If you’re anything like me, you probably have hundreds of story fragments laying around. I have scraps of paper, spiral notebooks, and legal pads stored on bookshelves and milk crates in my home office. I also have far too many sub-folders on my MacBook that contain bits and pieces of ideas, half-finished dialogue, and partial drafts that were filed away for one reason or another. I learned early on that I needed to write down my ideas as soon as possible by whatever means is available.
Some of these scraps date back to my teenage years. And no, smart-asses, they aren’t chiseled in stone or inked on papyrus. But some of those old pages are now yellowing and the ink or pencil marks are beginning to fade a bit. Nothing lasts forever, so I’ve started the processes of getting them scanned so I can not only clear out all the paper, but also to preserve those random one-offs just in case inspiration strikes.
And that’s the thing. As I read over these forgotten thoughts and ideas I’m finding that some of them (not many) are actually good. In fact, a few of them seemed like they could be stitched together to form an interesting story.
I don’t want to know what my partner was thinking when she looked in the room and saw me sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by stacks of dusty paper. She’s wanted me to organize my papers for…well, quite a while now. As a cheap gift to her, I decided to get started this winter. I’m sure she appreciates it. At least I got a “bless you” yelled from the other room every time I sneezed.
To me, however, it felt like I was finding hidden treasure. I saw myself as an archaeologist sitting in an ancient library, forgotten for millennia, and handling delicate scrolls that contained secrets of a lost civilization. I know, it sounds silly, but I had to add some fun to the process. Truth is, I’ve been enjoying myself. Reading things that I wrote years ago was interesting and fascinating. Even though these were scraps of ideas, it showed where my imagination was at the time. I had some really good ideas, but I didn’t know what to do with them.
Now that time has passed, my head is in the right place to reexamine these ideas and see what I can do with them. It also makes me realize that I need to do a better job of organizing my ideas so I don’t have to dig through a bunch of crap to find these nuggets of gold. I’m glad I had the foresight to write all these things down despite the fact that most of it isn’t worth a damn. I mean, I don’t think that any ideas should be immediately discarded. You can have an idea for a story, maybe sketch out a plot or start on a draft, then realize that someone has already written something similar. It happens, but that doesn’t mean the idea was worthless.
For example, back in 1980 there was a horror movie by John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York) called The Fog. Basically, a fog rolls in on a town and things inside the fog kill people. That same year, Stephen King published the novella, The Mist. Guess what? Similar premise…fog rolls into town and things in the fog kill people. Should either Carpenter or King have given up since the premise was already used? Oh, hell no. Both are good slices of horror. The main difference between the two stories is the movie has pirate ghosts and the novella has otherworldly creatures.
The reason I bring this up is because I found a scrap I’d written several years ago that had a premise much like these two stories. I don’t think I had either one of them in mind, but I don’t recall what inspired me to write a two-page opening to the story. When I found it in my scrap pile I thought it had promise…then I remembered The Fog and The Mist and wondered if I should even bother to pursue this premise. Then it occurred to me…why not? My premise, while somewhat similar to what Carpenter and King did, can still be different. Why should I disregard a perfectly good idea? I found a little hidden gem in a pile of rubble. Might as well dust it off and see what I can do with it.
I’m also excited about what other gems I may find if I keep digging. So many forgotten ideas being rediscovered…I feel like the Indiana Jones of lost writing. I just hope there aren’t any booby-traps waiting for me.