Saturday, December 16, 2006

'Never Throw Anything Away, Harry'

Hard work, today, what with the car breaking down in a cloud of smoke and finding I had a $400 bottle of wine I didn't want (long story, another time). Even so, by dint of having most of my brain working on tedious annoyances while my subconscious did its own thing, I found at last the answer to a plotting problem I've been having.

The story concerned is roughed out until the point where Our Hero has to put an end to The Threat once and for all, risking much on the slight chance he can save more. No matter which way I looked at it, however, the resolution reeked of a season finale of Buffy. (That said, if your work's going to resemble another writer's, you could do a lot worse than Joss Whedon.)

The problem's been niggling for days. Then, thanks to my hindbrain getting stuck in neutral all morning, the answer popped up, just like that.

'Kill your babies'.

That's an excellent piece of advice I received about writing from one far wiser than I - no matter how hard you've worked on a piece of writing, or how much you love it, if it's not working you need to be ruthless enough to ditch it.

It's a tip that's saved me much embarrassment in the past, but it's one that's also created a slush pile of ideas, scenes, even sentences that have been put into cold storage in the hope that one day they might live again. Most writers, I imagine, have files filled to bursting with odds and ends that didn't quite cut it. This is the first time, however, that I've actually been able to dip into my file and pull out a piece that didn't fit first time, but now slots in perfectly.

Let's not forget that plagiarising yourself is also part of a grand old writing tradition. Anyone who's read Raymond Chandler's John Dalmas short stories, for instance, will immediately see how he stripped them for parts to write many of his later Philip Marlowe novels. And anyone who's known me long enough knows I like me Chandler ...


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