The Loser Pile

A few years ago, I had three characters in my head.

  • A bright young man on the brink of adulthood, a man out of place in the world, something of an old soul.
  • A feisty sister, engaging and charismatic, and maybe telepathic.
  • An uncle whose motives are suspect.
writing believable characters, saving ideas that don't work, Write on Edge, never throw away a story

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I wrote nearly fifteen thousand words of Young Adult Fantasy/Sci-Fi about them a few years ago, but I couldn’t make it coalesce. Their world simply would not stay consistent or believable.

So I shelved them.

But I didn’t scrap them.

On Saturday, I gave some advice to Stephanie‘s writing group at Bloggy Moms:

Save your ideas. Even the losers. Not every idea is a winner, but hidden in the junk pile might be the seed of something amazing.

Recently, I’ve started a new project, a long short story or a short novella, and as I was working my ideas out, these three characters peeked out of the loser pile and offered themselves up for the cast of the new work-in-progress.

They shifted themselves around a little, they morphed into new versions of themselves, and they’ve taken on a new, richer life in this story. They’re thriving–better able to explore their world this time around.

Hidden in the junk pile might be the seed of something amazing. Is my new story amazing? I don’t know yet, but I know the feeling of finding the right home for your characters certainly is.

10 Responses to The Loser Pile
  1. Vinobaby
    February 6, 2012 | 4:22 am

    Oh this is so relevant to my work right now. When reading through my manuscript for the first time (1st draft), I realized a character I loved — who had great development and scenes built around her —had to go. Her entire scenes, character, and subplot just didn’t fit in with the flow of the main story. It’s ALL coming out.

    But, all her info and scenes are going into a binder for a new story, a new book, and I hope to breathe new life into her…one of these days…

    Kill your darlings.

  2. Lance
    February 6, 2012 | 4:55 am

    Get. Out. Of. My Head.

    Two days ago, for another writing prompt site, I debuted a superhero character, in only 3 sentences. I wrote about six thousand words for FIVE years ago. In my Helene story, her father, a failed early 80s rocker, is an offshoot of my 2010 nanowrimo character, a one hit wonder rockstar that I wrote 30K words about.

    I do this a lot. Great post. The losers sometimes help you make winners.

  3. Abby
    February 6, 2012 | 5:24 am

    I don’t write fiction, but I can relate to this 110 percent. I spent entirely too much time over the weekend writing a post I now know I’m not going to publish. It just doesn’t feel “right” to me, but I struggle with the fact that I spent So. Much. Time. on it. Sigh…perhaps I can use it in the future–or parts of it–but it’s hard to reconcile “wasting” all that time with nothing to show for my efforts.

    But then again, quality and not quantity. At least it was writing and perhaps recognizing that not everything has to be published the first time around is the lesson. I’m still bitter though…

  4. Angela
    February 6, 2012 | 9:29 am

    I love this. So much.

    I have so many characters floating around in drafts and in my head, and I hope I can find a home for them one day :) This gives me hope.

  5. SAM (Stephanie)
    February 6, 2012 | 12:10 pm

    I do think that was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read. I’ve never thought about that. I think the closest I have come was to change a banker’s name and give him a bigger role in my Blair stories.

    This is yet another reason why I need to keep track of all those characters. I have far too many floating around.

  6. Karen
    February 6, 2012 | 12:15 pm

    Great piece, Cameron. I agree, I don’t trash my characters or even their story. Sometimes I don’t dump them because while I’m unable to make them work at the moment, I know I might find them new life, new adventures down the road and other times, I can’t dump them because there is a piece of them I’ve attached myself to. So, they can haunt my hard drive until I find them a new home.

  7. Renee
    February 6, 2012 | 1:02 pm

    I have several semi-started stories. Every so often one character jumps out and asks for more history. I’m hoping someday to pick one and actually finish a story.

    At least I’ll have plenty of characters to work with.

  8. Nancy
    February 6, 2012 | 5:04 pm

    This is so hopeful for me. I still believe that there’s a home for Walter and Lydia and Janie. Somewhere. Someday.

  9. kisatrtle
    February 6, 2012 | 6:59 pm

    I have many half finished projects that I couldn’t finish. I, too, believe there is a place for them.

  10. L.M. (Chaotically Yours)
    February 7, 2012 | 12:02 pm

    I’m so with you.

    I have a filing cabinet (and a hard drive) full of half finished short stories, the beginnings of novels, novel outlines, random scenes and character descriptions. Some dating back to the mid 90s. Others might be older than that.

    But it’s proven useful. I can sift through and cannibalize scenes and settings. Or revisit characters I found interesting but didn’t really have a place for. And, a few times, I’ve had characters rise out of the scraps and come calling on me. They all belong somewhere….