Friday, November 14, 2008

Ghost Stories

Once upon a time, there was a writer. He liked to start stories, but he didn't like to finish them. Then, one day, he sat down at his computer and saw one of his sad, unfinished stories staring up at him from the screen. He blinked, pulled away from the table, but when he looked again, it was just his desktop.

It happened again at work. He was looking at spreadsheets of data, when suddenly the screen changed at he was staring at a poor story that had only made it five pages before being abandoned. He screamed!

Soon he was seeing them everywhere: on his cell phone, in the pages of the book he was reading, among the words of the newspapers being read by people sitting across from him on the train. All the stories he had ever abandoned were coming back to haunt him...

He ran to a cabin in the woods to escape them, but what happened next, no one knows, because he was never seen or heard from.

Ever.

Again.

* * *

Last night I finally took a fire wire cable and snagged all my old writing off one of the three half-dead computers I have lying around my apartment. Unfortunately, it didn't include what I really wanted - my science fiction story, Useless Nick, which I was hoping to post here today - but I did find something else. In addition to a lot of music I had been missing, I found a huge wealth of other old, unfinished stories.

It's been a mixed experience. Some of them make me happy. They're like old toys, little glimpses of my younger days. A few of them I'd love to play with again, maybe finish some day. But others... oh my God. I'm ashamed of myself just looking at them. The horrible over dependence on tropes: parties of adventurers, boring magic swords, lazily written settings, and typical magic mythologies. And my obsession with lost love... gah. I think I may have been ruined for "plucky young man sets out for adventure after being rejected by his true love" forever. By myself.

On the other hand, even in the worst of them I see things that make me smile. I see a certain ease with dialog that I'm proud of to this day. I see characters that refuse to be flat (even when the world around them is a $#@! pancake). I see plots that are never quite pedestrian, that always have a certain twist to them. I suppose it's fair to say that I see some echo of the writer I am today in the writer I was then, which is a heartening thought. Not that I'm so awesome now, but that I can grow so much in so few years.

Of course, the fact that in another five years I might look back at what I'm working on now (which includes one completed novel) and think the same thing is a disheartening thought, but you can't win them all.

This brings me to the topic of the day: how does one go about resurrecting these ghost stories? I've never made a concerted effort to restore the dead to life before. Sure, I've blown the dust off an old story or two and taken a crack at them, but I've never had a plan.

The first question is continue or remix? Do I give what I've got a quick edit and then forge ahead, or do I read it carefully, take some notes, and then toss it and start from scratch?

After that, has anyone out there had any luck with this before?

Because the ghost stories... they're after me.

* * *

I know I closed the body of the post with a question, but here are a few more I hope you might find amusing.

  • Have you ever had a particularly interesting reaction to finding some of your old writing lying around?
  • What's the oldest, weirdest manuscript of yours you've ever found, and what did you do with it?
  • While I'm on old and weird, what's the strangest place you've ever found old writing of yours? A shoebox? Under the floor? Tattooed on the back of a Spanish prostitute in Berlin?

2 comments:

Rebecca said...

I love that story. And hey, it's even a finished one!

Scattercat said...

In the introduction to "Frost and Fire," Roger Zelazny titled his essay "An Exorcism, Of Sorts." He talks about the three "types" of stories he writes - images, characters, and plots - and how sometimes the wrong characters will come and camp out in a plotline where they don't fit, or a striking image will present itself without any clues for a conflict and a plotline.

He also talks about having these stories in his head, half-finished, as "living with ghosts," which I think was a very apt description. He goes on to describe an idea he had which he can't get rid of and which had been intruding every time he sat down to write. (It involved the notion that heavy landmasses, like mountain ranges, have corresponding depths beneath them, like anti-mountains, and the notion that maybe a sufficiently massive city might have an anti-analogue on the flip side of the Earth's crust.) He expressed the hope that by describing it there, it would finally go away and leave him free to write something else. Still, by and large, he talked about how he rather enjoyed "living with ghosts."

I live with a lot of ghosts. I like to review them from time to time, sometimes add bits or polish sections. Maybe one day I'll write them all. (In the meantime, I'm using my flitterfics as exorcisms of my own, shedding half-ready ideas in tiny lozenge form, possibly to be mined for full use later and in the meantime being WRITTEN DOWN and not soaking up precious mental resources.)