Friday, March 4, 2011

On Cannibalism

So I’m finally getting around to establishing more of a web presence because I’m finally getting around to pushing my writing and acting to the professional level it needs and deserves to be at, after a series of false starts.  I blame MissSnarksFirstVictim for most of this really, as her blog contests lured me out of the blogosphere with their shiny enticey-ness and gave me such a kick in the ass that I felt it was officially time to announce that KALEN WAS HERE.  These would be the narcissistic tendencies I was referring to earlier.  In the head of Kalen, all major epiphanies, revelations, and major life decisions are accompanied by trumpeting fanfare and a need to share said epiphanies, revelations and major life decisions with EVERYONE EVERYWHERE WHO DOESN’T CARE EVEN A LITTLE BIT.  I wasn’t hugged enough as a child or something.  Whatever.

So this blog will be about my fumbling efforts towards fame, fortune, or really just enough success that I can afford to do nothing other than write and act (because it is my passion, my life, my nirvana, See Intro Post for more details).  Mostly though I’m going to write about random writing related topics as they occur to me and hopefully get thoughts on said musings from others in the blogosphere, meet cool people, interact more with the cool people I already know, and plot to take over the world.  I’ll have some posts about the acting side of things in here as well, which might or might not be of interest to people but I’m far too lazy (I mean busy) to have two blogs and Its My Blog and I’ll Blog If I Want To.

So without further ado – actual topicness.  Today’s topic is On Cannibalism, as its something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

And no, not the actual literal eating of human flesh as I’m not QUITE warped enough to muse on that overly much.  I’m talking about writing cannibalism, or the consumption of plots, characters and ideas from earlier manuscripts or WIPs.

If you’re anything like me, firstly I’m sorry.  That’s not a cross anyone should have to bear.  However, if you ARE, then you occasionally have brilliant, stupendous, orgasmic bursts of inspiration.  Ideas that can only be referred to as THE GREATEST IDEAS EVER (capitals required for proper emphasis).  And you write those ideas, and instead of the fireworks you were expecting, you’re instead confronted with erectile dysfunction while standing in front of the most beautiful person in the world.  Alanis Morisette would call that ironic, I believe.  I would hand her a dictionary and file it under Things That Just Plain Suck instead, but point is, something somewhere went wrong. 

However, sometimes it’s not the idea itself that’s the problem.  It is after all, THE GREATEST IDEA IN THE WORLD.  Sometimes, instead, it just wasn’t the right fit for that novel or project.  Maybe it was an amazing character…but just not a character that belonged in that particular novel.  Or plot point, or magic system, or whatever.  So the only thing you can do is grab a scalpel, extract it, and put it in a jar for a later, more fitting project. 

Sometimes, the idea or character or whatever fit perfectly into the novel you first wrote it into – and for whatever reason, the novel itself didn’t work, or get finished, or needed to be shelved indefinitely.  I once wrote a MG fantasy novel called ‘Boy Nature’, about the twelve year old son of Mother Nature, and the dysfunctional relationship that ensued from being born the wrong gender because the position of Mother Nature always falls from mother to daughter, and Mother Nature can’t be a boy because boys just aren’t nurturing enough to do the job right.  My MC was great, and I loved writing the relationship between him and Mother Nature and what it let me examine about gender roles.  The problem was, I never finished that novel and never will, because I realized 3/4ths of the way in that I was writing it for all the wrong reasons. 

You see, I wasn’t writing it because it was something I wanted to read but couldn’t because nobody else had written it yet and jeez I’d just have to do it myself and MY LIFE IS SO HARD.  No, I was writing it because I’d just read Rick Riordan’s ‘The Lightning Thief’ (about the son of a Greek god) and basically wanted to write my own version without being perfectly obvious about it by just using another mythological pantheon instead of the Greeks.  Now, there are good, quality novels that can come from reading something that resonates so strongly with you that you can’t stop thinking about how you would have done it if you had been the one to write it.  But when I consciously think how can I do the same thing as this guy without looking the same, that’s pretty much the definition of derivative.  And that conflicts with my being the Special-est of All The Special Snowflakes, so you know.  That book ain’t ever getting finished.  But the character and the dynamic with his mother, etc – that stuff was gold.  And deserves to be in a book.  I just haven’t thought of the book for it yet.

