I think I’ve mentioned once or twice the practice of sticking various story elements in my “graveyard” once I determine I’m not going to do anything more with them, at least in the form they were in originally. What sends a story to the graveyard varies, anything from writer’s block to needing extensive research to confirm details can result in this treatment. I’ve even had ideas for good scenes that just don’t fit anywhere and reluctantly found myself sending them to the graveyard. This is where many of the short stories I write come from.
And that brings me to the subject of today’s post: Graveyard management. The first thing to recognize is, when you find something that doesn’t work, killing it doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. You’re a writer, not a surgeon. You are constrained only by your imagination and vocabulary in the language of your choice. If you set something aside it’s only gone for good if you can’t remember it. So it’s less important to fret about cutting ideas you like and much more important to take solid steps to insure you remember those ideas.
So why call a file of unused stories a graveyard?
Mainly because they’re rarely going to come back as you remember them. That particular idea may be dead but you can use it as the foundation of something new, or weave multiple story ideas together creating a veritable Frankenstein’s Creature of a story. With cut and paste, we have the technology to lay the ground work for such a thing quickly. You can make it better, faster, stronger… you get the idea.
Project Sumter itself is one such creation. The characters take their cues from an old set of short stories I worked on, where Circuit was just a megalomaniac fronting a global network of technologically savvy insurrectionists, Lethal Injection was his mentor, not his first victim, and Helix was an intelligence agent who knew something was going on but had no idea what. Superpowers were something the story was supposed to explicitly reject.
Obviously, that didn’t work out.
Project Sumter, as I said a couple of weeks ago, was supposed to focus on the American Civil War. It was only when I started trying to work out all the possible interactions of Corporal Sumter and his Confederate rivals into the existing timeline of the Civil War that I began to appreciate exactly how complicated a those stories would be. So the early phases of Project Sumter went to the graveyard.
There they bumped into the old technothriller stories and sat for a few months, stewing. The results are still playing out, but hopefully they’re enjoyable.
And that’s the beauty of the graveyard. If you properly maintain it, glancing over it every so often so that the ideas in it stay fresh, you will eventually find a home for all those stray thoughts, fun characters and snappy dialog. You don’t have to call it a graveyard, of course, you could call it the pot, the top shelf, the cutting floor, whatever you want. But if you’re going to be a writer it’s important to conserve your most important resource – the writing you’ve done. So whatever you do, don’t ever let any of it slip through your fingers!
I’m always excited when I can pull a something from my writing graveyard and graft it in later either in the same story or in a different one.
While not required, I always enjoy indulging in a science-related memetic disorder or two when I successfully pull something from the graveyard. Alas, I must settle for evil laughter, as I cannot yet afford lightning generators. You should try it, if you don’t do such things already!