A post about re-using, or combining, ideas that probably also gives you a few insights into my process as a writer (if anyone in their right mind should want such a thing). Specifically, this is a post about the rather strange process by which my novel Court of Dreams came into existence and became the version of the story now trapped in between covers by Pink Narcissus Press and awaiting release.
The basic process, as far as I’m aware, should go something like “plot the story, write the story, edit the story into shape”. That is at least vaguely what happened with the final version (although even there, plotting took place part way through). The thing is, it’s not how the story as a whole came into being.
Court of Dreams is in fact a bit of a mash up of ideas. Way back when, before I had even completed my urban fantasy novels Searching and Witch hunt, I had a go at a novel which did not get far enough to acquire a name. I knew I wanted it to have fairy folk, and the real world, and possibly something about finding out that you’re something you aren’t. In fact, without ever having read any urban faerie, that was what I wanted to do. So I started to write a story about a young woman targeted by fairy assassins for being something special. It had an evil fairy princess, accompanied by a big, thuggish henchman. It started off in a university, largely because I started writing it in a university library. It ran into problems, and I did what I always do at times like this. I deleted it.
I had another two goes at it. Many of the same elements reappeared each time, but some differences cropped up. The MC went from being a young woman, to a young man, to a young woman again. I picked up a couple of jokes about things like architecture. I started to think about themes of family and duty. I still deleted it.
We still aren’t up to Searching and Witch Hunt, incidentally. They came afterwards, and grew partly out of a second project I worked on, called Grey Knight. This was urban fantasy, with a faerie theme again, doing the typical thing of a supernatural detective type solving a strange case. The detective in this case was meant to be a human taken by the fey hundreds of years back and kept alive by their whim. That doesn’t matter so much as the fact that it introduced me to my vaguely Celtic sounding fairy queen of choice, as well as revisiting notions of the greater good and duty in a plot that was remarkably similar to my first one. I also came up with the idea of having lots and lots of supernatural Courts rather than just the usual ones (many other people beat me to it, but I didn’t know). I actually got to the end of that one. I may even have touted it around. I forget. It certainly didn’t get any interest, for the simple reason that it wasn’t very good.
Then I wrote the urban fantasy series that can be found through my sidebar, if you really want to. I wrote it essentially because it seemed like what everybody ought to be writing at the time, which is why it’s not a true reflection of what I do. I sold it, and got on with other things. More to the point, I finally decided that I wanted to be funny.
But what to be funny on? I didn’t have a plot. I didn’t have characters. I briefly considered doing a funny urban fantasy of the same type as Searching, but with gags. I’m glad I didn’t, but that idea got me thinking about whether I could rework Grey Knight with jokes, and that in turn got me thinking about that old, discarded idea I wanted another go at. It was at about that point that I realised they both used essentially the same idea.
So I stripped it back and rebuilt it, using favourite parts where it seemed like fun. I kept my fairy queen. I kept the idea of her having a favourite advisor, though I changed her considerably. I kept my evil princess and my thug, though he grew into just about my favourite character ever. I took my old, defunct idea, redid it in a completely new way, and came up with a book I really love.
So what's my point? Maybe it's that ideas we love stick with us. Maybe it's that the way you choose to tell a story is what really matters. Or maybe it's just the power of recycling, even when it comes to stories. Which begs the question of what old ideas you have lying around, really.