But then there’s the third kind of writing cannibalism.  And this is the one that’s had me thinking lately, and where things can get tricky.  Sometimes, the idea or character or plot point works perfectly in the novel you write it into.  But you must remember it is in fact, THE GREATEST IDEA EVER.  So you discover – it also works just as well, if not better, in another novel.  It’s that great.  You can insert it into any novel and thereby turn book crap into book gold.  IT IS THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE OF IDEAS.  An alchemical id, if you will!  And so you have a manuscript that’s been languishing unedited for awhile.  Not because its horrible, but just because you can’t think of what to do with it at the time.  And then you have this new, shiny WIP.  And you’re stuck on a certain plot point, or at a lull, and you remember TGIE.  And you think to yourself, what a shame that TGIE is just laying there with that manuscript you’re not doing anything with, where nobody can see its brilliance (and thus tell you how brilliant you are).  And you think to yourself, self, this is a grave injustice.  You are doing TGIE a disservice.  Why, if I were your muse, I would take personal offense to how you’ve abused her gift of TGIE and NEVER GIVE YOU ANOTHER ONE!  Panic sets in.  You break out in hives.  And then, looking around furtively to make sure no one is watching BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS WRONG – you grab a knife and cut a big honking chunk out of your initial manuscript and stuff it in your new one.  And it works!  The graft is an unqualified success!  Your new manuscript is finished, its great, its brilliant, and all your family and friends and people you’ve paid to tell you that do so.  You bask in your own amazing-ness – but only as much as you can, with the wounded eyes of your abandoned first manuscript staring judgmentally at your back.

This, dear readers (or empty blogosphere), is my current predicament.  Many moons ago, I wrote a YA fantasy called ‘Roanoke’.  And then I stuck it on a shelf and wrote many other things.  I always intended to go back to it someday, but someday turned into many days because I had lots of Bright!Shiny!New!Ideas demanding my attention, and it needed a lot of work.  It wasn’t a bad novel by any means, it was just that it was my first.  And you know how those things are.  It had great characters, great world-building, awesome magic and action and adventure, it just also had First Novel Flaws and needed a lot of line work and pacing adjustment and general rewrites and I LOATHE rewrites with a passion.  So instead I wrote another new novel called ‘Good Intentions’ an adult urban fantasy, and I lifted TGIE ever from ‘Roanoke’, a major plot twist and villain motivation that pretty much was the inciting conflict for that book, the thing that made everything else fall into place – and I stuck it into ‘Good Intentions.’  And it worked if anything, even better there.

So now ‘Good Intentions’ is off in the wilds of query/submission lands.  There’s no taking it back, and I wouldn’t if I could.  The book rocks.  It's totally deserving of TGIE and did Papa proud.  It’s got a con artist who uses faith and superstition to power his spells, a Chinese movie star and incubus and his werewolf cop boyfriend, a shapeshifting dragon who at various points in history has been both Helen of Troy and Marilyn Monroe and its got the Spirit of Los Angeles haunting a hotel downtown.  And none of that would have been possible without TGIE.  But ‘Roanoke’ too, now that I return to it with fresh yet seasoned eyes, has the potential to be amaze-balls.  Even without TGIE.  But how do you go about rewriting the entire core of a novel’s plot, without taking away the little details you loved so much about the novel as a whole?  Is such a thing even possible?

Is it, as Alanis Morisette might say, ironic?

Or does it just plain suck?    

Thoughts, recommendations, non sequiturs, personal anecdotes and drink recipes all welcome.

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