catriona said...

Argh. Apostrophe crime. Forgive me.

Cathy Ace said...

I'm putting the kettle on! :-)