Friday, April 20, 2012

R: Resuscitating lapsed ideas

Everybody has some manuscripts languishing in a comatose state, don't they? I'm talking about full drafts, or at least mostly-done, that suddenly manifested some deep flaw that drained out the spark of life. So you wrapped it up for long-term storage in your mental non-intensive care unit and figured you'd get back to it at some point.

Sometimes these stories resuscitate themselves. Sometimes it takes work. Sometimes you work them over with the shock paddles and mainline hormones through the IV and it still won't twitch.

I've got two in mind: a short story and a novel. Both SF, both Jovian Frontier stories. There are a lot of reasons why stories can lapse into comas, so I'll only talk about why these particular two did.

Wrong MC
I came to the realization that the main character arc in the novel was too muddy. What do I mean by that? My novels tend to include a main action arc -- a sequence of (exciting?) events -- and at least one character arc -- a sequence of (interesting?) changes the MC goes through. The two of them have a relationship, but how closely twined they are varies from story to story.

In this novel, the MC I had settled on did not have a clear objective. She was pulled into a situation and decided to take advantage of it, but why was not sufficiently clear and she made some choices that weren't... all that sensible, which always puts me off a character. This echoed into the main action arc and resulted in some serious "why are we doing this?" moments.

Fatal flaws. I threw it in the drawer (electronically speaking) and let it collect dust.

Then I went to the Viable Paradise workshop and listened to Elizabeth Bear's lecture on plot structure (among other wonderful lectures.) A couple weeks later, I was eating breakfast (I kid you not) and Bear (well, her voice) re-framed the novel's plot in terms of the other major character, whose objectives are far simpler, clearer, and are complicated by the female MC in (amusing?) ways.

My gut's verdict: this will work. I haven't done it yet, but I wrote down the notes.

Non sequitor
The main thing keeping the short story on life support is a pretty good sequence where a small team is working its way through a ghost ship. Its problem is that the character arc has very little to do with the action arc. This makes the character's changes seem to come out of left field and had (more than one) beta asking "What?"

No signs of life in this one. I might cannibalize out that one sequence if it can be used elsewhere. That's a perfectly good use of comatose stories, IMO. Organ harvest.

Why did that story of yours lapse into a coma?


Elizabeth Twist said...

My good friend Chris Kelworth and I have a phrase for what you intend to do with your short story. It started when I wrote a forum post about letting my new story cannibalize an old one. He joked about "allowing your chimera-like creature to pick at the dead bodies" of my former work. Now we don't talk about giving up on a piece: we say we're feeding it to the chimera.

Tobias S. Buckell also has a book called Nascence: 17 Storiest That Failed and What They Taught Me. It's on my TBR pile. I figure it will be helpful for dealing with stories that one has decided to let go.

The novel rewrite sounds brilliant, although daunting. Good luck with it.

Chris Kelworth

Elizabeth Twist said...

p.s. Sorry for the extra Kelworth link, although he's a good guy and well worth knowing. I meant to leave my sig:

A-Z @ Elizabeth Twist

L. Blankenship said...

Feeding the chimera, I like it. A Frankensteinian creature roaming the graveyard of my imagination...

Bluestocking said...

I have a couple of short stories and a novel that I poke with a stick from time to time to see if they are still breathing. They are... but usually I end up putting them back in status until that moment when I have the skills and insight to bring them back to life. Fingers crossed!

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