Saturday, December 10, 2011

Paper Trail

Image shamelessly taken from, courtesy of The Internet, as always.
This post was originally going to be titled "Failed Starts," but I decided to go for something more optimistic. You know why? Because, when I look at all these so-called "failed starts," I can see how all of them lead to each other. Ideas for one story are borrowed from previous drafts, characters and names are reused, even a phrase or repeated word can hop from one crumpled piece of paper to the next without the author even realizing it.

This leads me to the heartening conclusion that no idea ever goes to waste. It just keeps getting recycled, just like the paper that it's written on is supposed to be. Even if a certain plot is thrown completely out of the window because it just won't work, you can bet that something in that draft is perfectly usable. This is the reason why my desk is such a wasteland: that's where I dump most of my written work that hasn't made its way into a happy home yet. I never know when I might need one.

Do you want proof of this amazing recycling process? Alright, here it is.

The Journey of An Idea
Note: These excerpts were all taken from spring of 2011. I have made some cuts to them for length, but the actual content remains unchanged. That includes any grammatical mistakes or typos, as well as awkward phrases and writing styles.

It starts with a basic concept for a novel: in this case, one or more talented adolescents are trapped inside of a maze and must solve several puzzles and challenges in order to be released. Yes, it was very Hunger Games-inspired. I wrote a few versions of this story, including:

"So." She pulls herself up to sit on top of the table, the tip of her shoes just touching the linoleum of the floor. "I'm supposed to give you this big, grand, boring and detached speech welcoming you to the program without giving any important details whatsoever. I've chosen to skip that and just get to the point. Basically, this is an overnight program for especially high scorers on that dreaded yet necesscary Intellectual Aptitude Test. But you already knew that. You want to know what we'll be doing. So, we've divided you up into teams of four, and you are going to be participating in a giant complex maze race."
"That why they call it the Labyrinth Project?" Jess interrupted.
"Mmm-hmm." She leans forward, as she usually does when she's about to tell us a particularly juicy secret about the conspiracy theories surrounding our principal. "Those who are alive by the end of the program are congratulated, those who actually solve the maze are internationally renowned, and those who make it out of the maze first are offered something they can't refuse."
"Like what?"
"Like... we can't tell you unless you get out of the maze first," she says matter-of-factly. "So let's go over some basic rules, shall we? First, this is by no means a fight to the death, so try to keep the killing and maiming of other participants to a minimum."
Wait, what?
The man behind the desk sighs. “Sophie, you know very well that you have capabilities that exceed those of the average 14-year-old. We need to find your limitations.”
She squints suspiciously and begins drumming her fingers on the desk. “Why?”
“You know why.”
Sophie frowns. “Actually, there could be a number of possibilities; several involve my mental deterioration due to brainwashing and the like.”
“Don't be ridiculous,” he says.
“I'm not.” Her eyes cloud over and she furrows her brow in concentration. “If I remember correctly, my thought train was... limitations—limits—limiting--restriction--experiment--dangers, risks—eliminate risks—eliminate threat—genius is threat—experiment—brainwash.
“Sophie, you're being paranoid,” he tells her.
“You have to admit that it's not unlikely,” she counters. “Keeping in mind the nature of the proposed test.”
Test—exam—examination--riddle--gauntlet--challenge--deadly?“It's deadly, isn't it? The maze?” she asks softly, all former boldness gone.
“There... is a considerable fatality rate,” he says sheepishly. “But generally not with your group of people.”
“The control groups tend to die?” Sophie surmises.
She abruptly rises from her chair. “I'll think about it.” 
Following the second excerpt, I decided that I wanted to flesh out the character of Sophie Watson and wrote out the beginning of a character sketch:
She wanders through the hallways, not really sure of what she's doing or where she's going. Her thoughts run rampant; she contemplates the meaning of life and does her math homework at the same time.
The passers-by don't bother to ask why she's not in class. 
I then realized that the prose style wasn't working for the character and wrote it from the point of view of a specific person:
She wanders through the halls, waif-like, caught up in her own thoughts. She looks weary, as if she hasn't had a goos night's sleep in weeks. She mutters to herself, occasionally scribbling down a note onto a small writing pad that she carries everywhere; one-word notes, vague and incoherent to anyone but her.
Exactly who I'm looking for, I think. God, Dawes wasn't exaggerating.“Sophie?”
She stares at me with blank eyes. “Mr. Stanton Mills, I presume. It's a pleasure.” She furrows her brows in concentration for a moment, sribbles down the words labyrinth society, and then under that, 2i-5.“Well, I see you've already guessed who sent me,” I chuckle. If Dawes was telling the truth...“No...” Her voice trails off. “Not guessed, no...”
“2i-5?” I ask almost instinctively.
“The answer to the current problem being worked on in the algebra class,” she says. “Of course, the teacher will say the answer is 'no solution.' Tension in that class.” 
The character of Stanton Mills, authority figure, reappears in the beginnings of another novel:
I turn the corner, start walking down the hallway, and watch a man fall to the ground. Behind him stands a teenaged girl with sleek red hair, lowering her gun.
Wait, what?Before I can properly react—disarm the girl, check if the man's dead—Hadrian places a hand on my shoulder. Not yet.I squint and look closer at the scene. The collapsed man is wearing a police uniform, but he's not a member of our squad. In fact, I've never seen this man before, and I know practically everyone associated with the Aileas police force. Especially the ones qualified enough to carry an A-64 gun on their belt.
The girl, however, does look familiar. Her weapon is a C-47 poison-dart gun, the kind spies-in-training use. And aside from her hair color, she's a dead ringer for a 14-year-old version of renowned agent Isabel Akaine. The red hair must come from Gordon.
Gordon, who's now dead.
Hadrian steps forward cautiously and I do the same. If some police impersonator has just threatened the victim's daughter, I'd say that counts as a pretty good lead.
“Round two?” the girl says with a smirk as we approach. “Or the real police this time?”
I show her my ID. “Inspector Stanton Mills of the Aileas police.”
She snorts. “That's what the last guy said.” She stuffs her little gun back into her pocket. I'll have to remember to take that, I think. “He's tranquilized for at least a few hours. Plenty enough time to get him behind bars. Kidnap attempt, possibly related to my father's death.”
She seems awfully nonchalant, suspiciously so. But this is an Akaine we're talking about. 
The girl, Rowen Akaine, is reincarnated in a fantasy-style story as Olive Morrison. She is still the daughter of spy commanders Isabel and Gordon, except there's now a war going on and witches exist. Sophie Watson also makes a reappearance, this time slightly more supernatural than her previous forms:

