Ty’s Big Old Box O’ Writing

Over the weekend I had to empty my bedroom closet so my brother-in-law could get in there and fix the hinges on the door. (As of this writing, I have yet to put all that crap back, but that’s another matter.)

Among the temporarily relocated objects were a series of lidded plastic storage bins. Each holds a specific type of stuff, and two of them are dedicated to my previous writing. There’s one for fiction and one for non-fiction. I hadn’t been through either of these boxes in a while, so while they were drug out, (they are such a pain in the ass to bring out into the open from the closest), I took a survey.

Most of my life I’ve been an essay, letter to the editor and scholastic writer. And in recent years a blogger. The idea of making a concerted effort at fiction as well is one that has only taken root in the last couple of years.

Or so I thought.

Imagine my mild surprise then when I surveyed both boxes and found the fiction box contained far more stuff than the non-fiction. I unpacked battered notebooks, forgotten journals, random scripts and hastily bound computer printed pages and came to realize that even before I took my fiction “seriously”, I had spend far more time on it in the past than I gave myself credit for. Of course I knew in my mind that I had done some things before the current novel, (now on the fourth draft), but until I saw it laid out on the floor in front of me, I didn’t consider just how many characters, worlds, stories, and prose I’d brought into the world.

Here are some of the things I uncovered in the “fiction box”:

-The first and second drafts of a novel that actually predates my oft talked about work in progress. 200 or so typed pages. I worked on this one for the better part of a summer and autumn years ago. It’s a modern adaptation of the story of England’s King Richard II. (A story most famously told by Shakespeare, from whom I borrowed quite a bit. Shakespeare was to me what Holinshed was to Shakespeare himself.) I still maintain this story could work, and I may go back to it some day.

-Staying on the Shakespeare train, I found an early (and heavily red inked) draft of a movie adaptation of King Lear. Unlike the Richard II project, where the language and setting were modernized, the intent of the King Lear movie was to cut and rearrange scenes from Shakespeare, but still keep his language, and his setting. I had hoped to make it this distant-feeling cheap footage fly on the wall black and white kind of deal. I was going to shoot in and around local small woodsy areas. The notebook with the printed script is stuffed with notes for future drafts, scene changes, brainstorming. It fell through, as most of my multiple-person creative projects do, when I could find zero interest from others in trying to make it happen.

-The second draft of a screenplay called MONARCHS IN THE AISLES. I don’t know where the first draft of this is, but I know this second draft that I found, coming in at 93 pages, was far shorter. At roughly a minute per page , this movie, if it were ever to be shot, would be about an hour and a half long.

The movie was based on a concept I had been dying to put into fiction for years.  A misadventure based on some of my own experiences in college theatre. It took forever to decide what medium was best for the story, and even once I decided, I never took it past this second draft. Never quite flew. But I worked on the script for the better part of a year. All wasn’t lost, though. I plucked the protagonist from this movie out of the script, went forward in his life ten years, and made him the center piece for my current novel. He even briefly makes mention of some of the events included in the abandoned screenplay.

-A folder filled with about a dozen pieces of flash fiction I wrote according to some exercises in a book I once checked out from the library. I had started to correct and proof read some of them, but never completed the edits. Except on one of them. One that always was my favorite in that collection. I have over the years gone back to that one and tinkered. Most recently back in the spring when I submitted it, (in longer form than flash fiction) to the writers salon of which I am a member. They liked it. I think I’ll go back over some of the others and see what’s there.

-A three page story, printed on an old dot-matrix printer from when I was a freshman in high school. It was an English assignment. I took the events and personalities of the presidential election of that year and shrunk them down into events within a small high school’s student government election. I got an A.

-A speech. Actually a eulogy. It’s a eulogy for an anonymous homeless man that a character, whom I called “Thomas” delivers to a half empty church. I didn’t know if it was part of a play, a movie, or what, but the speech was in my head, so I wrote it. It’s long. Given the fickleness of the current publishing industry, it would never make it in a novel. A newcomer like me could never sell it in a movie script. There is an outside chance that it could survive in a play, if the rest of it were well written. But for now it remains a single long monologue by a character without a play.

-Two remaining copies of a one-act comedy I wrote for a contest called On Second Thought. Once again based on Shakespeare, it’s the story of Brutus and Cassius deciding to call off the assassination, because they don’t think the conspirators are competent. It didn’t win. Didn’t even finish in the top ten of 20 scripts. (Though I have felt for years that local contest, honestly, was a fix, and always has been.) I tried to direct it in a festival at a local theatre, but once I couldn’t find enough people the first day they threw me out of the festival without giving me a chance. (Typical of that theatre. Never liked that bunch.) This one may yet happen one day…though most people miss the jokes.

-One of the more unique things I found was a composition book containing rather detailed notes on a fantasy world I was building. When I started it, that’s all it was. I’d never tried world building before, and I guess it isn’t technically fiction because there is no narrative. Still I drew maps, (badly), named regions, determined the weather, commerce and tone of each. Wrote a broad, general history of the place. Established forms of government. That sort of thing. I never went into the kind of detail many people do with such exercises. But I did end up making use of the world. I used it in…

-Nanowrimo. The only digital presence in the box was a CD that held the drafts of both my Nanowrimo attempts. (Successful ones I might add.) One of those drafts was a fantasy novel that took place in the world I had built in that notebook. My understanding was you are allowed to create a world for your novel before Nano starts, you just can’t begin the actual story. I got over 50,000 words done on time, but the story was at best only half finished. I think I had some interesting ideas there though. If I ever decide I have the strength for an epic story, I will go back to that one.

The other Nanowrimo winner on that disk was actually the first one I wrote, in 2007. I’d say that story is about 80,000 words at this point, and the story is about two-thirds complete. A political drama about a president and vice-president. Not a thriller, just a dramatic story within that sphere. I have pondered going back to this a few times. Never did, but with some work, it might have the makings of a literary fiction. Perhaps.

-Two skits based on the Harry Potter universe. (If Rowling or her people read this, and want me to turn them over, fine. Seven pages total between the two unpublished skits.) A friend of mine’s mother ran a bookstore years ago, and asked me to come up with two Harry Potter skits that some of her friends could perform for the kids waiting for the midnight release. I came up with two cute ideas, and sent them off. I wasn’t there to see them performed, but the friends enjoyed them, and I am told the kids thought they were fun as well.

-A short story I wrote one boring rainy day in college. I went all meta, and wrote a story about a guy in college looking for inspiration to write a short story. He never finds it. I don’t know if there’s a future in that one or not, but it was fun to see it again.

There was some other stuff in there as well, but this was the bulk of it. What I took away from it all, (other than I need a safe to keep all these paper copies in) is that though this current novel, and the crop of short stories I have written and submitted in the last two years seems like the beginning of my fiction attempts, they really aren’t. They say one has to have written a million words before moving to the next level of writing. I don’t know if total the box contains a million words, but I do know it contains proof that I have been exploring this craft in a manner more intense and for a greater number of years than I realized.

Writers must always learn. That journey is never over. But when I look back at how much fiction I’ve already written it’s clear how long it has been a part of what I do. No, my writing career is not, by any metric, where I want it to be right now. I am not sure how to get it there, either. But knowing how much I have been able to create, (though not publish) reminds me that when I really want to, I can put the words down and have something to work with. That, of course, is always the most important step.

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