Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is It Ok to Cheat on Your Manuscript?

After years of stops and starts, I've gotten back into a fairly consistent pattern of writing. The Antarctica novel is progressing slowly but surely; I should top 48,000 words during my next session. And I'm getting to know both my characters and their worlds better each time I write.

But I'd kinda forgotten about the other thing that happens when I write regularly. Strangers come between us. Other characters, some sexy, some surly, some childish, some selfish, slip into my mind when it's otherwise fairly blank. Story ideas emerge. Other novels or short stories or songs that I should write knock on my synapses, doing all they can to get my attention — to distract me from the work in progress.

Some mornings, I indulge such fantasies. What's wrong with a little literary flirtation, after all. It's not like anything will really get in the way of my manuscript. After all, I've been with it for so long, I must see it through to its logical conclusion.

I know I'm not the first writer to have had wildly attractive characters pop into mind and promise excitement beyond anything I've written so far. "Write about me," said the character on the New York subway train. "I'm younger than your current character. She's much stuffier than I am." I will admit, there are a couple paragraphs that would shock my current protagonist. No, not shock; she's a scientist. She'd understand, but she'd also know how to get back at me.

Still, when I get on my commuter train each night — sometimes with a beer — I know who I'll go home with.

Have you ever cheated on your characters? Was it a long-term affair or were you able to keep everything on the up and up?

10 comments:

Jemi Fraser said...

Great question! I try really hard not to cheat. I try to just write little snippets in new files so I can focus on the main story - but sometimes those snippets are so darn alluring!! :)

Matt Sinclair said...

Tell me about it! It happened to me again this morning. This time a small child discovered that dad's weird. Not sure if it's a short story or a novel.

Lisa_Gibson said...

I've done this once. I dropped a ms I was working on to write my NaNo novel. I've never gone back. Mainly because I changed genres. :) Now I try never to leave 'em high and dry like that. I try to remain monogamous to my current characters and storyline. Great post!

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Lisa. Funny you mention NaNo. One of the stories that keeps calling to me is the one I started during my first NaNo back in 2007. I wrote a few thousand words, but I loved the voice that it allowed me to use, and I know I'll return to it. But it's a different genre than what I'm currently working on.

Still, I felt committed to tell the story I'm in now. If only there were enough time to write almost constantly.

catwoods said...

Apparently I'm a literary ho! I jump any story that shows me a little leg.

I have dozens of new beginnings (those I love to write, but never fully evolve until the character won't leave me alone), but only three manuscripts of substance that have been seriously started, but never finished.

I don't know if the flaw is with the manuscript or with me. Someday I hope to complete them.

Matt Sinclair said...

Sometimes I think I should become a literary pimp and ask people to develop some of the stories and novels that I have but know that I'll never write. It's like having embryos in statis (sorry to mix the metaphors).

I don't think it's a flaw at all to have characters and storylines keep emerging. I think it's something that just happens when writers keep working with their own creativity. I was staring out the window of my train this morning imagining a scene that I've already forgotten. But, damn, it was funny!

caroline_hagood said...

Like catwoods, I, too, am a literary ho. But I guess it depends on how you look at it. You could say that I never cheat on my projects because I never promised any one of them that I would be faithful. I thrive on creative multitasking and my pieces have to understand that. So far, this method has served me well in terms of continuation and completion. Great post and question.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Caroline. I hadn't considered that.

Actually, that makes me wonder what these characters do when I'm not around. They could be wandering through the imaginations of other writers too. I wonder what kind of character conduits exist between writers.

Oops, I found another idea possibly worth exploring....

caroline_hagood said...

That's a phenomenal idea. You should really blog about that or maybe that's another novel to cheat with. Actually, one of the best movies I reviewed this year--Lovely by Surprise--has an aspect that reminds me of that. Fascinating stuff.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Caroline. I'll see what my brain decides to do with it.