Olive didn't seem all that shocked, much to Sophie's relief. Probably is much more exposed to witches than the average child, she thought, and was about to turn back to her book when Olive's eyes narrowed and she said one of Sophie's least-favorite remarks.
“Prove it.”
Sophie sighed and did her usual routine: commanding objects to fly across the room, setting things on fire and leaving them untouched, recreating the aurora borealis in the palm of her hand. That sort of thing.
After a while, Olive bit her lip and asked. “No Persuasion?”
Sophie shook her head. “Not people-Persuasion, anyway. I man, I can do it, but I try not to. It just gives people reason to...” Here she trailed off, silently adding “distrust you.” Sophie preferred not to finish her sentences if she could help it.
For some unknown reason, a small smile spread across Olive's face. “Well, I'm glad that's out.” She walked over to the small window and gazed down at the parking lot. “I'm the daughter of Gordon and Isabel Morrison, the spy commanders for the East.”
“I know,” Sophie said quietly. After a moment, she added, “That doesn't matter here, you know.”
Sophie and Olive (and Stanton Mills!) go on to become main characters of an incredibly short-lived contemporary YA detective novel:
Sophie Watson's tendency to completely disregard her schedule, instead wandering from classroom to classroom as she pleased, went acknowledged but not prohibited by the school staff; they had more important things to worry about than the exact whereabouts of the resident absentminded genius.So when the dazed-looking 14-year-old walked into Olive's science class one morning, no one was surprised. Sophie often watched Olive's classes on Mondays. Usually nothing terribly important happened, but when something did, it was vital. Sophie kind of had that effect.Olive was probably the closest thing Sophie had to a friend, though interpreter might be a better term. Sophie didn't like to speak in complete sentences and Olive had a knack for foreign languages. That and the fact that Olive's father worked for some secret agency intent on monitoring people like Sophie Watson made them naturally inclined to be together."A smaller star lives longer," the teacher was explaining, "It has less mass and therefore less gravity and pressure trying to overcome it... massive stars, on the other hand, are--oh, hello Sophie." Mr. Stanton Mills nodded at her and turned back to the class of rapidly-falling-asleep adolescents. Olive turned to look at her friend, who had taken a seat at the empty table at the back of the room and begun to scribble furiously on a notepad.  
I soon realized that this wasn't really my style.

The basic idea of adolescents trapped inside of a building and having to survive puzzles and challenges was later molded into the premise of The Omniscience, although with very different protagonists. Stanton Mills is still my go-to name for a middle-aged, male authority figure; I hope to use Sophie Watson (who was inspired by Sherlock Holmes and Wiress from Catching Fire) in some form, someday, with Rowen/Olive Akaine/Morrison at her side.

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