Thursday, October 25, 2007

Plotting and Scheming

Work has forced me into an eleventh-hour session for the second Fully Booked contest, so I'm going to have to wrap things up by this weekend. As per Murphy's Law, my textbook's publisher has also seen fit to place my deadline around that time -- in fact, my editors have somehow timed my deadlines to coincide with every single independent fiction due date I've had for the past two months. I could almost swear that they're doing this deliberately.

Usually, when it comes to writing a new story, the first thing that I do is open up a plotline. If I have anything interesting that dangles in front of my mind at the time, then I write about that. Otherwise, I open up my archives and look through the uncompleted works that I have, checking to see if I can salvage a storyline or two from there.

There is a practice among some writers that involves maintaining a repository of ideas, and then just taking stuff from there in the event that it's needed. This, however, is different -- rather than holding a bunch of pristine ideas in my archives, I keep only failed works and experiments in there. As a result, everything that I look through happens to have been a story idea that was once approved and attempted.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, I have the following plots in there at the moment. I'll even toss in some sample lines from the unfinished works:

- A description of a dystopian future where digital devices rule every aspect of human existence. (i.e. it would be difficult to find a date on a Saturday night.)
It was so quiet that he could hear his Biological Clock ticking. With any luck, he thought, it would stay frozen at half-past twenty-seven.

- A treatise on human dissection, written from the unfortunate subject's point of view.
And then something that felt like rushing water sped through his mind. It was cold and clear, and it pushed relentlessly at his rationality, to the point where it finally surfaced like a cork in the middle of the ocean.

- A hacker finds out exactly who -- or what -- really runs the Internet.
00040A5D: WARNING: Error 14-6EA65109 Improper Syntax, global.emp Line 39
00040A5E: WARNING: Error 60-47B83B11 Improper Syntax, global.emp Line 39
00040A60: WARNING: Error 61-00043C2A Improper Syntax, global.emp Line 39
00040A61: Critical Error 00-043279A1 Missing Component
00040A62: Critical Error 00-043279A3 Missing Component
00040A63: Auto Shutdown Unit AA-0432
00040A64: Error 02-77AB4110 Override failure

- Something about what happens when imaginary friends turn out to be real, and perhaps just hovering right at the edge of your vision...
“Honey,” Margaret said, her attention elsewhere, “honey, Daddy and I need to finish our Christmas shopping. We can’t buy you anything right now, but I promise that we’ll come back here after New Years’ and get you whatever you want, okay?”

- A robot who laughs.
As a result, when the first recorded incidence of MR-12138’s laughter occurred on the evening of the 3rd of May, the event did not elicit a particularly favorable response from the family.

- A drunken dragon (of the fantasy persuasion).
“I told you, I was drunk! I went around setting things on fire because I thought that the flames looked pretty in the moonlight!”

“Yes,” the knight said. “Yes, you did.”

“I picked up stray cattle and dropped them into buildings because I thought it would be funny in the morning!”

The knight seemed to stifle a short laugh. “Yes, you did.”

- A narrative concerning the first Philippine mecha (a giant human-piloted robot, that is).
Marasigan leans against what remains of a massive right leg, and lights a cigarette. It happens to be his fifth smoke in the last half-hour, despite the fact that he resolved to quit the habit earlier this week. When a giant robot falls from the sky, breaks up on impact, and crushes a substantial portion of the city under the weight of its bits and pieces, you’d probably be reaching for those Marlboros, too.

I have no intention of putting further effort into any of these stories, but I might salvage certain elements of their plots for use in other places. For all I know, I'll end up doing complete rewrites of these.

More often than not, however, I come up with entirely new plots. This is particularly the case whenever I'm writing for a publication that I know and respect, and I don't want to give what might essentially turn out to be a recycled work. Fully Booked just happens to have a few strikes against it -- first, I don't know anyone there; second, I don't know who their judges are and what they'd presumably want from me; and third, they weren't able to pick up on a serious case of plagiarism from last year. In short, it wouldn't weigh heavily on my mind if I gave them a few scraps.

This is not to say that I just pull together a half-hearted story and hand that in, of course. Whether the plots are old or new, I try to develop them as best as I can, given the time and the circumstances. Fully Booked will still get a quality submission from me, assuming that I can write something by this weekend.

Now if only I could ditch my publisher for a day or so. Hmmm.


Charles said...

I have my own sets of "discarded" pieces. Of course depending on the length of time I've stayed away from them, I do find a use for them. Sometimes, combining unrelated pieces give interesting results...

As for judges, well, that is a problem with anonymous judges. For the most part, I try to base them on the previous year(s) results (in the case of the Palanca). Of course that presumes that the judges in the previous year are the same one for this year, so whether that's true or not will affect whether what I perceive their taste to be is constant, or if subsequent plagiarisms won't be caught. Having said that, I have an entire blog entry on plagiarism and why it's not so easy to catch (try being the judge!):

Ida said...

Feign sick! So you can ditch your publisher I mean. :P
I personally would like to see the story about the internet continued. Mostly because it's not making any sense to me at the moment. Hehe. But anyway, whatever plot you decided to use, whether it's new or recycled, I'm wishing you the best of luck. :)

Sean said...

Charles: I don't think that the stable of judges will remain consistent; this is most likely intended to make sure that the contest's selections don't tend in one direction or another.

I'm aware that plagiarists aren't as easy to catch as I might assume. But I also believe that one shouldn't take on the role of a judge, editor or reviewer without at least a sense for these things. I'll admit that their inability to catch the plagiarized work last year was more a fluke than anything else. But with that said, they'd better hope that the same thing doesn't happen again this year.

Ida: My publisher/s know when I'm sick and when I'm not -- and they probably also know that I write stuff regardless of condition. (Darn blog.) Thank goodness for long weekends, though.