Today Lynne Marshall joins us at The Pink Heart Society to talk about how Old Manuscripts + New Stories = Surprising Results
Every author worth their salt has a few old manuscripts tucked away. I like to think of them as my learning curve books. The stories may have had some great moments, but overall they just didn't work. So we box them up and put them at the back of our closets, move on to the next book, and eventually forget about them.
Don’t forget about those few special scenes that held together, or the setting that came to life while you wrote that book. Remember the good parts and –I’m going to make an unusual suggestion—when you’re stuck or starved for ideas, harvest your babies!
We've all heard in countless workshops on editing that sometimes we need to “kill our babies.” In other words, we need to know when to cut anything that doesn't add to the forward flow of the book, no matter how much we love those scenes. If it drags and sags, it must be snipped and cut. Hello hacksaw.
But what about the scenes that worked in an otherwise abysmal book, those scenes that brought you great joy and entertained you while you wrote them?
My advice: Remember and re-use them if the opportunity arises.
Dirty Little Secret
Once an author sells their first book, the next question from the editor is: What’s next? (At least we hope that’s the next question!) One book wonders do not last long in this business, so we must write, write, and continue to write new stories. This isn't easy.
While unpublished, there is a luxury of time to make that first sellable book as perfect as possible. Once under contract with a publisher, infinity-and-beyond vanishes. The author may have spent a year on the first book but only has three or four months each for the next two or three. That’s reality and the goal every writer dreams of attaining—a demand for more books.
I’ve been known to block up from time to time while writing new books on deadline, and occasionally, I’ve resorted to lifting scenes from my DOA books. Sound morbid, like harvesting organs or something? I prefer to think of it as bringing a part of that dead baby back to life.
I’ve used the setting from a dead book that had done really well on the contest circuit in my Sixth Medical Romance, Assignment Baby. The house the hero and heroine shared was as vivid in my mind when I wrote that book as when I originally created it. But most importantly, it worked for the story.
The soup kitchen scene in Pregnant Nurse, New-Found Family was first thought up in an inspirational story I’d toyed with, and failed miserably on writing. Of course the scene wasn’t lifted word for word, but generally used and eventually it morphed into something completely different. But it was a solid starting off point for that particular scene in the new book and, most importantly, it worked!
I could give more examples, but I’m embarrassed to confess how often I’ve gone back to old manuscripts for new ideas.
If You Can’t Let Go
Remember that old manuscript I mentioned that did really well on the contest circuit, the one where I finally found my writing voice? Well, there was one really fun scene in that languishing story I’ve recently found the perfect way to bring back to life.
In my July Special Edition – The Medic’s Homecoming, the heroine, Jocelyn Howard, is a teacher at
. She’s also the temporary track coach filling
in for the father of the hero in the book, Lucas Grady. Jocelyn has had a crush on Lucas since she
was six years old, and has lived next door to the Grady’s her entire life. When Lucas must come home to care for his
parents who’ve had a motorcycle accident, he’s forced to remember his
childhood, the innocence of youth, and all the good times he had with Jocelyn. Whispering Oaks High School
Now, back to that packed away manuscript, the one that did well on the contest circuit, way in the back of my closet. I’d written a story about another female teacher who needed help with a school project. Her intentions weren’t to seduce the hero, but in the hero’s mind it certainly came off that way.
Use it Don’t Lose it
I harvested that scene and re-wrote it to perfectly fit Jocelyn and Lucas. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the book, too! (Just like it was in the RIP manuscript.)
Jocelyn is an anatomy teacher at the local high school, and each year she helps her students with a special organ study aid. Since she has recently broken up with her fiancé and moved back home to her parent’s home who are touring the country in an RV, she needs help with setting up the teaching study aid. Lucas is her man.
What does he have to do? Trace her body onto butcher paper.
As Jocelyn lies on the butcher paper, Lucas must get up close and personal with a #2 pencil as he follows the outline of her body from head to toe and back. The innocent need to help her students – who will each make their own human sized body and fill it in with the various organs they learn about during the semester – turns into a titillating (in the hero’s mind) scene that forever changes the way he will look at that little girl next door all grown up!
Recycling is Good for the Environment (and sometimes for the writer, too)
So the next time you’re stuck in your work in progress, think back to those tucked away books and the scenes you loved the most. Can one of them possibly be the scene you’ve been missing? Is it conceivable that scene was really meant for your WIP and not that learning curve book?
Question for the writers: Have you ever harvested old scenes for new books?
Lynne Marshall writes for Harlequin Medical Romance and Special Edition lines. Watch for NYC Angels: Making the Surgeon Smile, June 2013 (Book #7 Medical Romance continuity) and The Medic’s Homecoming, July 2013 (Special Edition).
Dr. Tall, Dark…and Dangerous? Received the Cataromance Reviewer’s Choice Award for Harlequin Medical Romance 2012.