Smart Writers Recycle

Quick tip today as I want to try to burn some rubber and tear up some asphalt and take a leap forward on The Devil’s Gunsmith — knock out some character arcs, and forge ahead on the outline.

The tip is this, and it’s a very simple one:

Please recycle.

No, not the plastic bottles or cereal boxes — no, those you just throw into a trash can. Or you burn on your lawn, wafting poison smoke toward the heavens, laughing and stomping the ground as you cry, “Take that, Mother Earth! Take that, you… gl… globe!”

Then you sing paeans and send offerings to your god. A god named British Petroleum.

I digress.

Again, that tip if you missed it: please recycle.

My novel currently under representation, Blackbirds, features a protagonist, erm, “borrowed” from an earlier novel. My second, I think. That novel was a little thing called Unclean Spirits: The Apocalypse Of Agnes, and was about a girl under the care of a drunken angel because she accidentally fell in love with the Devil and was having his baby and now the forces of heaven and hell were going to come after her. (If this sounds a little like Dogma, you’re right. I wrote this before that, though, which was all the more troubling when that film came out.) Anyway, point is, Agnes had a friend, and that friend was a character named Miriam, and Miriam was a moderately unpleasant character who was wholly pleasant to write.

Just plain fun. Loved her to death.

And so, when it came time to write Blackbirds, for some reason I reached into the grab bag and pulled out…

Miriam.

Side character became main character. Huh.

An exciting transition, and since that other story is hell-and-gone from my brain (not sure I even have the files around anymore), nice to not waste parts. That’s part of what this is about: don’t let your delectable brain squeezin’s go to waste. We’ve all put effort into stories that didn’t go anywhere, either due to our own uncertainty or to market forces. Why waste that? Take a hammer. Break it apart. Let it crumble to its constituent parts: themes, characters, even down to individual sentences. Then, pick those parts back up and use them as building material for a whole separate project.

Second reason, though?

Hey, it’s an excuse to be a little lazy. Obviously a writing career demands diligence and discipline at every turn, but this is a legit cheat that lets you cut corners in a positive way — you’ve done legwork that never got used, so use it. No need to double the work. Reach into the grab-bag, see what comes out.

Reason I bring this up is because I’m doing it a little bit in The Devil’s Gunsmith — some earlier ideas and story threads have been hanging around awhile, either in note form or in unfinished short stories, and turns out that those things will fit snug as a bug in a motherfuckin’ rug in this new book. Saves me a bit of time. Saves me a bit of effort. Stops me from wasting precious intellectual gravy. That’s not just a win-win.

It’s a win-win-win.

Or a “triple-dub.” That’s what we call it in the business. Or, “The Biz.” I hang out with a secret cabal of writers in an abandoned subway station, and we’re always high-fiving and saying shit like, “Yo, Grand Master Pen Goblin, way to rock that triple-dub on the WIP the other day, bro! You are face-fucking the Biz! In the face! With fucking!” And then Grand Master laughs. And then we go hunting for itinerant homeless whose organs we will eat and whose skin we will wear like jumpsuits.

…you did know that’s what all writers eventually become, right? Cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers? No? Oh. Well. Uhhh. Pro-tip: we all become cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers.

Anyway. Back to the topic: recycle. Do it. It feels good. Break the stained glass window and release the colors, free the images, and take them back. Use them later. It’s your stuff. It’s your brain. Make use of it.

9 comments

  • Oh God.

    I’ve been hallucinating again. I thought all that shit in the subway was on Twitter. And this is me typing into a little box, right? I’m not crumpled up next to a flaming bum barrel again, am I?

  • I love nothing more than when you give me this hard a case of the giggles.

    WITH good information.

    Here’s your tithe. Now leave my family alone. I already TOLD you that you can’t have my daughter.

    Sicko.

  • After I finish Citizen in the Wilds, or at least bang out the draft and put it up for fine people like yourself to tear to little prose-flavored bits, I just might recycle some of the new ideas I’d had for the paranormal re-imagining of the first novel I wrote, the not-so-original espionage thriller type thing.

    It might work better as a series of shorts. That’s what I’m thinking, anyway.

  • Added bonus to recycling characters from previous stuff — you don’t have to spend as much (or any) time getting acquainted with them. You know them, they (arguably) trust you to write them correctly, and you can get on with the actual story slinging. Win-win-win-win? Per-maybe-haps.

  • One of the reasons I’m writing a series is that I get to use a lot of the characters over and over. Not only does it save time coming up with new ones, you get to take the ones you have and put them through their changes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still find places for an old friend or two. Anyone reading along with my online novel, THE GRAVITY OF MAMMON, is familiar with Barham Lafitpour. He made his first appearance in my Hillary Davidson scar flash fiction piece. The guy kind of stuck in my head, and when I needed an ammoral bastard with international ties for the novel, hey, there he was, right there on the shelf.

  • The current WIP, The Phantom Reader, re-uses a whole SETTING: the city of Random, one of the ten biggest cities in the country, which you can find on any map, but which you never really visit nor do you know anybody from there. The city has a devil which lives in the park (a devil. Not the Devil. I want to go back to those glorious pagan days when evil thought globally, acted locally), an angel in a churchtower and a line of six superheroes, the fifth of which has been forgotten.

    The story focuses on the sixth superhero, her sidekick being the main male lead from the previous Random story. The mystery is why no-one remembers the fifth superhero or Lucy, the female lead from the previous story, except the devil.

  • I’ve recycled the Castelletti family several times. In the Firefly RPG, they were a crime syndicate that had control of New Vegas, a moon rumored to service any and every vice you have, so long as you have the currency to pay for said service.

    In a short story I’m writing, Joey, a low-level enforcer, works for the Castelletti family.

    And in my I WANNA DO LASER entry, the “main” character is the daughter of Don Castelletti.

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