Recycling isn’t limited to trash and newspapers. As a fiction writer, recycling ideas, settings, plots, and even characters can be a useful tool. I write. A lot. And I have a long catalog of writings and ideas that have never seen the outside of my computer or imagination. Sometimes those ideas/plots/characters go on to be in one of my books or short stories. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes something will be written or planned out that just isn’t going to make the cut for public viewing. So what happens to those ideas and characters that never become more than my own personal stable of ramblings?
Sometimes they’re just trashed. Ideas that didn’t work, characters I never really got into, settings that weren’t anything special. They fall by the wayside – they’re 86’d along with the rest of the unfinished (or sometimes finished) story. But other times, I recycle them.
Maybe character A isn’t going to get her moment in Story Z because it’s just not working. But I really like character A, so maybe I’ll put her in my next novel. Or maybe the house she lived in was really great and I had put a lot of work into its details and the way it became its own kind of character in the short story that I never finished. Instead of leaving the awesome house behind, I can recycle it. I can put it in something else. And the same can go for a lot of things: events, characters, settings, and even characteristics. Maybe I had a character in a nonexistent story who stuttered and was addicted to oranges. No need to waste that! No one will ever know that those characteristics once belonged to James of short story X. Now they belong to Bertha in Novel Y, and Novel Y is the one that the world will see.
I’m currently in the planning stages of Horns & Halos 2: All Of Them Criminals – the sequel to my YA fantasy novel that came out last fall. As I was going through my list of characters and plotting out how the storyline would go, I knew I was in need of a few extra supporting cast members. My mind fumbled over a few options, but then one day I ran across an old notebook of mine. In it was a decade’s old, handwritten chapter from a book that I never finished. In the chapter was one of my favorite characters from that adventure and I knew right away that there was no reason to not transfer him into my Horns & Halos sequel. Originally, his character was a young twenty-something, but it will be easy enough to make him a teenager and he can keep everything else about him. He’ll fit right in, and me? Well, I get to rescue a lost character from a story that has long since been dead in the water, and I’ll have a blast doing it. Some characters (or whatever you want to insert here) are worth saving. Even if their original stories or intents didn’t work out, there’s no reason to waste good material. No reason not to give your creations a second chance at life.
Check out Horns & Halos: Against The Giant
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