While watching the news a few weeks ago I was reminded of an old book idea I had decades ago. The basic idea of the book was thought out in 1988 during a period of prolific writing. Well, I wrote a half dozen short stories, bought a typewriter, and typed a few out, so while not prolific, it was a time that I actually did more than just dream about writing. I totally rewrote the book in my mind over the years 1993 – 1994, but I’m pretty sure the plot point that involved the trial of a racist police officer who had shot some unarmed black citizens was there since 1988.
Have you ever remembered an old plot line or unwritten story and asked yourself why you never carried through with it? I’ll admit it happens way too often with me. The reason I say “way too often” is the fact that until recently I’ve written far more stories in my head than I have actually written out.
On the other hand, looking back from my current vantage I realize how awful some of my ideas were. Of course real events have often overtaken my stories. One problem is that I often write stories that take place 15 minutes into the future. By that I mean many of my stories are written in a world that’s exactly like the present world but with some small technology that’s different, or with some event that happens that is needed for the plot. Of course, when I say “the present world”, I’m talking about when the story was written. So that book I came up with in 1988 and filled out in 1993 and 1994 was written for that world. I introduced a lot of cutting edge technology, some very important to the plot, such as “advanced” digital editing tools, that are now obsolete. Of course, some ideas, like the guys skydiving with custom made surfboards strapped to their feet and compact digital video cameras mounted on their foreheads might seem current today. Overall, though, events have overtaken most of what the book was about, there isn’t enough left to try to salvage it.
Sometimes it’s not worth bringing an old idea back from the dead.
On the other hand, I have brought back old stories, occasionally very old stories. One of the first short stories I posted on my blog back in February of 2014 is a good example. “A Love that Lasts Forever” is a story I had “written” back in 1988. I tried to keep it as close to the “original” as I could, even bringing wracking my brain to remember the names I had used, though the main character was as much a part of the story as the black hole.
Of course that brings up another point: how much of these old stories were really as we remember and how much was influenced from what has taken place in between? It is also very easy to get chronology mixed up. For instance, I remember the issues with the racist police being there since 1988, but it is very possible I added it in the 93-94 version, which was after the Rodney King beating. The mind plays tricks with time.
But does it matter? If we decided to use an old stories idea we aren’t trying to recreate the past, we are trying to tell the best story we can. Sometimes we find we need to make drastic changes to properly present the story.
In the end, it doesn’t matter when you originally came up with an idea for a story or the history of that idea, it is what your readers see and read that’s important. And when story ideas seem scarce, often a great mine for ideas is your own past.
So here’s to all of those unwritten books and untold stories living in my skull. May some continue to make their way out and bring joy to their readers.